4 Tips to Take the Perfect Back-to-School Photos

Take the perfect back to school photos.Every year you see them, the back-to-school photos. These cute images flood our social media sites and proudly display the growth and excitement our kids experience as they get ready for the new school year. I do love them — after all, it’s so fun to see how big everyone’s kids are getting! However, I think we can do a little better than the hurried photos in front of our own home. 

It will take a little pre-planning and bribery, but I’m positive that with the following five tips every parent can have gorgeous back-to-school photos even if they don’t have a fancy camera.

The great thing about these tips is they will not only improve the pictures you take of your kid for these back-to-school photos, but every photo you take! Once you start practicing these steps, you’ll find yourself automatically thinking of them every time you take pictures — creating a habit of capturing quality photographs. 

1. Turn Your Back on Bad Lighting

Lighting is key to good photography. Having too little or too much light can ruin a photograph. Additionally, light from a tinted source, such as fluorescent lights or light that bounces off of a colored wall, can cast a color you don’t want.

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To avoid these common pitfalls, I suggest you turn your kids’ back to bad lighting. What does this look like? Well, outside where the sun is really bright, try to keep the sun to your kids’ back. This will leave their face and body evenly covered by their shadow. Alternatively, you can keep their whole body in the shade.

If you are indoors, you’ll want to turn off overhead lights and close any blinds or window coverings to allow the natural light into your home. If any of your walls are painted a color that isn’t neutral, make sure your child stays between you and that wall. This way, any light that bounces off the wall (and carries those color wavelengths) won’t be on the side of the person that you’re photographing.

2. Pause and Look Behind and Around

With kids, it’s easy to want to wrap things up as fast as possible, especially if you have some unwilling participants. The problem to rushing photography is that you tend to get tunnel vision. You’re so focused on the look on your kids’ face and not on what’s happening in the background that you sometimes miss the trash, toys, or bags on the floor, etc.

To avoid these distracting items, I’d like to encourage you to pause and take a look at what is behind your child or around them. You can even take a quick pic to see what will be showing in your photo as soon as you start taking your pictures. When you take the time to do a quick pick-up or change the angle from which you’re shooting to remove distractions from your photo, the quality of your image will greatly improve. 

3. Get Creative on Your Background

Most parents take their back-to-school photos outside their front door. There’s nothing wrong with this location, but if you want my honest opinion — it’s kind of boring. There’s so many places you can take your kiddo instead to liven up this image. You don’t have to be a professional photographer to take your child on a little photoshoot somewhere else.

So turn this photo-op into an adventure (complete with a sweet treat once the photoshoot is done) and try going somewhere new. 

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There’s lots of places within the DFW that you can take your kiddo to take their back-to-school picture, but some of my favorite places are:

  • The school playground (take advantage of the swing set or crawl-thru tunnel for some shots).
  • The front of your kiddo’s school.
  • In front of a school bus. Many public high schools have their buses parked in the parking lot over the summer. As long as the bus is not behind a gate, you’re fine to take a few pictures in front of it.
  • A large colorful wall. Check out The Foundry District for some fun options.
  • A back-to-school studio set-up. The Pink Pineapple Shop in Bedford and Lemon Drop Studios in McKinney both have cute set-ups and options for 20 – 30 minute rentals!

advocating for your child at school, navigating educational plans4. Stop Saying Cheese

As a parent, this is going to be the HARDEST step to master because it is so hardwired in us to “say cheese” whenever someone takes a picture. But when we say “smile for the camera” or “say cheese,” we are not encouraging natural smiles from our little ones. Forced smiles never look as good as real ones.

I encourage you to start getting creative in the ways you get your child to smile for a photo. Some of my favorite ways to get my own children to smile naturally for a photo is to have them:

  • Jump
  • Give me your best evil laugh
  • Tickle them
  • Make fart noises
  • Dance to a silly song

With all these tips, I’d like to end by saying: Tune in to your child’s emotions when he or she is getting pictures taken. If your child is feeling antsy, show the images that you’ve captured. Ask what pose he or she would like to try. Sometimes giving a say in the matter will help turn your kiddo’s attitude around.

However, if your child obviously doesn’t want his or her picture taken, save the photography for another time. You don’t want the camera to become the enemy, but rather a tool for collecting moments. 

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Sarah Hess
Sarah Mae is the owner of Photography of Sarah Mae and a local Collin County mom. She began her professional photography career shooting weddings in Southern Indiana, but now captures families and weddings across the DFW. Her one claim to fame is winning a dance video contest on Instagram with hundreds of submissions. Her winning dance video had over 10k views back in the day before #reels.