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How to Make the Most of School Picture Day

All photos are courtesy of Frisco-based Karen Fish Photography.

Love ’em or hate ’em, school picture days are coming! As an experienced school photographer, I thought I would share a few tips to help you love your kids’ school pictures a little more. Below are a few suggestions that may help you get a great picture this year.

There are some things that are out of your control – like cheesy backdrops and funky effects. But for now, let’s focus on the things you can control on your end.

Clothing and Accessory Tips

Fit. First and foremost, make sure the clothes fit well. Even if it’s the most handsome shirt in his wardrobe, if it’s too big, your child will look like he’s playing dress-up in big brother’s closet.

Pattern. I don’t subscribe too much to the belief that you have to be dressed in a solid color for a nice picture. Patterns can be great as long as they are not so busy that they’re distracting.

Texture. Texture is a great way to add interest to the picture without distracting from the face. For example, a shirt with a ruffled neckline can add an extra little pop.

Neon. This has been an issue now that neon colors are so popular – especially since you can find collared shirts in really bright colors (like highlighter yellow). These shirts are tempting for picture day because you may be able to get your son to “dress up” without too much complaining.

But, be aware that those neons, paired with the shiny athletic fabric, can bounce color up onto the child’s face in photographs. More than once, I’ve found myself working in photoshop to remove the orange or yellow glow from a little boy’s face!

Green Screen Warning. You may have seen the story about the kid who ended up as a disembodied head in his school pictures! Green screens are becoming more popular in school photography.

If you’re not familiar with this technology, shooting in front of a green screen or solid green backdrop allows photographers to digitally change the backdrop after the fact – allowing them to offer many choices for backdrops. When the backdrop is digitally manipulated, everything green magically transforms into a new scene…including your child’s clothing if they happen to be wearing green!

Consider the Crop. When I shoot school pictures, I usually shoot both a head and shoulders shot, and a 3/4 length shot of each child to present parents with options. However, most school pictures taken by a school photographer will just be head and shoulders. Keep this in mind when planning your child’s outfit.

For example, if your little preschool cutie is in her favorite summer sundress with delicate spaghetti straps, in a head and shoulders shot, all you’re going to see are the thin straps. Or, if your teenager dresses up her top with a long pendant necklace, all that will be visible in the head and shoulder shot is the chain.

Hair Tips

Time the haircuts. Of course, you don’t want shaggy and overgrown for pictures but it’s also possible for a haircut to be “too fresh”. Maybe the barber goes a little too short with the buzz or the stylist cuts off the much-loved curls. Getting the haircut about a week before pictures can make for a cleaned up, but more natural look. And if you realize the night before pictures that your little guy could use a trim…resist the urge to DIY. This rarely ends well!

Consider the shot. Look at the hairstyle from the perspective of the camera, which is usually nearly straight on. Very often, I photograph little girls with their hair pulled back in a ponytail or in beautiful, intricate braids. These styles look adorable in real life, but they’re kind of “lost” on camera.

Don’t get me wrong, the pictures are still precious. Maybe this is how your little one always wears her hair and you want to capture it that way. If that’s the case, go for it! But if there’s not a special reason for it, just think about what the style will look like in the photo and then decide.

Send a brush. If you want your child to freshen up their hair right before pictures, I highly recommend sending a brush to school. Teachers will often ask me if I have a brush they can use to smooth out a child’s hair, but I have a “no sharing brushes” policy. Makes my head itch just thinking about it!

The Photographer

Of course, this is a big one. If your child is in public school, you likely have little or no input on this, as photographers are usually contracted at the district level. However, if you’re in a private school or preschool, your opinion matters. If you’ve been consistently less-than-pleased with your child’s pictures, let the administration know. If they hear feedback from enough parents, they may be happy to make a switch.

In fact, you can even volunteer to lead the search and seek out proposals from multiple photographers. While many schools use large corporate photography chains, more independent photographers are gearing their businesses towards this market.

If you do seek out a new photographer, just be sure to look for someone that has experience in school photography. Photographing hundreds of kids over just a few hours and managing hundreds of orders on the back-end is definitely a unique skill set!

Above all, the point of school pictures is to document your child at this particular stage in life. So whether you end up with a wall-worthy portrait or a file-it-in-the drawer keepsake, enjoy your record of this moment in time!