Above photo by Sarah Wilkerson

It’s back-to-school season, and you know what that means: freshly sharpened #2 pencils, haircuts, crisp clean notebook pages, milk money, and pictures! And we’ve got nine simple pro secrets to make this year’s back-to-school photos your best pics yet.

It's back-to-school season, and you know what that means: freshly sharpened #2 pencils, haircuts, crisp clean notebook pages, milk money, and pictures! And we've got nine simple pro secrets to make this year's back-to-school photos your best pics yet.

1. Play up the colors.

Bold color always makes for more vibrant photos, so put your art class knowledge to work! What color is your child’s backpack this year? Mix it up with a first day of school shirt or dress in an opposing hue on the color wheel: a pink backpack looks great with a green dress, and an orange backpack pairs playfully with a blue shirt. And primary colors create a lively palette that we associate with childhood fundamentals, so anytime you can incorporate red, yellow, and blue in a photo, you have an eye-catching winner.

colorful photo of little boy on the first day of schoold by Beth Mancuso

photo by Beth Mancuso

2. Fill the frame.

This classic photography tip applies to back to school pictures, too. The whole back-to-school outfit and the meet-the-teacher scene are probably already on your list, but a child’s face changes more year to year than you might realize. So while you have that camera out (and a squeaky clean kid!), come in tight and grab a few pictures that fill the whole frame with that face you so adore.

pro tips to fill the frame with a face for a great back to school pic by Kellie Bieser

photo by Kellie Bieser

3. Same pose, same place.

Back to school photos mark an annual milestone and, as such, are a great way to document your child’s growth from year to year. Those changes are especially remarkable when taken with the same pose and same location each year, so take at least one photo each school year of your child on the front porch, next to the mailbox, or beneath the old oak tree in your backyard. You’ll be capturing a wonderful progression of your child growing up amidst the surroundings of her childhood home.


photo by Julia Tulley


photo by Julia Tulley


photo by Julia Tulley

4. Keep things moving.

“Give me 10 jumping jacks!” With little ones, it’s about getting the wiggles out until they settle down. With older kids, it’s about loosening up. In both cases, big movements – breakdancing, high jumping, hair shaking, arm waving – are a wonderful way to lead in to more natural expressions and relaxed poses; the moments that come AFTER will bring real smiles, more relaxed body language, and the pictures you want. But even if your goal is a simple smiling portrait, keep snapping; you never know what kind of magic you may capture.

5. Shoot from overhead.

Conventional portraits call for shooting at eye level, but standing over a seated child and having him look up at you is a fantastic angle in child photography. Not only does this emphasize his littleness (and who doesn’t want to bottle THAT up?), but when he turns his face up towards the sky, you’ll bring light into the eyes that makes them sparkle.


photo by Bre Thurston


6. Show them what to do with their hands.

Anxious hands instantly make a photo look awkward. Tell them to give you attitude with hands-on hips, suggest a more relaxed look with thumbs in the pockets or arm around a sibling, or toss them a meaningful prop (soccer ball, stack of books, mini chalkboard) to hold on to.


photo by Jennifer Nobriga


7. Use your doorway.

Have your child stand in the shaded area just inside the door frame or under a covered porch while you stand outside (on the step or sidewalk) and shoot towards him or her. This is a tried and true setup for beautiful, even lighting that will give your photo pro-quality results.


photo by Megan Cieloha


8. Tell them they’re amazing.

Make like an over-the-top fashion photographer and loudly talk your way through the pictures with, “Beautiful! You’re amazing! That’s perfect! Yes, big smiles like that! Incredible!” Not only does this lively interaction make the photography experience a lot of fun for both you and your child, but you’ll be giving her a wonderful dose of positive reinforcement to help calm those first day of school jitters.

9. Switch to storytelling

Whether it’s nerves, excitement, or sheer impatience, sometimes kids just aren’t in the mood to model on the first day. Rather than forcing it, seize the opportunity capture aspects of the back-to-school story that you can shoot from the sidelines: boarding the bus, catching up with old friends, walking down the hallway. Or capture the details that you spent so much time picking out together in preparation for another great school year: the purple sparkle backpack she just had to have, the Superhero lunchbox you packed together, the brand new shoes he so proudly wore right out of the store.


photo by Kristin Dokoza

They’re growing up; we can’t stop it, but we can bottle the memories up with our cameras, and we’ll have these pictures to look back on for a lifetime.