Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Top Tips for Better Back to School Photos

As I teacher myself, I am acutely aware of the steadily growing hum of back to school reminders! Now is the time to set aside a little time and think about capturing a series of shots to commemorate this special moment in your child's life. These top tips will help you get the shots you want with a minimum of fuss and effort.

Do Your Homework

Take some time beforehand to plan out the type of shot or shots you want to capture. Nothing ruins a kid's mood and willingness to cooperate than scrambling around during the shoot trying to find something. Assemble any props beforehand and think about the best location, lighting, and timing for your shoot. Schedule your shoot the week before school starts (or earlier) to avoid adding pressure on the actual first day.

Start by celebrating the event and including the year or grade level your child is starting. One quick idea is to make or print a sign specific to your child's grade level. You can create your own or download every year's worth of cute signs from the pin below, just follow the link.

Get your child involved. Ask them to bring together a few of their favorite things, favorite books, or objects that represent hobbies and activities. This post pinned below, Creative Photo Ideas for Back to School, walks you through how the photographer and her children picked out items to represent them for their Back to School shots. Kid cooperation and ownership leads to better smiles and interest when shooting!

Another popular idea is to use PicMonkey, Photoshop, or other post-processing apps or software to add in the grade level or other specific details about your child. Plan ahead for this by leaving a wide area of space around your shot. You could also photograph your child in front of a blank wall or holding a large chalkboard, whiteboard, or even blank poster board.

Or, think beyond the wall and get creative with your post-processing skills. The series of photographs below shows how you can use a collection of book spines and personalize them with information about your child and the new school year. (Not into Photoshop? You could easily duplicate this effect with some good old copy-and-paste here in the real world. Print or draw your own labels and wrap them around books to use when shooting.)

During the Shoot

Once you have everything assembled and ready to go, make sure to choose a good location (available natural light is a big plus). Backyards with continuous shade and leafy backgrounds can work well for more nature-themed shots, while indoors with strong window light and clean backgrounds can work well for indoor shots. Hang a patterned sheet from your curtain rod or pinned up on the wall for an instant backdrop. If you are not familiar with how to utilize window light indoors for portraits, please check out this helpful post below from It's Always Autumn.

Now you are ready to shoot. Have a mental list (or physical list) ready of the types of shots and poses you want to capture. Think about detail shots and close-ups as well as more standard full-body or head shots. (Not sure about posing? Check out these Top Tips for Photography Portraits and Posing for suggestions.) Kid-cooperation is always an uncertain thing, so do not push too hard or try to capture too many different ideas in one go.

Be ready with your settings. If you are a shoot-on-auto kind of shooter, think about trying Portrait mode. If you want to move beyond portrait, shoot in Aperture Priority (Av or A). Choose a wide aperture if you want a blurred background or a middle range aperture to keep your child and a wide range of props in focus. Set focus on the eyes (read Deciding Where to Focus for more details). Watch your shutter speed. With too slow of a shutter speed (like 1/50th or slower) your own movements may add noticeable "shake" to your photographs.

Finally, don't forget to go beyond "Say cheese!" Ask your child questions while shooting, to draw them out and get more natural-looking shots than just posed, canned smiles. Tell some funny jokes or ask them to tell you one. Have them talk about some of their hopes (or fears) about the new school year. Make it quick, make it fun, and make your shots count.

A Final Word of Advice

However you choose to do your child's Back to School photographs, please do not become "that parent." The first day of school while at school is not the time to be indulging your photographic urges. Once your child is at school and ready to start their first day, they need to be free to get down to the business of catching up with friends, meeting their teacher, and focusing in on their first activities and lessons.

Please do not be the parent who demands that their child sit and pose at their desk when they would much rather be meeting new friends. And please do not be the parent who is still in the classroom photographing when class is starting and the teacher is trying to get the year off to a great start. We teachers thank you.

Boost Your Photography: Learn Your DSLR is now available from Amazon. Get the most out of your camera with practical advice about the technical and creative aspects of DSLR photography that will have you taking beautiful pictures right away.
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