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School Photo Day
Made Easy:
Tips for Teachers, Parents, And Students

By Linda Russell




Do your school photos make you cringe? Professional photographer Linda Russell shares with teachers, parents, and students her tips for creating frame-able -- and embarrassment-free -- school portraits. Included: Printable tip lists for parents and older students.


Most school teachers and administrators dread picture day. Photographing an entire school full of wiggly, wind-blown youngsters is not only disruptive to the academic schedule, but the results of that lost day seem to become more and more disappointing every year.

Linda Russell of MugsyClicks Photography is on a mission to reinvent school photography by bringing local professional photographers into schools to create "portraits worth framing." Her company might not be in your neighborhood yet, but she does have some suggestions to help you make the most of your schools photo day.


Remind students that picture day is tomorrow, and briefly discuss how they can best present themselves for this important photo, one that will be included in their school portfolio -- and given as gifts to family and friends.

Remind students to cooperate with the photographer just as they would with any adult. Explain that "good listeners" get much better photos. One of our slogans at MugsyClicks is, "cheese is a dairy product, not an expression." Don't encourage fake, smile-on-command expressions.

Provide a few suggestions regarding choice of clothes -- simple single-color shirts and blouses work best. Point out that photo day is not the day to wear their Superman or Dora the Explorer t-shirt.

Encourage students to wash their hair tonight so it will be clean and shiny for their photos tomorrow.

Remember to do the same yourself. It's hard enough to watch yourself age in yearly photographs without realizing you forgot to do your hair as well. Remember too to wear a color that complements your eyes, and to stay away from low necklines and busy prints.


Make sure students are clean and neat before they leave the classroom. Encourage them to comb their hair and look at one another to make sure clothing is buttoned properly and faces are free of breakfast.

Remind students once again to be polite and respectful of the photo team, just as they would be with any adults. At MugsyClicks, we teach our photographers to see themselves as part of the educational team, and our intention is help students learn how to be comfortable with a professional photographer. But we also expect them to be courteous and polite. If a student fools around or refuses to cooperate, he or she wastes valuable photography time, which shortchanges our limited time with other students. Supporting good manners benefits us all.

If you accompany students to the photo area, give them a quick once over before they head to the camera to make sure a parent volunteer hasn't straightened Johnny's curls or parted Jennifer's hair on the wrong side.

Do not stand behind the photographer to help get students to smile. That merely confuses the child and slows down the process. Most school photographers are professional kid photographers; you can trust them to know how to elicit the best expression possible.

Send the most confident and easy-going children to the photographer first. They will set an example for the whole class. If you notice a child is particularly nervous or apprehensive, encourage that child to watch the session with you. Narrate your observations to lessen his or her sense of worry. We always find its best to allow those students who are particularly shy a bit more time to watch and understand the process in order to help them feel more confident in front of the camera. If you start with the apprehensive students, it can create anxiety for the whole group.

Don't forget your own photo. Remember to take a quick moment to look in the mirror to make sure you are happy with your hair and no poppy seeds are in your teeth. Relax. Breathe. Trust. Think about the beach, and not about how much you hate picture day. Remember you are doing this for the kids, so they'll remember how much you loved teaching them.


Clothing should complement,
not distract.

  1. School is a great place to photograph kids -- mainly because parents are somewhere else. If you want to be at school on picture day, head to the bathroom when your child comes to the camera. Most of the time, your child will do better without you. (No peeking!)
  2. Schedule a hair cut at least 10 days ahead of photo day. The front of your child's hair should not be "eyelash-brushing long." Bang cuts should be at least a week old.
  3. Neat, shiny hair always looks best. Keep in mind that complicated hair styles do not withstand recess, and school schedules do not allow much time for hairstyling. And no bed head. We love our little boys, but they can develop some pretty gnarly snarls. Promise them a treat if they let you wet and comb their hair on photo day.
  4. The best choice of clothes is the simplest -- dress them in collared shirts that fit, and in colors that complement their eyes and hair. A sweater, a dress, a neat t-shirt, or a clean soft polar fleece works.
  5. Look for a top that complements your child's face, not one that distracts from it. Superman, Spiderman, Giants, 49'ers, Cinderella, Dora the Explorer, or Hanna Montana will immortalize childhood passions, but that should be your intention -- not an accident -- on picture day.
  6. Clothes that are clean and stain free will save retouch costs. You might even send a second shirt in case of snack accidents. (Remind them to tell the teacher they brought one.) Iron those collars!
  7. Do not coach your children about specific poses. Let the photographer position them for the best image.
  8. Reinforce a positive attitude by sharing with your children how wonderful they are and how much you're looking forward to seeing their portraits. Let them know you trust them to work politely with the photographer to create a portrait they'll be proud to share.
  9. Let braces shine! A mouth of metal is a limited-edition photo op. Lips can't usually hide them anyway, so kids might as well wear them proudly.
  10. A gap-tooth smile is beautiful -- classic!
Simple single-color shirts
work best


If your child wears classes that are light sensitive, he or she might need to remove them if photos are taken outdoors because they will read dark in the photo. If your child has a second pair of glasses that do not get dark, please send them to school on picture day.

Non-reflective lenses are best -- no reflections of trees, cameras or playgrounds will show. We use a number of tricks to lessen glare, but sometimes it's impossible.

You might want to ask that your child be photographed both with and without glasses. Please let your child know it's because we don't want glare to get in the way of their beautiful eyes.

Click here for a printable version to send home to parents.


  1. Help older students understand that they can please themselves, their parents, and the photographer on picture day. It just takes a little bit of planning, communication, and mutual respect. Point out that this time in their lives is an adventure. Some of them will change more in one year than they have in the last three. Explain that the photographer is there to capture and celebrate that transformation.
  2. So, while all the clothing and hair-care tips for parents and younger students apply to them as well, you might want to share these additional tips specific to middle- and high-school students:
  3. The color of clothing you choose to wear will either complement your face and eyes or detract from them. Words and designs on your clothing will share with the world what you are "into" at the moment. No matter how much you loved Elmo when you were 3, you probably wouldn't want a picture with him today.
  4. If you want to reflect your passion for sports, music, and so on in this year's portrait, we are with you all the way. Remember photographers are artists, so most of us also had our own unique styles when we were your age. Just try to stay away from colors, designs, and words that overpower your eyes and expression.
  5. Before you commit to your photo day wardrobe, take a moment to consider who you're creating the photo for. If Grandma receives a photo every year, we all know she wants to see you smile. If your mom and dad are the ones who really want this photo, thank them for all they do for you by wearing something they like. You might even bring two shirts; if we work fast we can make images of both. Special note to the ladies in the house: Plunging necklines and tube tops do not work well in head shots; good photos need more texture than just face and skin.
  6. Notes on skin and blemishes: Isn't retouching wonderful? Just because you woke up with a gathering of neon zits on photo day doesn't mean you have to live with them forever. Order your photos online where you can find a variety of retouch options.
  7. When it comes to makeup, a bit of lipstick, mascara, and blush is all you need. You are young, beautiful, and wrinkle-free!
  8. Smile with your eyes even if you choose not to show your teeth. If possible, ask the photographer to create a variety of expressions that you can choose from later. Why waste valuable professional photographer time with the same expression over and over again? Use us to explore different versions of you.

Click here for a printable version to send home with students.

About the Author

Linda Russell has been creating memorable images professionally since 1990. Her work has been featured in Rolling Stone Magazine, Town and Country, Martha Stewart, as well as posters, greeting cards and books. Founder and CEO of Mugsy Clicks Photography, Russell's camera has followed students' growth from preschool to high school graduation.

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