How I Photographed My Boys’ First Day of School

One block from school. “Mom, you’re ruining my gel!” I didn’t even know we had gel in our house.You have to be willing to push the button when things go wrong. This story started here.

If you have any intention of reading this post I suggest you read it sooner rather than later...before Anne makes me take it down.

The first day of school was fairly smooth for the Kelsh boys today. Alexander started the seventh grade and Teddy is in the fourth. They were both up at 6:30 and eager to get there on time—a step in the right direction. There was a slightly tense moment about a block from school when Teddy accused his mother of messing up his gel. I didn’t even know he owned gel. I chose to stay out of it; if you consider clamming up and pointing a camera at them staying out of it.

We did our traditional “quick-stand-here-look-in-the-camera…dad-do-we-have-to?” shot just for the archives. Then they vanished into the safe haven of the school doing an especially lame job of pretending they couldn’t hear their mother ordering them back for one more pose. My version of acting like I didn’t hear the command was equally transparent, I’m sure. Sorry, Annie! We love you!

Quick, stand here, look here, let’s get this over with. (Okay, if you don’t already know, my biggest photo tip is usually “Get in close and fill the frame with the people you love.” But in this back to school photo, the context is key.


Pretending like they can’t hear their mother ordering them back for another pose, they march on to their classrooms and the first day. In this particular story I needed overall shots to include all the important information—like mom trying to wave them back.

I read a story by an accomplished sports photographer last week suggesting that there are always great storytelling photographs to be had at the edges of events. Sidelines, crowd shots, and dugouts are all oozing with photographic possibilities. The simple photo story presented here today happened at the edges of an event. These pictures say more about personal family relationships than about going back to school, but it’s something that most of us can relate to; a slightly overbearing, but extremely loving mother wanting her children to look good in photographs for the ages is understandable. Annoying, but understandable.

I’ve chosen a simple storyline. A mom tries to make her reluctant sons look good. The kids temporarily cooperate and then eagerly hightail it for the unexpected relief of a hard wooden desk. On one level, it’s just a little episode on the edge of a classroom. On the other, it’s Shakespeare. Like Shakespeare, it’s real and honest; as honest as still photographs can be.

Let’s be clear, I’m not suggesting I’m some kind of photographic Shakespeare. (Well, maybe a little. : ) I’m simply saying there are timeless stories in your life waiting to be told that will touch people. All the time, every day. There’s a little bit of Shakespeare in all of us, I think.

Finally, I’m not sure where Teddy heard this line but he told us on the way to school that the first thought he had when he woke up was that he was “entering a long black corridor without end.” (I know he didn’t write it. “long black corridor” is just not in his vernacular. Harry Potter, maybe?)

That’s a story I didn’t tell today—maybe in June when it’s easier to be optimistic, when they come back out into the light of summer for another pose.

Leave a comment below to let us know how you photographed your kids’ first day of school.

(And, don’t forget, if you want to improve your photography this fall, to check out our 25% OFF Back to School Sale on my interactive photo courses or Get $200 OFF our exciting live workshops!)


  1. Caroline Mohr

    Nick and Anne, I don’t have any kids, so I can really sit here, laugh, and enjoy your stories! And knowing the family makes it even more enjoyable. They will laugh at some point in time as well…20 years from now…and love you for it.

  2. Yolanda Ramirez

    I do love reading about your family and seeing the connection through yourphotos.You always make me feel like I can capture similar connections.Your boys are adorable!!

  3. Kirsty

    Always manage to get the boring back to day photo of my kids – all standing in a line in front of the door or a pretty plant. Never interesting enough! But the last day of primary school… that was an artistic angled shot under the school sign!

  4. patricia pent

    Nick, I truly enjoy reading your posts and hints. This one brought me back to when my kids were little, half of the pictures had their arms covering their faces. Now I get to show them to their wives lol. My grandkids are good sports the girls anyway, boys are allergic to cameras.
    Thank you for all your posts, with my family, I am called the Poporitzy (very proud) and when they don’t see my camera they complain, then it comes out of the bag (HA, HA)

  5. Tameka

    Awesome story. It felt like a full time job getring photos of my kids. You did it and captured all of the hilarity that went with it.

  6. Blayne White

    This is AWESOME! LOVE the candidness of this story and it’s photos like these that become my favorites in my own life stories. 🙂 Thanks for sharing.

  7. Terryl Hicks

    We just got the standard “Aw, Mom, do we have to?” photo. Our school drop off line doesn’t lend itself to the photo op. 🙁

  8. Terri Lieder

    Wonderful story and accompanying photos. My 3 kids and I got into a nice groove of first day pics at the entrance to their Montessori school, and it was fun seeing them “measure up” against the bricks from year to year.

    During high school, we took the pics at home (to save them from ANY embarrassment at school) and they indulged me every year.

    Now my baby is a junior in college and when I asked, she took the cutest selfie in front of the main academic building on campus and texted it to me. My kids know their mom’s passion! Love ’em!


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