Photographing the Springtime Milestones

Any milestone or family event deserves special photographic consideration. The end of a school year is as good a time as any to point out some basics to preserve those memories. I realize that in the Southern Hemisphere you’re in the middle of the school year. (I only have one thought for you. Nah na nah na nah! Obviously, our turn will come next December.)

Christy Eilers Wade shot a first day of school and the last day of school pairing shown above that works beautifully. The trick here is to remember to shoot the second photograph. You think I’m kidding? When things get a little hectic at the end of the year that second photograph can fall through the cracks.

So here, in no particular order really, are some thoughts to help you get the pictures you want of important moments.




Finding an annual location for shooting a portrait is always a great way to go—for individuals or groups.


It’s only Year Three of the annual Alexander class portrait I shoot on the rock in the nearby park and yet the changes in the kids are already profound. The top picture is when they were in the first grade and the bottom picture is this year – third grade.  A rock is actually a perfect location to shoot at. This particular one is going to be there for a while—trees not so much. (Alexander attends The Philadelphia Waldorf School. It’s unusual in that the kids in the class remain the same and they have one main teacher for all of their grade school. The situation certainly lends itself to my annual portrait, for sure.)

These kids are going to be together through the eighth grade. It will be no surprise to the families this year when they receive their third 8 x 10 print from me on the last day of school.

But I certainly have received some wonderful comments. Obviously, you don’t have to include other people in whatever you do annually but it certainly is a great way to touch people. My good doctor friend told me that he feels as though giving free medical advice to friends on the weekend is just part of the deal. He told me that helping people was one of the reasons he became a doctor. It’s certainly one of the reasons I’m a photographer; I have something wonderful to give and I love to give it.


This portrait of Alexander with his teacher was inspired by me wishing I had photographs of myself with all of my grade school teachers. I tried to include the classroom, too. Ms. Stevens with her classroom will be burned into Alexander’s memory forever. This is my end of the school year gift to him… although it may take him several years to really appreciate it.





Graduation ceremonies are generally classic examples of bad lighting. First of all, they often happen outdoors in the middle of the day in bright sunshine. Photographing someone wearing a cap and gown in midday sun is a challenge for sure. Jennifer LaCoste Boutte did a great job of taking her preschool graduate into a little bit of shade on the playground. (Notice the harsh sunlight in the window behind him.) Everyone’s face relaxes when you get into some soft light; it may be worth the scouting time required to pull this off.

Please make sure you take this simple portrait of your graduate. Recording what people look like on the big day is a lot of what this photograph is all about.


Marcia Richardson’s husband happened to retire from the United States Military this spring. I’m sure that Marcia shot other photographs of him, but there is no arguing with the simplicity and elegance of a proud soldier in front of a plain background. It works on so many levels. There is nothing wrong with a headshot.




Cathleen Belaire‎ paid us a wonderful comment when she said that the lessons she learned in our Going Manual Class helped her photograph performances at school this year. Shooting manually is often the best way to shoot a performance in that funky stage lighting; it can be challenging for anyone. If you use any kind of automatic exposure function people in bright lighting against dark backgrounds can give you some funky results, to say the least.




Back in the old days, you and your graduate had to agree upon a moment when you’re going to make eye contact so you could shoot the portrait from the bleachers. Now, I suppose, cell phones and text messages have eliminated the need for that. But the glance is still a nice idea and it always works. In fact, it’s often better than the grip and grin passing of the diploma on the stage. If I were you, I would sit back and enjoy that sublime moment. Shoot your graduation pictures in more quiet moments.




Finally, when you have a camera in your hands you may find some photo opportunities around you that you may be blind to when you’re obsessed with photographing the special person in your life. Kim Howard Hastings photographed her son’s good friend when she saw him standing quietly in some beautiful light. I can only imagine how much his family appreciated this portrait. It’s entirely possible that Kim did not shoot an equally good picture of her own son—that’s happened to me many times.

That’s just the way the camera bounces. But, I guarantee you that Kim will get a warm, loving feeling in her tummy every time she looks at this beautiful shot. You done good, Kim.

Photography is meant to be shared.


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