How to Take Your Own School Photos

Written by contributor Heidi Scovel of Mt. Hope Chronicles

The yearly, right-of-passage school photos were something I couldn’t decide whether to love or hate as a child. I remember the anticipation of being handed the envelope with my pictures, praying they had turned out well. And the dread of the teacher showing everyone (yes, that happened) when they hadn’t.

Haven’t we all looked back at some of our own school photos and cringed, whether it was the outrageous perm, the out-of-style glasses, or the braces? Or maybe it was the one shot we had at a decent facial expression.

But now that I am (much, much) older, I look at those pictures with a certain fondness. The regularity with which they occurred made it easy to see how much I changed and grew from year to year.

It can be easy as homeschooling families to set aside some of the institutional school traditions, or reject the cookie-cutter, conveyor-belt photography. We don’t need to throw out the baby with the bath water, however. Our children grow and change so quickly, that if we don’t take the time to capture them in a picture (quirks and all), those moments will be gone forever.

Photography takes an instant out of time, altering life by holding it still. ~Dorothy Lange

Making a tradition of back to school photos is a great way to ensure that you and your children will possess consistent reminders of who they were and who they became.

Here are a few tips to get you started.

1.  Show some personality.

One of the things that strikes me about traditional school photos is the sameness, and one of the reasons we homeschool is so that our boys are free to be themselves! Don’t be afraid to embrace your own creativity and your child’s personality through location, props, activity, or facial expressions.

Photo by Heidi Scovel

2.  Make use of natural light.

Forget the flash. Forget bright sunlight. Get outside in the open shade (or on an overcast day). It eliminates squinting, harsh shadows, and over-exposure. Evening is a wonderful time of day for soft light!

Photo by Heidi Scovel

3.  Try a new perspective.

Stand on a chair, climb a ladder, get on your belly. Whatever you do, don’t just stand there! At least not for every photo, since there is no one-picture-rule here! Standing slightly above your child will give you a great shot of their eyes.

Photo by Heidi Scovel

4.  Get close.

It is fun to get shots of kids doing interesting things in interesting places, but it is very important that you don’t forget to take a few shots up close. Really close. Make sure you can see their missing teeth, their freckles, their eye color, or their new hair cut. You will treasure every detail of those little faces in the years to come.

While you’re up close, snap a few pictures of other details. The new shoes. Hands gripping a pencil. A favorite book.

Photo by Heidi Scovel

5.  Use the rule of thirds.

For a nicely balanced photo, take your focal point (eyes in the case of a face shot, or head in the case of a body shot) and off-center it a bit, horizontally and/or vertically. Imagine lines dividing the picture into thirds, and place the eyes on the top line.

Photo by Heidi Scovel

6.  Create traditions.

While variety can be the spice of life, many children look forward to traditions. Do you have back-to-school routines that would lend themselves to photographs? Take pictures of your child at his or her workspace each year, or out for doughnuts on the first day of school.

7.  Embellish.

Once you’ve taken the pictures, feel free to add a little flair. At the free online photo editing site, Picnik, you can can crop, create collages, add frames and text, and so much more!

Photo by Heidi Scovel

For more back to school photo ideas, check out this fabulous post over at i heart faces.

Remember, also, to catch everyday school and life moments throughout the year: read-aloud time, art class, kids gathered at the kitchen table for math, or the history projects.

Taking pictures doesn’t have to be complicated. Even though life seems to slog by some days, childhood truly is fleeting. Now is the only time to capture these memories.

Photography is a way of feeling, of touching, of loving. What you have caught on film is captured forever… it remembers little things, long after you have forgotten everything. ~Aaron Siskind

Have you taken yearly pictures of your children? Do you have a back to school photo tradition?

About Heidi

Heidi documents Living Lovely at her blog, Mt. Hope Chronicles. There she celebrates (in words and images) her journey as wife, homeschooling mother of three rambunctious boys, photographer, book collector, and lover of the little things.


  1. Thank you so much for this! I’ve been wondering about doing collages…I’m so excited!
    Jenn @ Beautiful Calling’s latest post: SpaFinder Gift Certificate Giveaway

    • Perfect! Great instructions and Ideas..especially like the dividing the picture in thirds and the collage..I might do a postcard like you send out at Xmas to all the relatives now! Much more affordable and I can upload it right to the local drugstore:) Thanks!!

  2. Love this post! And your photography and creativity are fabulous!
    heather’s latest post: One Change Per Month- Packing A Lunch

  3. Inspiring and user friendly! 🙂 Thanks, Heidi.
    Carole’s latest post: a summer full of boys &amp frogs

  4. thanks for the great ideas! we take one of all the kiddos together in the same spot (lovely old wooden fence), holding a card with the school year painted on it. it’s always fun to take and fun to look back on. this is our most recent one:
    emily hope’s latest post: family rules galatians 5 fine art print 11×14

  5. Thought provoking (thoughts of cloudy days and open fields…) and motivating!

    Thank you.

  6. We also have a friend that photographs his kids standing in the same order in the same spot in front of their house each year. This year he shared the last 5 years and it was so cool to see the kids grow and change! I also want to be sure to kid pics of my kids during our school day…I think those will be neat as they grow.
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  7. What a fabulous inspiration and reminder. My one regret about homeschooling is that I haven’t done a better job of capturing “the essense” of my children and their special experiences on our journey. You have reminded me to take some time out this year to really capture those moments, and then to create a permanent reminder book that documents their year.

    I think it will be really special for them when they are older. You have inspired me.


  8. Thanks for the post. I have never used objects to embellish the photo. GREAT suggestion! Thanks again.
    Eric Busby’s latest post: Have you heard about the work PEP is doing

  9. Homeschooling and photography are two of my favorite things, but I’ve been remiss in doing school photos. They’re definitely gonna happen soon. Thanks!
    Amy’s latest post: DragonCon Parade 2014

  10. picnik link didnt work

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