Back to School Photos / The Annual Portrait


Molly shot this lovely, fun picture on the first day of school and I just wanted to point out how it works on multiple levels. Obviously, it’s a great picture that will bring all of the compliments and kudos we all hope to get every time we take a picture. It’s really neat.

But something I like about a concept photo like this is that it’s solved a much larger problem. The problem in this particular case is how am I going to photograph my daughter on the first day of school this year? Or next year? Or in five years? Molly—if she’s so inclined—has solved that problem with one big creative decision.

Molly could break out the chalk and a large writing surface and shoot equally wonderful photos for all of grade school and each could have its own personality and yet be a piece of a much larger set. They can all fit together. She could use this idea all the way through high school, too. The execution could become more mature as her daughter ages. She doesn’t have to be lying on the pavement every time; she could be in school in front of a black board or standing in front of a wall on the playground. The fun every year would be in the imaginative way Molly played with the already proven concept.

This reminds me of the alumni magazine I get every so often from North Dakota State University. (I went there for a year.) Alumni magazines always have a difficult time coming up with a photograph that’s worthy of putting on a magazine cover. As a result, many of them end up with photographs provided by subjects that are, well, borderline—I once saw one of a notable alum wearing a Budweiser t-shirt holding a big fish.

NDSU solved the problem with one bold decision. Every issue they put a piece of art produced by a graduate on the cover. It could be of anything. Maybe it’s a photo, maybe it’s a drawing, maybe it’s a painting or a piece of sculpture. It’s simply a piece of good looking art. They don’t attempt to illustrate an inside story. Alums are proud to have their work featured on the covers. (They used one of my photos once and I was really proud of it.) Their covers consistently win national design awards for their bold, dramatic graphic design. And their brilliant success harkens back to one smart decision at the very beginning.

I’m sure Molly won’t mind if you borrow her chalk idea—trust me, there’s nothing new under the sun. Or maybe you’ll come up with your own brilliant concept this year that will carry you through years of first day of school pictures.

For even more Back to School photo tips and ideas, click here for our dedicated Back to School page.


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