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10 School Portrait Photography Tips for All Ages

Last updated: March 13, 2024 - 7 min read
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School portraits grace the yearbooks and the walls of many family homes. But working as a school portrait photographer feels like running a marathon.
You might want to offer yearbook photos for your seniors. Or you might want to photograph entire schools.
Here are ten school picture tips for photographers about to tackle school portrait photography.

1. What to Ask Your Clients Before Taking School Portraits

Working as a school portrait photographer likely means that you’ll be photographing hundreds of kids in a short amount of time.
That’s a huge task that requires organization in order to avoid mishaps. And to get the gig again next year. Planning is essential to successful school portrait photography.
Here are some questions to ask yourself, or the school:

  • How many kids will you be photographing?
  • How much time will you have to photograph that many children?
  • How will you manage if you run behind schedule?
  • Will you set up a re-take day?
  • How will you deliver hundreds of images to the right families?
  • How will you use this opportunity to book more of your usual portrait sessions?

With organization and planning, you can set yourself up for a successful school portraits shoot (or hundreds of successful mini-shoots). You can even work in marketing for other portrait sessions to the same families.
A Group of happy young students in a university posing with books - school portraits tips

2. Communicate With the School to Clarify Requirements

In any photography business, creating a happy client means setting appropriate expectations from the start.
In school portrait photography, your client is both the school and the parents. Get started on the right foot by communicating clearly with the school.
Besides gathering details on the timing and the number of students, make sure to work with the school on the style of the school portraits.
Schools moving from working with a large photography corporation to working with your small business may be more accustomed to more formal headshots.
Make sure you understand what the school needs. The images you shoot will probably be used in yearbooks as well as other spots in the school.
When photographing just the yearbook photo for a senior, make sure to get the image requirements ahead of time.
Some schools have very strict specifications with a certain background color, crop, and pose. Others are more lenient. 
A school portrait of a female student posing against black background

3. Plan the Delivery and Create a Handout

Almost just as hard as photographing hundreds of students is delivering images to hundreds of families.
Start planning how you will deliver the images well before the actual shoot. Far enough ahead that you can create a handout to deliver to parents before picture day.
Those details ahead of time should include the date, price range and perhaps some tips for a successful picture day.
Today, an easy way to deliver the images is to use an online platform such as Pixieset. There are several different online programs that allow you to upload photos to allow customers to buy prints.
These platforms take care of collecting the payment and print and ship for you, then just take a cut of the sales.
It’s a good idea to have an alternative to online ordering for families that can’t or prefer not to order online. This can be a physical order form.
Decide how you’ll let parents know that photos are ready and how you’ll tell them where to go to order online.
Some photographers deliver a package or handout that includes a preview of the image or a small free print. Others stick with a simpler and cheaper flyer with all the details.
A school portrait of a female student posing casually against black background

4. Create a System to Make Sure Your Images Are Labelled Correctly

What images should be delivered to what student? When working with such a large number of portraits, it’s important to create a system to correctly note whos who in each image.
Try something as simple as recording the image numbers next to the student’s name as they come in. This can help you keep track of who you’ve photographed and who was missing.
A school portrait of happy male high school student smiling in a school corridor - tips for quality school portraits

5. Build Your Set and Lighting for Simplicity and Consistency

Working with such a large number of students, you probably won’t have time to constantly switch up backgrounds and props.
Keep that in mind as you decide what background and props to use. Choose something that will work for each student. This can be a simple background or even working with a digital backdrop system.
Lighting is essential to a successful portrait session. You’ll likely be working in a school room that doesn’t have flattering ambient lighting.
Using strobes or flash with a diffuser will help the kids’ eyes sparkle. It will create more high-end images, and keep the exposure consistent.
A school portrait of a female students casually against a grey background - tips for quality school portraits

6. Arrive Early to Have Time to Set Up Before Students Arrive

Don’t get behind schedule before you even start.
Be sure to arrive early enough to get your backdrop, lighting and camera settings perfect before students begin to arrive.
Have that system for tracking who’s who ready as well.
A school portrait of a male student casually against a green background - tips for quality school portraits

7. Shoot With Consistent Settings to Streamline Editing

Whenever you are working with a large volume of images, keep settings and lighting consistent. This will allow you to streamline the editing process.
If your exposure is consistent throughout the shoot, the editing process will be much simpler. Along the same lines, it’s important to keep the lighting consistent for easier editing as well.
Using manual mode will allow you to keep the images consistent throughout the day. You may need to make minor adjustments to properly expose for each child’s skin tone. But keeping the exposure fairly consistent will make your job much easier later.
Avoid auto white balance and set a custom white balance from the start. This will help you avoid spending hours getting the perfect white balance later.
With a set of consistent images, you can use the same editing presets or the sync settings tool in Lightroom. You’ll quickly edit all the images.
You’ll want to make sure to look at each individual image. But you can speed through the editing process much faster if your images are consistent to begin with.
A school portrait of a Smiling teenager with a schoolbag standing on wall background - tips for quality school portraits

8. Getting Students to Smile Means More Print Sales

Chances are, the school chose you as a photographer instead of a large photography chain because of your style. You’ll want to make sure to understand what the school expects before the shoot. But most will appreciate the unique style that you bring to school portraits.
You may not be able to spend the time you usually do with each student. But you can deliver images that are still true to who you are as a photographer.
As you work, be sure to try to keep those students cracking a smile.
It’s a good idea to plan a few jokes or tricks ahead of time for kids that are hesitant to smile. The more smiles you get, the more print orders you’ll get.
Students boarding a yellow school bus on a clear day - school portraits tips

9. Deliver Consistent Images Quickly to Ensure You’ll Be Hired Again

Just like during the shoot, you can’t always spend the time and care with editing that you would with a longer portrait session. That doesn’t mean you should skip it entirely.
Since you kept the settings consistent during the shoot, you’ll be able to apply the same settings to each image for sharpness, any exposure corrections, and contrast and color adjustments.
Once you’ve applied adjustments to all the images, look at each image for a quick quality check. Make any necessary corrections.
If you want that same gig next year, work for a fast turnaround and simple delivery for all those photos.
Send additional resources to tell parents where to go to order photos online. Include information on how to order images offline.
An empty high school corridor - school pictures


Yearbooks are impossible without school portraits. Portraits at school are also great for families that wouldn’t otherwise be able to get professional images annually. These photographs mark the growth of their child each year.
For photographers, school portraits can be a boost for business. It also has the potential for a lot of print sales
But, a few school portrait tips are necessary to successfully photograph a few hundred kids in a short time period.
Planning ahead, communicating with the school, keeping settings consistent and capturing smiles can all go a long way to build a successful school portraits session.