We’re largely led to believe that the spring is season of change, and I think that’s true – if you’re a plant. For humans, however, I’m going to propose the most transformative time of year is actually the back-to-school season. Back-to-school has always represented a kind of reset for people, even if you aren’t actually heading back to school. Businesses, laborers, retailers, and everyone in between are acclimatizing to the new work season, and at home they are preparing their kids for the new school year. The preparation is only half the battle though, the other half is trying to answer the question, “Where has the time gone?”
Sometimes life can pass by a little too quickly, so much so it can feel like you’ve missed something. One of my favorite things to do when I’m feeling like this is to look at old photographs. A photograph is a really special thing, it’s kind of like a bookmark in life. Months, years, even decades later, a photo lets you flip back to the pages you’ve already read and reread it again, just because.
What follows are some helpful tips on capturing the best back-to-school photos you can, to keep the memories clear as day for a long, long time.
The Minutiae of Daily Life
It’s easy to overlook small details simply because they don’t seem important in the moment. Those little things can be great ways to conjure up memories though, and are a fun thing to compose a shot of. Here are a couple of examples of the minor details that are overlooked around this time of year.
The School Supplies – Sometimes when looking through the stationary supplies at a store I’ll catch myself thinking, “Boy, I wish we had these when I was in school.” Looking back at the books, binders, pencils and other essentials can be a fun time capsule to look back on. How have things changed? What has stayed the same?
The Lunch – I know what you’re thinking. You really want to me to photograph my kids packed lunch? Yes I do! Remember that these photos are a time capsule for your children as much as they are for you. I have very fond memories of the types of things my mom packed in my lunch, and thinking of those things, the cheese-spread on celery sticks or the diagonally cut sandwiches; they remind me of her, and are nice things to reminisce over, despite how silly it might sound!
The Shoes – Footwear is one of those things that really captures style trends of the era. I would do anything to see my shoes from grade 5 again! They had dinosaurs on them, and a big T-Rex foot print on the tongue that was actually a pump. Remember pump shoes? I wish I could see a photo of those things again. Grabbing a photo of the shoes every season can be a really fun timeline to look back on.
Moving on from the daily life photos, let’s start capturing the stars of the show.
Kids Being Kids
Here are two of the best tips I’ve ever gotten from a photographer regarding taking photos of your kids.
Tip 1: Get down to their eye level and take the photo from their perspective. You kind of let the viewer enter their world this way, and see things from their vantage point. Often we will point our cameras down at children which leaves us with a completely different perspective on the image, our perspective. This is fine, but be sure to take the time to get down to their height sometimes too. The other reason is that taking photos of someone on the same plane as their eyes can have a very humanizing effect.
Tip 2: Don’t ask them to smile. Not every photo needs to be a big toothy grin directly into the camera. Candid shots of different emotions are a priceless commodity in a photo collection. Take the time to get down and capture photos of your kids simply doing whatever they are doing. Maybe it’s the look of concentration as they draw a picture, or determination as they pack absolutely everything into their school bag because they’re convinced they’ll need it. These are pure moments that capture a different kind of memory and make for a beautiful keepsake.
With those two tips in mind, grab your camera and start with these ideas.
Buddies – Get photos of your children and their best friends. Remember those tips! Get down to their level, and try to capture something natural, perhaps one of them is making the other laugh, or working on an art project together. These photos of old friends are a great thing to show them when they’ve grown up, especially if they have remained friends since then.
Homework – Your kids are going to be bringing home school work and these can be great photo opportunities as well. That look of concentration, head buried in their books, tongue sticking out the side of their mouth. Determination defined in a photograph. Bonus picture idea! Try to get a photo of the other parent helping them with their homework. Often mom or dad will look just as perplexed as they try to remember how fractions work or what this protractor thing is for.
Finally, don’t forget to capture the big moments.
Of course you have to get the big important photos like the first day of school, waiting for the bus, or walking up the steps into school. I’ve left this until last because I wanted to offer some additional unique ideas on back-to-school photos, but these classic photos are cliché for a reason. They are quintessential moments that absolutely deserve photographing. I will however try to add a few big moments that might get overlooked throughout the year.
First Report Card – The look of pride with a successful term report is a moment worth capturing. Have them hold up their report card and grab the shot. These are more about preserving the sense of achievement on their faces than the actual marks on the card, so make sure they are the focus.
When I grow up – Have your child hold up a sign with the name of the occupation they want to be when they grow up. An astronaut, a race car driver, a princess. These may not seem like big moments, but remember that at this age whatever they choose to write on that sign is very important to them. This is something they have decided is a defining goal and someone they look up to greatly. I’d say that’s deserving of Big Moment status. It’s also really cool to look back over the years and see how those signs change, or don’t change, as they age.
The First and Last Day – Try to get a picture of your kids on the first day of the school year, and the last day. When you edit them side-by-side they can really demonstrate just how much they grow in a year and are a fun thing to look back on as well.
That’s it! I hope you all have a smooth transition into the new school year, and that this guide has given you a few ideas on creating memories for the future.