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Take the best back-to-school photos with these professional tips

Take the best back-to-school photos with these professional tips
Posted at 12:55 PM, Aug 10, 2023

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It’s back to school time. The supplies have been purchased and new outfits for the first day of school are ready to go. But are you prepared to capture the perfect moment with some memorable photos at the start of a new school year?

Social media feeds are already filling up with the traditional first-day-of-school pictures. Many of them show kids standing at the front door or the bus stop. These are excellent, simple options on what may otherwise be a crazy morning.

You can get even better images of the kids by following a few tips we learned from photographers. And you may even have some fun!


1. Try Different Angles

Beyond capturing the first day of school memories, these photos often serve as a timeline of a child growing up. If you’re taking pictures in front of your house, you can still get creative with the angles and document a child’s growth over the years.

Gordon Geraci, director of Elite Photography, told us that pictures should highlight the child’s size compared to his or her background.

“Shooting down on your smaller child will make them look smaller — like they are!” he said. “So if you’re doing the typical photo on the front porch, most of this photo will be filled by the porch […] This provides a nice contrast with a similar shot taken in successive years […] you can see them grow relative to previous years taken from the same angle.”

Or, you can sit them in a chair or on the porch steps to offer a contrast in size. Each year, as they grow, they will take up the space more and in different ways.


2. Try Different Backgrounds

Whitney Ball, a mom of six and owner of Poppy Photo Co. has taken her share of first-day-of-school photos. She prefers taking those first-day pictures in different locations rather than the traditional front door or porch.

“Take your shots amongst beautiful trees in your backyard,” she suggested. Or, find other places outside your home that offer a natural background.

Whitney Ball at Poppy Photo Co.

Ball likes having the chalkboard included in the first day of school photos. She opts for a basic model like the TORASO Chalkboard from Amazon to customize the message. Since it’s magnetic, you can dress it up with magnets.


How about a less traditional location for those first-day-of-school pictures?

Geraci shared tips on taking photos in locations around the house that help capture more of a child’s personality. You can even take shots of them getting ready for school.

“What about in the bathroom brushing their teeth with something written on the mirror […] like a motivational quote […]?” he said.

You can decide if you want your child looking in the mirror or have them facing you with the saying behind them. If your child is small, use a step stool or something safe for them to stand on so they’re in the frame.

Another suggestion Geraci had is to show your child’s personality in photos by posing them in their bedrooms to show off their space.

He said he realized that means the room needs to be cleaned up a bit before the pictures, but he joked, “That’s a good thing anyhow!”

“That shot of the childhood bedroom will also show a progression and become a time capsule in and of itself,” he added.

Elite Photography

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3. Think About Those First-day Outfits

It might be a challenge, but both photographers we spoke with love the idea of getting kids dressed up for the first day of school. It might be something fancy or a new “cool” outfit picked out for the first day.

“Whether your child is headed back to school in an adorable uniform or the perfect back-to-school outfit, your photos are a chance to showcase it!” Ball said. “Get them dressed and dapper for their big photo shoot!”

Ball said she loves adding hair accessories, like big hair bows or headbands, for her girls’ first school day. For the boys, she recommends showing off those new sneakers or hairstyles.

Geraci also embraces a child’s sense of fashion when he takes their photos, whether in a suit and tie or a hat and hoodie.

“Give them a chance to show who they are and what they are about,” he advised.

Elite Photography

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4. Give Props to the Props!

A backpack and lunchbox don’t have to be the only props in a back-to-school photo.

Whitney Ball at Poppy Photo Co.

Ball snapped this photo (above) outside using simple props from around the house.

“A stack of books and an apple can make a cute back-to-school photo,” she said.

Back to school portrait of boy holding books, apple

You might also want to consider your child’s interests when taking photos.

“Many children are doing sports or other activities that can be incorporated into your back-to-school photoshoot,” Geraci said.

You may need to do some advanced planning to get these pictures done, but there’s no reason these pictures must be taken only on the first day.

Elite Photography

“Consider taking your back-to-school photos a few days or a week before school actually starts,” Ball said. “This will take the stress and pressure out of getting the perfect photo quickly. Make a day of it. Picnic with your kids. Include their siblings. The greatest photos are made when the moment they were captured holds a special memory.”

There are plenty of inexpensive options for fun photo props that can ease the tension of the first day, as well.

How about setting up a “photo booth” outside your home or wherever you go to take your pictures? This Back to School Photo Booth & Props Set for only $13.99 on Amazon can help you kick off the school year with some silliness and make lots of memories.


5. Frame the Photo Correctly

In this case, we’re not discussing how you hang your favorite photos for display. This is all about camera orientation.

To settle the “Should I shoot the picture horizontally or vertically?” debate, Geraci gave us some great tips.

“If they are laying down horizontally, have the camera in landscape mode (horizontally),” he said. “If the image is about them and they are in more of a vertical orientation, you should strongly consider turning your camera from its normal horizontal orientation…so that you are filling the now vertical frame with the vertical pose.”

However, Geraci added that if a child is standing in a vertical position with the house behind them, you could also choose to snap the picture in horizontal mode to capture the background.

Girl holds "first day of preschool" sign in portrait

6. Get That Genuine Smile

Getting a genuine smile on the first day of school can be a challenge. However, Ball shared a few suggestions to help bring out that elusive smile or make the pictures look more natural.

We all may like to tell the kids, “Say Cheese!” when taking a picture, but Ball has better options.

“Snap a photo of your kids whispering secrets, ticking each other or giving high fives,” Ball said. “For more fun, ask Dad to make some funny sounds or tell jokes from behind the camera.”

Bell also likes to make a special moment by giving her girls something special for the first day of school.

“Use the moment to surprise them with back-to-school goodies,” she suggested. “Maybe a personalized water bottle or cute pencil pouch is sure to bring a big smile!”

MORE: 12 cool gifts to get kids excited for the new school year

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