Back To School: Making Milestones Memorable

Some great tips on how to capture great first day of school photos!

I don’t know about you, but summer coming to an end is so bittersweet. Soon enough, we head back to the daily school routine as our boys begin their last year of elementary school. Every year since our boys began school, I have taken back-to-school pictures. This year will be no different. Here are a few of my tips for taking better first day of school photos.

Don’t worry; you don’t have to be a professional photographer to capture the best images you can on your own child’s first day of school.

Plan ahead.

There is so much to do on the first day of school. Here are a few things I would prepare for before the day comes.

First, haircuts should be done 10-14 days before school starts. Second, the first day of school outfit should be picked out at least the night before school starts. Or if you are crazy like us, we plan a few weeks in advance. Lay the clothing out and be prepared so you have one less thing to worry about that morning. Lucky you if you are in school uniforms!

Lastly, not to sound like too much of a planner, but I actually think the “first day of school photo” doesn’t have to be taken on the actual first day of school. I know I am a bit more emotional that first day of the new school year and things are more hectic that first morning compared to a normal school day. I don’t stress myself out with doing the photo on the first day. Although, I definitely snap at least a cell phone shot that day, too.

Overall, I really want to document their year with the best photo I can before the school year starts. We have always set up their back-to-school picture a few days before school starts. This year, I even documented back-to-school shopping, which to me, tells more of the story than just a pretty portrait taken for back-to-school.

Start with good light.

I think all great photos start with good light. Again, that is probably another big reason I do the photos a few days before their new school year starts. I want the photos to be taken in the best light. Therefore, I pick a time around sunset a couple of days beforehand. You may just pick the best light around your house on the morning of the first day of school.

My advice is to find the best light you can for taking the photos in and try to do this same spot every year. This goes hand in hand with my first tip about planning ahead. The best light for your pictures may mean taking the images a day or two before the actual first day of school. Especially, if you are up for school before the sun is.

When looking for the best light, don’t forget to look for a nicely lit window inside as well. Or, looking for great light can mean taking it outdoors. Don’t place your children anywhere they are looking into the sun and squinting. Your portraits won’t be as flattering with both shadows and light dappled all over their faces. Open shade with nice soft, even light on their faces is best for portraits.

Growing up, our front porch was “our place” for back-to-school pictures. It is fun to look back and see how much I grew every year taking the photo in the same spot. If your porch is sunny in the morning, try the night before, or, stand inside, using the door to frame your child.

Let their personality show.

I love a bit of personality in the first day of school photos. I let our boys pick out what they want to wear but keep it simple without too many logos or characters on their outfits, and I make sure it fits well. When they were younger, I had a lot more input for their clothing choices. Now, they decide pretty much all on their own.

I also bring a few “school” inspired props that they can use if they want. Honestly, just their faces and excitement for school, or be as it may dread for school, is usually enough. Nevertheless, here are a few items that can make it more fun for you all. The biggest hit for props when I am doing actual back-to-school photo sessions is always red apples. Every. year.

Props don’t have to be elaborate or expensive, but they can make the short photo op more fun. Other ideas we have incorporated have included classic number two pencils, their favorite books, glass-less eyeglass frames, their new backpack or special lunchbox, or a sign with their school year on it. You can print your own, use a chalkboard, or find signs at local craft stores around this time of year, too.

Keep it fun!

This is particularly for those kids who may hate to get their pictures taken. If that is the case, let them be part of the process. Have them incorporate their ideas into the photo. Don’t just force them to stand up straight and fake a smile. Grab an image or two of them walking into school if you can, or as they get on their school bus. Make some of the real moments count while they let you!

After day one of school, they probably will roll their eyes at you for taking photos. However, that first day, know you have earned the right to be “that parent” taking the picture. Tell them to look around; odds are, everyone else will be too.

If you are taking more posed photographs, maybe have a funny inside joke ready for right before you snap the photo and it will help bring out their real smiles. You can see this from the indoor photos here where sure, the first shot is lovely, but the next ones are all his personality.

Extra Credit

A few more tips to help you take a better back-to-school photo this year:

  • Take a close-up picture to get the details of their ever-changing faces, but also a full-length shot to show their growth in height as well.
  • Clear out the background if needed before you start.
  • Take the picture at their level, not from above or below.
  • Use the best camera you have.
  • Take a variety of images if you have time. Some seated, some standing, some with movement.
  • Take pictures of what is important to you. Maybe that is buying a new backpack or riding the bus the first time. Or, if you have older kids, capture their first drive to school on their own.
  • Take a photo with your child as well.

So this year as your kids head back to school, or maybe go off to school for the first time, remember the importance of this milestone in their story. Take these tips and come up with a creative idea that you can easily do every year that is meaningful to your family. Don’t forget to get in the picture for at least one snap, too!

Share your favorite back to school photo below.

About The Author

Brooke Hamilton

Brooke Hamilton, the owner of Hamilton Creek Photography, is a family photographer based out of Tampa, Florida. Her Australian husband and identical twin boys keep her busy; particularly with the many adventurous travels they take each year. Her image taken during her recent trip to Cuba helped her win the Click & Company’s Voice Collection for the Culture and Travel Voice category in 2017. Brooke’s photo sessions are full of fun, real emotion, and hopefully, a family’s closeness.

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