Tuesday, September 20, 2011

School picture day is coming

The flyers that come home with my kids are letting me know that School Picture Day is coming!! Get ready!!!   The prices are high (the flyer says "$9 per item"; an "item" is either one 8x10", two 5x7", or four 3x5" photos).  It's very easy to drop serious money on school pictures, especially if you have multiple kids (as I do).

Many years ago, when my three girls and one son were all in school, I decided to gird up my courage and suggest that maybe we should NOT buy school photos.  Maybe we could do "family photos" instead?  I ducked and got ready for the "bad mother" accusations.

To my surprise, the girls all thought that was a GREAT idea (and their younger brother went along).  They hated their school photos, which always came out -- they thought -- awful.  We've done family photos ever since, and we've saved hundreds and hundreds of dollars because of it.

Why do school photos exist?  Long ago, personal photography was very difficult.  Cameras were notoriously tricky to focus and use, and film was expensive.  My grandmother's family used to get occasional photographs taken at Olin Studios, a professional place, and I think I'm lucky to have some of these lovely photographs hanging up on my walls.  School photographs came into being as a way for ordinary families to get good, professional photographs of their own children and (eventually) of their children's friends.

But like the QWERTY keyboard, school photo days have taken on a life of their own that don't match modern life.  Now it's very easy for parents to take good photographs -- even better photos, my kids pointed out, than the assembly-line photographs that the school provides.

The first year I did family photos, I had my picture taken for the Year Book at my college, and I paid attention to how the photographers posed me.  This helped me get the "school photo look" for our own pictures.  Here are some tips I learned.

  • Turn the child's body slightly, with one shoulder closer to the camera than the other. This gives the body a nice, gentle asymmetry.
  • Turn the head toward the camera. 
  • Tilt the chin down just a bit.
So for me, the flyers that come home remind me that it's time to pull out my photograph paper (I picked up some when it was marked way down); I'll pose my kids, take a bunch of photos, and choose the best ones for printing.

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