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!)


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