The school photography shoots in my local area are the most profitable photography shoots I do, and they have been a nice little earner for me for the last few years. Every parent wants a photo of their son or daughter smartly dressed up in their uniform on the first day of a new school (or school year), and whilst most parents have their own digital camera or smartphones with the ability to capture photos, it never ceases to amaze me how many parents want professional quality photos of their kids year on year.
I am not overly bothered by this, I mean it is repeat business and once the camera is set up, the lighting equipment is set up and the background is set up it is then simply a case of seating the child in the right position, talking to them to get some “cute” reaction, firing the shutter and then moving on to the next child and repeating the process. Once everything is set up and the kids are good to go it is possible to capture a portrait photo of every child in the school in a very short space of time.
The key to successful and profitable school photography is in the setting up. If everything is set up correctly the only editing you will need in the digital darkroom will be a bit of cropping and framing, which takes a matter of seconds. When setting up it is crucial to set the camera in the right position, set the chair (where the child will sit for the photo) is in the right position, set the white balance correctly and set the flash exposure correctly. If you manage to do this everything is gravy and it is a nice little earner for a little amount of work. However, get any of the above wrong and it is likely you will need to spend a lot of time with some photo editing software sorting out the mess, and you will see your hourly rate go through the floor.
In light of the above I recommend not rushing to set everything up and take your time. Once everything is set up take some test shots and review the results. If you are not 100% happy, make the necessary adjustments and take some more test shots. Keep tweaking the settings until you are 100% happy, and only then should you think about getting the children in to take their portraits.
The good thing about school photography is you don’t need a lot of photography equipment. As long as you have some basic stuff, which doesn’t have to cost a fortune either, that’s all you need to be well on your way in making some easy money. The equipment I use for all my school photography is as follows:-
Camera for school photography
School photography is one photography service where there is no need to have a top end professional camera costing thousands of bucks. Sure, you need a decent camera but there is no need to have a super expensive camera, and a prosumer level dslr camera is more than good enough to capture the image quality parents will be more than happy with.
I use a full frame Canon 6D for school photography, however I have only recently upgraded to this from a Canon 7D, which I previously used for school photography and the 7D was more than good enough.
Lenses for school photography
In my experience the best lens for school photography is one that is sharp but not too sharp. I find the lens has to be sharp enough for good definition but not so sharp that it highlights every spot, blemish, pimple and variation in skin tone.
I have used a number of lenses over the years for school photography, including both prime lenses of various focal lengths (24mm, 28mm, 35mm, 50mm and 85mm) as well as zoom lenses. I know there is an argument that prime lenses are sharper than zoom lenses, and I don’t dispute this, but the difference in sharpness is so marginal between modern day zoom lenses and primes that I am more than happy to sacrifice a tiny bit of sharpness for the versatility of a zoom lens.
When taking portraits many photographers have the opinion “wider is better” and shoot at the widest aperture possible. This is fine if you are shooting portraits on location or where you have no control over the background, but this isn’t the case with school photography. When taking photos of school kids the photographer has total control over the background so there is no need to use a really wide aperture as there are no distracting background elements to throw out of focus. The point I am trying to put across is that you don’t need a fast wide aperture lens for school photography.
The lens I use for school photography is the Canon 24-70 f2.8L lens (feel free to take a look at“Review of the Canon 24-70 f2.8L lens”) and it has become my workhorse and go to lens for all school photography. Whilst this lens is a bit of a beast it is an awesome lens. The build quality is spot on, the image quality is just right (i.e. sharp but not too sharp) and the range of focal lengths are perfect for school photography. This lens does have a wide maximum aperture however this is not the reason I use the Canon 24-70, besides I generally shoot school photography at f4 or f5.6.
Lighting equipment for school photography
School photography requires you to be mobile, which means using portable lighting equipment, unless you like lugging heavy strobes around of course.
Speed lights, whilst the most portable type of lighting, are not man enough for school photography and you will need an extra light. My lighting set up for school photography consists of a Godox Witstro AD360 (feel free to check out “Review of the Godox Witstro AD360”) as the key light and a Godox Ving 860 (feel free to check out “Review of the Godox Ving 860” ) on the camera for fill. I also use a large reflector opposite the key light to bounce light back on to the subject.
I find my lighting set up offers the best compromise between portability and flash power, and I love it. You don’t need to use elaborate lighting set ups for school photography and there is no need (or requirement) to set up mood lighting or any of that stuff. All you need to do is make sure the subject is evenly lit or very close to evenly lit, and that’s all that matters.
Backgrounds for school photography
Backgrounds are a must for school photography and you need to make sure you have one available. Many people favor pure white photography backgrounds, however I don’t think these are the best choice for school photography.
Sure, you need a plain and non-distracting background but plain white backgrounds are sterile and not a good choice. My photography background of choice for school photography is a light blue, which I find best.
Some photographers use a plain white background and add a color during the editing stage. This is all well and good, and it does give a lot of options over choice of color however it does mean more time in front of the computer editing, which is the part of the job I like the least.
Tripod for school photography
Some school photographers set their camera on a tripod, get the kids to sit on a chair facing the camera and snap away. This method clearly works, however it’s not the best method. When I take school photos I ditch the tripod and take hand held photos.
Hand holding the camera allows me to move around the model for a different composition. It also allows me to move in close, communicate with the subject and get them to smile for an engaging shot. It’s amazing the difference moving around giving the subjects something to look at and focus on makes to the end photo.
As you know kids get bored quickly and moving around them tends to starve the boredom long enough to get an engaging shot the parents will definitely end up buying.
If you are thinking about school photography all I can say is “go for it” Once you get your foot in the door you will find it is easy to make a lot of money in a short space of time, and it will be a regular gig.
MY SCHOOL PHOTOGRAPHY KIT
Keen photographer addicted to cameras, lenses and everything photography related. Feel free to follow me in my photography ramblings, and if you have any thoughts, comments, queries or anything else to add I would love to hear from you.