How to take First Day at School photos with a difference

how-to-photograph-childrenA child’s first day at primary school is a momentous occasion and one we proud parents want to remember and treasure with photographs. I did the usual thing of photographing my two as they left the house, with just enough time to pose quickly in the garden and then a few more shots grabbed in a rush outside school. I wish I’d thought of doing a mini shoot instead!

I came across this idea, as with many other wonderful ones, on Pinterest and finally found time to do it. Ewan starts school at the beginning of September and his mum was more than happy for him to “model” for me. It was so simple to set up and took about 30 minutes. Here’s some tips for doing one of your own.

  • Don’t leave it until the Big Day, but do it once you’ve got all the school uniform. It doesn’t matter if you haven’t got school shoes yet, no one will notice and lots of shots aren’t full length anyway.
  • Plan ahead as your 4 year old will only be patient for a short while. I got my props ready and set my camera up beforehand.
  • You only need a few simple props to suggest a school theme; here’s a few ideas: an apple for teacher, some books, paper and crayons, a little desk and chair and perhaps an easel or blackboard if you have one. I also had an old-fashioned school room map of the British Isles (it’s actually just a sheet of wrapping paper).
  • It’s always easier to do a shoot in the shade outside, as the light will be even and better than indoors. Avoid setting up in bright sunshine.
  • Once I’d got my camera set up, I could forget about the technical side and just enjoy getting cute shots. Ewan was fantastic and didn’t get bored, as we constantly changed his props and the things we were asking him to do were great fun! What child wouldn’t laugh trying to balance an apple on their head?! He really enjoyed writing his name on the blackboard, drawing himself in his uniform and pointing out where he is going on holiday on the map.


  • I cropped in nice and close to him for most shots, to exclude any unnecessary stuff in the background, took some of the pictures on an angle to make them less static and made sure that his face was towards the sun but not in it. Here’s what happens if you take the pictures in bright sunlight and shade.



I’m not suggesting that these photographs are instead of the ones on the actual day, I would still do those to capture “the moment” and emotions, but this staged shoot  is a lovely way to mark this very important stage of  growing up. Here’s a few tips for the Big Day itself:

  • Allow 10 minutes extra for the photographs. This shouldn’t be a problem as kids are usually bouncing around like beans from dawn on their first day at school, desperate to put on their uniform and get going.
  • Set your camera up in advance and use settings you are confident with. This isn’t the time to use Manual for the first time!
  • If it’s not raining head out into the garden and pick somewhere in the shade. Do some full length shots and also some cropped in on just the face and upper body.
  • If it’s wet then get your bouncing bean to stand facing a big window (you’ve got your back to the window). Try not to block the natural light with your own body, switch off your flash and the electric lights for a much more natural and flattering look.
  • Take your camera with you and get some pictures walking to school and outside the school. If it’s a sunny day and you can’t shoot in the shade, then switch your flash on.

Wipe away the tears and enjoy the moment too! And don’t get so carried away with the importance of the occasion that you lock yourself out the house, like we did on my daughter’s first day at school!

(And see how we got it a bit wrong in terms of light and shade! Still cute pictures and great memories though!)

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