School photography tips to help children feel at ease in front of the camera
W.C Fields famously said that people should ‘never work with kids or animals’ and certainly, photographing children can be challenging, but also incredibly rewarding.
In school photography, you often don’t have time to build a rapport with your subject as you would for wedding or studio photography. It’s a very unique and particular art form.
Sales are likely to be significantly better if you have a set of natural and happy photos of the children. Happy parents mean a happy school, resulting in increased revenue with a good chance of securing repeat business year on year.
So, how can you break the ice and get young people feeling and looking more comfortable in front of the camera?
Draw on the experiences of others where possible
Drawing on the experience of other photographers is invaluable. Join Facebook groups or forums of like-minded people, seek out ideas.
Set expectations for the school
Set expectations and be clear about those expectations ahead of your arrival – try to make sure you know who will be arranging things on the day and have a chat with them.
This will include explaining what sort of space you need and how you will use class lists, barcodes or QR codes and what preparation you will need them to do in this regard.
It may be daunting at first, but remember that being clear and firm ahead of time, providing reasons for your requirements is not being “demanding” or “bossy”, it’s being professional. If the tone is right, most school organisers should appreciate this. They want the day to go smoothly as much as you do.
Enough but not too many
Some young people will feel very shy and self-conscious when they’re in front of the camera, so if you can work in an environment that removes distractions (and distracting people!) then it can put them at ease. However, there is a balance to be achieved. Ideally, you want to have the next few children watching the process before their turn. That way, they will have observed the process several times by the time they step up to be photographed. If you are alone in the room with each child, you are starting from scratch each time and it will take a lot more time (and patience).
- The first few seconds that a pupil is in front of you is critical, after a while they can get self conscious and you have missed the best photo.
- As the pupil is walking towards you, engage in conversation with them, don’t worry if they don’t reply. If you are using QR or Barcodes with the pupils name on, address them by their name, it makes sure they have the correct photo ticket and can also put them at ease.
Every situation is different, but some things you can think about for your setup include:
- Having a small stage to bring younger children up a little can really save your back and make them feel a little bigger and more on your level. Make sure that it is safe.
- A stool with direction markers, or shoe placement markers on the floor.
- Have a designated place where they can put their school bag or coat which flows naturally so they are not stepping into each other as they come in for their turn.
- Make sure that the children have their barcode or QR code ready and that you have a clear process for how you are going to capture their data. Are they going to hold the ticket up, are they going to put it on a stand, or hand it to you?
- If you do multiple poses, then have posing cards displayed for your own benefit as well as your subjects’
Being photographed by a professional is a new experience for a lot of children, so offering clear direction lets kids know where they need to be and what they need to do. This goes hand-in-hand with your setup. If your setup is well planned out, then your directions can be very clear and focused. If in doubt, show by example at the start of the session so that hopefully everyone has a clear picture before they step up.
Creating a more relaxed atmosphere can be done in lots of ways and one of them is through humour. You don’t have to go full-on ‘clown mode’ and launch into a comedy routine, but cracking a few jokes here and there can go a long way towards making children feel more comfortable. Consider having a book of dad jokes or silly jokes for kids, and have a list of silly phrases to get them to say out loud; it doesn’t matter what shape their mouth makes, as long as it’s silly it will raise a smile!
Depending on the type of shoot you’re doing, you could use props to help break the ice at a school. Turning a traditional school photo on its head and encouraging children to do their favourite poses or use props to have a bit more fun, can be a nice breakaway from the status quo. You can also use new, fun backdrops and different angles too.
Encouraging children to bring in a prop, such as their favourite soft toy, book or hobby can help to make photographs more personal and authentic. It can help children to focus on something else that makes them feel more comfortable and you can get some quality photos.
Focus on the subject, not the tech
To properly engage the young person, and get a more sellable photo, you need to be 100% focused on the person and not on the technology. Capturing data is important, but it needs to be a seamless, if not imperceptible part of the process. Spend your time talking to the young person, not cursing under your breath as you try to get a focused picture of a QR code.
If you are using QR codes, make sure you have a good way of setting up. Remember you don’t need a full frame picture of the QR. MaxLab can detect the QR code in the image even at a relatively small size.
The most efficient type of data capture is using a barcode and a purpose-made barcode reader. This is why barcodes are still used in supermarkets and warehouses.
See our blog post about the Pros & cons of different capture systems here. ID-Shoot is our tethered solution, and Scan & Merge is our on-camera barcode reader, and that post also shows how effective MaxLab’s QR recognition is.
If you would like to find out more about how our products could help improve your school photography, contact our team.