School Photo of Girl - How to DIY School Portraits

Having yearly school portraits of your children is extremely important in documenting your family and keeping those memories for generations.  The problem is that the school portraits you get from the school are most times cheesy, have horrible lighting, the background is dated, and sometimes the big box companies run all the photos through the same post-processing that can generate some very unreal results.  Luckily for us, it is really easy to create some great school portraits of our kiddos so we really only need to spend money on the class photos! Here is a step-by-step to DIYing school portraits that you will cherish for years to come.  

Step 1: School Portrait Background

The first step to great school portraits is to figure out what kind of background you want to use.  If you like fall leaves, find a great outdoor path near your home. If you want a clean contemporary look find a black or white blanket/sheet in your linen closet.  A modern look could be an interesting brick wall in the city. If you have a teenager maybe ask them what kind of background they would like.

Step 2:  School Portrait Attire

Guiding your children towards the proper outfit for school portraits can be tricky.  When you are taking your own school portraits it can be a little easier because your kiddo doesn’t need to worry about his friends seeing them and you don’t have to worry about the outfit making it through recess or lunch.  When choosing it’s best to stay away from crazy patterns and neon colors. Try to choose colors that will have high contrast with but also complement the background that you chose. If you are using a black background and want a dramatic feel you can choose black clothes.  This works with a white background as well.  Here is a great article on picking outfits for school portraits.

Step 3:  School Portrait Lighting

Lighting is extremely important to great photos especially school portraits.  Half the reason the school portraits you buy from the school are bad is that they are taken in yucky UV lighting that they try to correct with a lighting system.  The best lighting for any photo is natural lighting. When you are DIYing your school portraits indoors with a background try to do it in front of a window that has good lighting.  You want to have good light but not harsh light. What that means is that you don’t want a sun-facing window at the time of day the sun is visible from the window. An example would be a sun-facing window in the fall around 5:00 pm.  This will create harsh light and lots of shadows. This same window would be okay before that time because the sun is high enough in the sky.  

If you have decided to do outdoor school portraits, its best to choose a day that is overcast so that the sun doesn’t blind your kiddo and so that there are no shadows being cast by unexpected shady spots.  If you are doing it on a clear sunny day be sure to seek out open shade. You will have much better results. And as always make sure to set your white balance in-camera before shooting so that you don’t have to worry about making corrections later!

Step 4:  Camera Settings

So this is the tricky part about taking any photos with a DSLR, what camera mode and subsequently what settings.  My suggestion is to use manual mode and set your aperture and shutter speed to one value and use your ISO to get the proper exposure.  Now before you go screaming about noise, just hear me out.

When you are taking school portraits, I assume you will want to have your kiddo as the primary subject.  This means you should lower your aperture (f-stop) to get some background blur to make your kiddo pop. Next, you are taking pictures of kids (or at least I assume you are), that means that you will want a shutter speed above 1/200, I actually recommend 1/250.  This will ensure you don’t get soft focus or movement blur of your kiddo. With these two recommendations that only leaves ISO to play with. If you have good lighting as suggested above in step 3 you won’t need to raise your ISO so much that you get significant noise in the photo.  Also by properly exposing your photo, you won’t introduce any noise in post-processing.  

So give the above suggestions a try and see what you get.  If you are really nervous about shooting in manual you can start in shutter priority mode and set your shutter speed to 1/200 and let the camera choose the rest.  See below for some more resources for learning how to shoot in manual mode if you are nervous.  

Step 5:  Printing School Portraits

The final step in DIYing the school portraits is to actually print your photos.  This is key as I find many of us tend to take the photos and then never do anything with them.  Printing is really fast and easy, especially with sites like Shutterfly. You can get really great quality prints at a reasonable price.  Choose your favorite site! I would suggest avoiding sites like Walmart or Target as photo printing is not their primary business. Be patient and wait for the shipping from a true online print shop, you will enjoy your photos way more.

Those are the 5 easy steps to DIYing your school portraits.  You should really love your kids’ photos, so go ahead and try it yourself. If you have any questions feel free to leave me a comment below!   Happy Shooting! 

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