Creating a Great School Portrait

Imagine your child years from now, looking through a photo album filled with their school portraits, basking in memories of each phase of their childhood. To make this happen, you can either pay a photographer to take photos each year or you can learn a few simple tips and do it yourself. Capturing a great school portrait isn’t as hard as you might think with some practice.

Shoot in open or closed shade

You can’t take a good portrait without good light. The easiest light to work with is natural light (otherwise known as the sun), but shooting in direct sunlight usually produces harsh and unflattering photos. To avoid this problem, look for closed or open shade.

Closed shade is normally found under an overhang or under a tree. Open shade is when a building or something large is blocking the sun. If you look up and see the sky, you are in open shade. If you can’t see the sky, you’re in closed shade. By shooting in one of these two conditions, your subject will be evenly lit without harsh shadows on their face.

Photograph in the golden hour

Try to time your photo shoot shortly after sunrise or before sunset. These times are often referred to as the golden hour or the magic hour. During this short window of time, daylight is redder and softer than when the sun is higher in the sky.

You can find the golden hour for your specific location using this free online tool.

Watch out for distracting backgrounds

When taking a portrait, watch out for distracting elements in the background. Sometimes you just need to move a few inches in either direction. By moving your position relative to your subject, you may be able to position the distracting background element behind them. Removing the background distractions will keep the focus on your child and you will save time later trying to clone out the background.

Fill the frame

When making a portrait, use your camera’s lens to zoom in tight on the subject. This makes them the sole focus of the photo. If you don’t have a zoom lens, zoom with your feet and move closer to your subject until they fill the frame.

Be careful of this technique if you are using a wide angle lens because if you get too close, the nature of the wide angle lens will distort their face and features in an often unflattering way.

Lenses with a 50mm or 85mm focal length are popular choices among professional photographers and there are many options for lenses in this range that won’t break the bank. Investing in a good portrait lens will pay for itself in no time.

Practice year-round

You don’t have to wait for the beginning of the school year to take your child’s school portrait. By practicing these simple tips year-round, your skill at taking your child’s portrait will improve and these tips will become second nature to you.

Five simple portrait retouching steps

Kids today expect their photo to be edited. Blemishes can be removed, skin can be softened, and eyes can be enhanced. The key is to make slight changes to enhance the photo without making it look fake. PicMonkey’s Touch Up tool does the job right quick.

We start with fixing the skin by removing blemishes and applying a soften effect, and then we enhance the eyes and lips.

Step 1: Remove blemishes. Click Blemish Fix and choose a brush size a little larger than the blemish. Zoom in on the image using the scroll wheel on the mouse or use the zoom slider on the bottom right. Click the blemish to remove it. You may have to click more than once. Holding the spacebar down lets you use your mouse to pan the image when you’re zoomed in. Change the brush size as needed. Click Apply when finished.

Step 2: Smooth the skin. Click Airbrush and choose Natural. Start with a large brush and brush around the skin to make it softer. Adjust the brush size when brushing around the eyes, lips, and nose. Use the Fade slider to adjust the amount of softening. Click Apply when finished.

Step 3: Touch up the lips. Click Lip Tint and choose a soft color. Adjust the brush size and brush the lips. Click the eraser tool to remove the effect if you brush outside of the lines. The effect may look strong at the default intensity setting. Adjust the Intensity slider to make the lips look natural. Click Apply when finished.

Step 4: Enhance the eyes. Click Eye Brighten and choose a brush size that’s a bit smaller than the subject’s pupil. Brush on the whites of the eye and adjust the Lighten slider to increase or decrease the effect. Be careful not to apply too much of the effect. Click Apply when finished.

Step 5: Apply a soft effect to the background only. In the Effects tab, scroll down to the Basic group and choose Soften. The effect will be applied to the entire image, making everything look soft. Click the brush icon and click Original in the Paint palette. This will allow you to “paint out” the soft effect. Brush over the face to keep it sharp and in focus. Click Apply when finished. 

Save the image to your computer

At this point, let’s save a copy of the edited image. Click Save from the top toolbar. Choose the quality setting that’s best for your project (hint: if you only plan to show the image online, choose the lowest quality setting.)

Black & white with a little fade

Once your image is saved, you can experiment with different effects. Black and white photos always look good. Convert the image to black and white and save the image with a new name.

Now, adjust the Fade slider to give the image a washed out look. Save the image with a new name. You now have two different looks for the same image.

There you have it, the secret to making a great school portrait.

Being a photographic master is easy when you have the right tools. Get a PicMonkey membership now!

As the lead photographer for Exposure Photographic Art Studio, Vanelli has had the opportunity to capture images of VIP’s including the President of the United States, former president of Toyota, Dr. Shoichiro Toyoda, CEO’s of companies such as Yahoo, the Oakland A’s and several martial arts legends. Vanelli also created the photography curriculum Click for Kids for Brevard County Schools, Florida, and is a three time Triple Crown Karate champion. View more of Vanelli's work at