Last spring, I took photos at a local preschool. Instead of reproducing the typical school photo 80's look, my goal was to make something fresh and deliver photos that match the quality of images I would give to my family session clients. I decided to set up a natural light studio inside one of the classrooms. To elicit a variety of genuine expressions, I had one of the teachers help me, and we played with confetti and sang songs. In addition, because this was a play-based preschool and kindergarten, I wanted to capture the children outside playing. This is where things got a little overambitious— I took pictures of each child in the studio and outside and processed four unique images per child! It was little too much for a single photographer to handle (and it took four days!), but the amazing teachers made all the difference, and the results were worth the effort. Here are a few things I'd like to share.
For the indoor studio, I set up a roll of gray paper facing a corner window. Most of the time, the light was coming from the side. Depending on the time of day, this produced dramatic results. Yay for directional lighting! I used a diffuser in the window to soften the strong morning light.
a range of expressions
To make the children comfortable and relaxed, I took 10-15 mins with each child in the studio. I had planned to start by asking them to sing together or to do one of the tongue twisters and then move on to confetti. It turns out (this is what I learned from the teacher who was helping me), the best way to beguile a child in preschool is not to try to be silly but to ask them about their siblings or parents. I captured a lot of great expressions of children telling me fondly about their moms or silly siblings. Once the children became more comfortable, the teacher would throw the confetti over them. Actually, we played this game where she would build anticipation first, and I shot most images in that in-between time with the children bracing themselves for the confetti shower.
NOT JUST FACIAL EXPRESSION
Children talk with their bodies. This becomes very obvious in studio sessions when you have the child put on the spot and standing in one place while you ask them questions. And I love this! All the little gestures, the fidgeting, the moving towards and away from the camera, movement of lips as they try to focus hard, hands on face or in hair... This is who they are at that stage in life and what most parents would want to remember and have professionally captured. I aimed to capture a range of expression rather than all smiles.
I shot most outdoor photos in shade, on cloudy days or backlit with a reflector in the front. It was distracting having to worry about the reflector while chasing kids on the move. In the future, I would omit using it. The children were already more comfortable with me, having completed the studio portion of the shoot. I had the very young kids play in the sandbox or climb a small tree, and I asked the older kids to dance with silk scarves. If the kids started dancing together, or doing something altogether different, I followed their lead and took photos of them with friends. The first photo below is a cropped images of three children holding hands and spinning.
I tend to process images with lots of movement or strong facial expressions as black and white. This removes distraction of color and busy backgrounds and makes our eyes really focus on facial expression or the feeling that moving parts create. It is always a gamble these days handing parents a black and white image of their child because black and white has become so undervalued, but I chose to take that risk.
While the shoot took a lot of effort, the results were very rewarding, and I would absolutely do it again. In fact, I am working with a Seattle preschool on scheduling a similar photoshoot for the spring. If you'd like to have more natural and artistic school photos at your children's school, let the school administration know and get in touch.