Photographing Back To School

I still recall taking my very first, first day of school photo. Taken with my brother and sister in front of our house. Many photos would be taken there. Is there any doubt this was 1973?! I still wonder if my mom told them to look at me!



My first grade photo is my absolute favorite though! I had slept with pink curlers in my hair to be ready for the big day. And there I am with the sun in my eyes and crazy curls on my head.


I cherish this photo. That is THE beautiful thing about first day of school photos. They will be treasured no matter the quality of the photo. It is about the moment.  I love the too shirt dress, the dog sitting behind me (I think that was Rusty), the driveway that circled around the house and was the spot where I learned to ride a bike, and grape vines in the background. It looks like I’m not wearing glasses. That’s a little strange since I’ve worn them since I was three years old. It’s a little something I need to ask my mom about.

Now it’s my turn to take my son’s first day photos. The memory matters most, but I will think about a few things when I go to shoot:

  1. Keep his eyes toward the light, but not directly at it. With early morning photos, the sun should be low enough to avoid squinting.
  2. Keep him in the shade. Avoiding dappled light and choosing even shade will provide more flattering photos.
  3. Avoid saying cheese. See the link below.
  4. Shoot on Aperture Priority mode so that I can shoot fast and be ready to leave the house and grab at school photos.
  5. Know that I can take second day of school photos if needed. It’s a day, he won’t change completely.
  6. Add a little context for the future. The details will make him happy someday.

These have all worked for me in the past.

On Ian’s first day of school, we opted to start a tradition of standing in front of the house. Original, huh? Sometimes you just can’t mess with a classic.

I love how you can see the changes over time.

Adding the chalk board captures fun details and gives me one more way to keep track of the years. Don’t have a chalk board? You can grab Persnickety Prints’ FREE Back To School Printable.

Back To School Photos-0577


Back To School Photos-9370


Back To School Photos-9790

We are lucky enough to have a large tree shading our front door. Shade is your friend on the first day of school! Your photo will turn out more pleasing and you will avoid squinty, unhappy faces. Oh, and avoid these phrases to get great, natural smiles.

Oh, the unhappy face. Does it happen at your house? It appeared in second grade, so I improvised by just cutting his face out of the frame.

Back To School Photos-9374

We decided to make it a tradition. Well, the photo, not the grumpy face!

For second grade, since my subject was cooperative, we moved the sign just a bit with the help of dad ((notice the finger I decided not to Photoshop out!?) I love how this shows the info and a little bit about who Ian is without his face. This one still makes me smile!

Back To School Photos-9795


We’ve added another fun, easy photo to our first day of school routine. Grabbing a quick shot with the classroom number and a peek into the room has become a favorite of mine. Of course, the first year required some saving as an emotional mom completely messed up the photo’s settings. Thanks to RAW files, I was able to save it, but the color was just too wonky for anything other than black and white.

Back To School Photos-0580

Back To School Photos-9377


I’m not sure why he felt the need to stand at attention, but I went with it anyway. It’s a marker of the time.  If you can get them to cooperate, photos always look a bit better if you have them stand about 10 inches in front of the wall or door or whatever object is behind them. I hope to continue to capture this one through at least sixth grade. Think I’ll make it?

Back To School Photos-9808

I love that I can measure his growth with these as well as remember his classroom numbers.

Of course,  first day of school shots should include some variety too.

I love stepping into the classroom. Ian’s school lets parents step in for the first few minutes and then boots us out. We’ll be back though since he’s at a parent participation school!

Of course, shooting while emotional can lead to some interesting shots.


Back To School Photos-9380


Back To School Photos-0595


Back To School Photos-9381

We don’t have buses in our district, but we do have the rush to the car. I love the backpack shot even if the blue minivan replaces a cute bus in the background.

Back To School Photos-9376


Here are even more fun back to school photo ideas (even if you’ve been in school a few weeks):

Back To School Photo Ideas at The Daily Digi

Back To School Photo Tips From Simple As That

CreativeLIVE: Back To School Photos: Documenting The Elementary Years (if you have time and are looking for a more stylized approach)

I’m charging my batteries and getting ready for third grade back to school photos soon. I’ll stick to tradition this year with maybe an extra idea or two thrown in for good measure.

Do you have a back to school photo tradition? Share it in the comments below! I’d love to read them!




  1. Thanks for the wonderful post, now a grandma I still go after those special event photos. Though I was not interested in the aspects of photography when I was a young mom I still new the importance of documenting the event. I have 1st day photos of both my kids from KN up until their 1st year of college standing beside their car packed to the gills. There are 8 years between my kids (girl/boy) and they went along with my crazy tradition of capturing the moment…. Such sweet and fond memories.

  2. Donna R.

    Why is it that boys always have the most long and beautiful eyelashes? He’s adorable! When my daughter was in elementary school, she always stood in front of the school sign on the first day of school. The sign always said “welcome back” with the date school began. It was also a great way to watch her grow. Now that she’s in HS, we still take the same picture, just before school, when no one is around!

  3. Paula Christy

    He is so cute!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *