Take Your Child's School Pictures Yourself

Hate the boring school pictures of your kids? Take better ones yourself!

Getty/altrendo images

School pictures are something many parents dread. Every year when it's time for school pictures, they faced with paying a lot of money in advance for school pictures that are invariably bad. The backgrounds are boring, the smiles fake, and the school pictures come in packages that force you to buy sizes and quantities you really don't want. So I started saving money and getting better pictures by taking school pictures myself.

Difficulty: Easy

Time Required: One hour, plus 1-4 days to receive prints from retailer, if you get them printed by mail.

What You Need:

  • Digital camera and extra memory
  • Tripod (optional)
  • Sheet or curtain (optional)
  • Computer with photo editing software
  • Photo printer with plenty of toner (optional)
  • High quality photo paper (optional)
  • Adorable kids!

Here's How:

  1. Gather your equipment. If you don't have a good digital camera, borrow or buy one.

    Probably one of the biggest difference between a school photographer's equipment and a point and shoot digital or a cell phone camera is the flash. Professional equipment bounces the flash from several angles, eliminating shadows. Typically the flash in your camera only comes from one direction. You may not want to use the flash at all, but investigate all your camera's flash settings. Some have red-eye reduction and other handy features.

    If you are shooting without a flash, a tripod can steady your camera, eliminating blurs produced in lower light levels.

  1. Choose a location and backdrop. Natural light eliminates the need for a flash, so an outdoor location or near a window, but not in glaring sunlight, is good. Just be sure the light is not coming from behind your child.

    If you want your pictures to look like more typical school pictures, you may want to use a plain background, though a stark white wall might be too sterile. Hanging a curtain or a sheet can soften the background. Or use a wall painted in a subtle color.Of course, since this is not your typical school picture anyway, you may want to choose a more interesting background like going out into the yard.

  1. Experiment with an adult (or someone very patient). When it comes to picture taking, kids' attention spans are short. The longer they do it, the harder it is to get them to look at you or smile naturally. Experiment with the technical aspects of photography with someone more patient.

    If your camera has a "scene selection" mode, try out the portrait setting and a few others. Use the auto mode with and without the flash. Try the totally manual settings.

    Set your camera for the largest file size and be sure you have lots of extra memory. Smaller photo sizes preserve room on your memory card but do not print as well.

  2. Agree on an outfit and hairstyle for your child. Choose a comfortable outfit. If you are only taking head shots, then you don't have to have tights or matching shoes.
  3. Take the pictures. An assistant is helpful. Especially if your child is young, you may need help keeping him or her focused. Talking with your child or making jokes while you are taking school pictures will produce more natural expressions.

    Standing too long may bring on a case of the wiggles, so have your child sitting. Angle his body away from the camera but have him turn his head to look at you. But keep it natural. To keep the photo from looking stiff and overly posed, be sure the position is comfortable for you child to maintain. Shoot from the child's eye level, not looking down at him.

  1. Transfer the photos to your computer and edit. Most digital cameras come with some photo editing software, and many retailers that print photos offer photo editing services on their websites.

    The auto correct feature can give them a more professional look by softening the harsh glare that the flashes on some point and shoot cameras produce. Also many have red eye correction, and you can crop out things in the background or crop a full body picture to just waist up or a head shot.

  2. Print the pictures. If you print the pictures on your own printer, be sure your toner is not low. Use good quality photo paper too. Use the highest quality setting your photo printer has. This uses more toner and takes loner to print, but it is worth it. Toner and paper are not cheap, but you will still save money over the exorbitant cost of most school pictures.
  1. Or send school pictures out for printing. Photo printing websites Snapfish, CVS Photo and Walgreens are just a few of the many companies that allow you to upload digital photos to be printed and then have the photos mailed to you. With CVS and Walgreens, you can pick up photos at a local store for even faster service