The School Photographer Pt 1

This article is aimed at photographers thinking about schools photography.  It might be a little technical in parts, but should be of interest to Parents and School teachers also.

There's always one!

There’s always one!

If you have been following my twitter feed this week you’ll know that I sent out a small package to every school in County Kerry. The mailshot was intended to introduce my work as a schools photographer and hopefully arrange some sessions with schools I’ve never worked with before.

I know some working photographers get a bit snooty about school’s portraiture, I’m not sure why to be honest. I really enjoy it and I wanted to spend a little time explaining why it’s good for my business.

I’m blessed with a wife who is really good at planning and detail, this is particularly handy because I’m -how shall we say? – a little more creative. She’s convinced me over the years that getting the process right removes all kinds of complications. This has opened doors that I probably would never have knocked on.

Schools photography can be a minefield of complications, for one you are dealing with teachers. Teachers have little desire to entertain photographers and why should they?  School is about education, and ‘the photographer’ just drops in and gives them an annual headache or two.

For me, the photography process has to recognise that impressing the school staff with a smooth process is the most important challenge. Why?

  • Repeat Business : In photography if you don’t get invited back, mark it down as a failure
  • Teachers are the connection between you and the parents:
  • Teachers are really good at networking. All it needs is one of them to update their Facebook status “we had THE best schools photographer”  and you are away.  Conversely…. : (

Setup & Equipment:

Whilst you may think that ‘volume’ photography is about pace, it’s a mistake to rush. Set up is the key.

School Photography Kerry

Siblings : Always Popular.

Take your time at the beginning before the first child to get your lighting and exposure right.  Shoot tethered so you can quality check each image. I use Adobe Lightroom for this, but I know there are specialist schools software packages.

Crop Ratio

If your camera gives you the option to change crop ratios then make the most of the feature. I had an American school of 1000 students recently who required a 4 x 5 ratio for their yearbook, whereas in Europe I always shoot in 2 x 3. Changing the ratio in camera saved me a massive amount of time cropping each image in Lightroom afterwards.

Two images per child should then be enough. I only take a third if I know one of the two didn’t work.

If you have done this you should be confident enough to shoot in the JPEG format.  I’m a creature of habit as well as being naturally overly cautious so I ignore my own advice and shoot in RAW format. (This means I have to carry a lot of data cards). RAW format is probably totally unnecessary, but it gives me peace of mind if nothing else.

I have 4 different coloured backcloths in circulation, selecting the correct one for each school depends on skin colours and uniform colours. I also try and alternate with schools I have done previously so last years portrait isn’t almost identical.  For me the highest quality cloths are provided by Colourscape in Stalybridge (NW England).

Children with glasses:

School Photographer Kerry

No reflection in the glasses.

Their glasses are such a pain right?  Wrong. As a photographer you need to be able to deal with the reflections.  If you give the child the option to remove their glasses because it’s easier for you then it’s time for you to look at a different genre.  It’s not a hard skill to learn, if you can’t be bothered that’s your problem not theirs.
I view siblings portraits with more than one pair of glasses as like getting a 7 letter word in Scrabble.  With experience you should be able to do it with no reflections, but it still makes you feel really good when you manage it !

Note: There are some children who approach who are clearly reluctant to be wearing their glasses and look like they hope you will give them the option to remove them.  That’s absolutely fine, the child needs to be comfortable.

Posing

I don’t offer the contemporary style posing that some photographers are marketing. The classic pose in uniform is what parents expect to see. Retro and Contemporary posing may have it’s place, but the place isn’t within the school environment.

To be contd next week .

Part Two : Pricing, Products and Parents.

I’m opening this page up for comments, if you have a question as a Photographer, Teacher or Parent. Please feel free to ask.