The School Portrait Meets Portrait Photographer

school pictures

Once upon a time to say you were a wedding photographer was the equivalent of saying, “I have no art in my soul.” You could never claim to be a wedding photographer and expect to be taken as a serious artist. Thankfully we have evolved beyond those stereotypes.  Today, Wedding photographers are among some of the most respected and innovative in the industry.  And then there is the lowly school portrait photographer. Just saying the title conjures up visions of herds of children lined up and processed like a production line, 200 per hour.

 Mark, cheese, next.

Waiting for your school portrait can be hard

Unfortunately, that stereotype of the school portrait is not far from the truth. We still see canned smiles blasted with canned lights, pasted against fake backgrounds. There’s not much art to it.   In fact, many of the school portrait “photographers” have no experience beyond their 4 hours of on-the-job training There are, however, a handful of independent photographers, and smaller companies, trying to bring the true art of portrait photography to the school setting.

The School Portrait Meets Portrait Photographer

I work with Mugsy Clicks as an independent photographer.  Mugsy Clicks provides all the backend technology, sales, customer service, and school services. I provide the skill, experience, and art of a children’s portrait photographer.  Here, in the video below, is Mugsy Clicks founder, Linda Russell, explaining the heart and soul of school portraits worth framing.

What is a more natural setting for a child than outdoors? This is why, whenever possible, we use natural surroundings and natural light.  It can be a challenge to find an on-campus location with decent consistent lighting and an interesting background, especially in Orange County’s glut of concrete. But that is where the photographer and artist comes in, creating something unique for each school.  Another distinction is in how we interact with the children. Rather than telling the child to smile, or worse to say “cheese,”  we talk to the children, encouraging them to relax and give a natural expression.   
“Do you like superheroes or princesses?”    “Dinosaurs or insects?”      “Legos or Minecraft?”     “Music or Math?”school portraits worth framing
I am proud to say I am a School Portrait Photographer. It is not how I got my start in photography. I was a portrait and wedding photographer long before taking up school portraits, but it is a significant part of my business today Capturing that genuine smile, a serious contemplative look, that sparkle of mischief in the eyes, that is gold – that is what makes my cheeks hurt at the end of the day.  It may not bring me critical acclaim, but it does bring me joy.

10 Tips for Fabulous Family Portraits


Family portraits season is upon us so I thought it might be a good time to throw some tips your way. If you are planning a professional portrait session for your family, here are a few things to help you get the most out of the experience.


1. Plan ahead

Don’t wait until the last minute to schedule your portrait session. September through November is the busiest time for most portrait photographers. Consider scheduling your session in August or July when you and your photographer are less stressed.  Take advantage of Daylight Savings Time.  The longer days means a larger window of available session times.

2. Consider the end at the beginning

Maybe your portrait session is to celebrate a special occasion or to document your growing family. All very good reason to schedule a session, but, what will you do with those images? Will they just live on your computer? I hope not! Consider where in your home you might like to display your images. Or perhaps an album or photo book would work better for you. Are these images primarily to be used for a Holiday card or announcement? Pre-planning with your photographer before you have your session will help her know what kinds of images will best suit your purposes.


3. Think outside of the box

It is easy to get overwhelmed when trying to get it all together for a photo session.  That stress leads to the tendency is to resort to the easy and familiar.  However, if you followed my advice in number one and gave yourself some lead time,  you can start thinking of a few creative ideas to add to your session.  Will this be a Holiday card? How about carrying wrapped boxes or wearing ski caps in a few photos?  Are you documenting your growing family?  Maybe everyone could bring a treasured childhood stuffy?  Adding a bit of whimsy and personality to your session will set it apart and keep it fresh.


4. Select your location

This could be an entire article all on its own.  There are many factors to consider when selecting your location. Here I will only highlight the most important.  First, your images should reflect your family’s personality.  What are your interests? How do you spend your time together?  Are you homebodies or outdoorsy? Don’t assume you have to go to a park or the beach.  Urban and architectural points of interest can make for unique portraits.   Second, think about your color pallet.  Where are you hanging this image?  How is your home decorated?  Will the whites, bright blues, and tans of a beach scene compliment your home or would the deep greens, browns, and golds of a wilderness location be a better fit?    Third, are there any legal restrictions at your location of choice?  Most private locations and many public areas, including parks and beaches,  do not permit professional photography without a special permit, which can be costly.  Be creative, but check the facts.  Your photographer will have some suggestions for you, but don’t limit yourself.

5. Consider time of day

Golden Hour.  That special hour before sunset when the light is at its glorious best.  Oh that all photo session could be scheduled for Golden Hour.  But they can’t.  Great light is important, the lower in the sky the better, but it is not the only factor to consider. When can everyone gather?  When is my child at his best?  Is there a time, or day, when my location is less crowded than at other times?  Talk to your photographer and choose a time that will have as many positives as possible for all concerned.

FamilyPortrait-Irvine KWLibrary-four_WEB
6. Coordinate clothing

Gone are the days of the matchy-matchy family portrait, or at least they should be gone.  Your goal here is to coordinate while still maintaining individuality.  When choosing your color pallet consider the decor in your home as well as your location.  A simple rule of thumb, choose one main color and one accent color, then supplement with either warm or cool toned neutrals.  Not everyone has to wear every color.  Let everyone add an accessory that fits their personality, a hat, vest, accent jewelry.  Mix it up.  One final clothing thought, think about your shoes and those of everyone in the photos.  Make sure the style and color blends well with your other choices.  Nothing can ruin a nicely coordinated group than the lone pair of huge white and orange athletic shoes!

7. Come prepared

Imagine all the contingencies. Consider your hair and the weather.  Will you need hairpins?  A comb? Hairspray?  What about a snack for the kids?  Water?  Hand Wipes?  A favorite toy or blanket for the little one?  A change of pants for the toddler?  Make sure everyone’s nails are clean and clothes are wrinkle free.  Is the photographer’s number in your cell phone?  Have you printed out a make to the location?  The more prepared you are before the session, the smoother it will all go.

8. Listen to your photographer

Your photographer is a professional.  They have the experience necessary to make sure you will look your best.  Listen to your photographer’s directions on posing, interacting, and connecting with the camera and with your family, and take the lead in encouraging everyone else’s cooperation.  You and your photographer are a team.  Help them help you create beautiful portraits.

9. Make it an event

Take the day off!  Spend the day getting the last minute details ready.  Relax!   Get your nails done. Make this a special and important event for everyone.  With the exception of possibly holiday photos, most families only have a formal family portrait session every 3 to 5 years. Even if you have one done yearly, making it a happily anticipated family event rather than a dreaded intrusion into your busy schedule will create not only better photos, but also better memories.  When the session is all over, celebrate!   Take everyone out for a special meal.

10. Follow through

You went to all that work to coordinate schedules, find the perfect location, purchase just the right outfits, and plan a few fun and whimsical touches, don’t leave all those beautiful images hidden on the internet or on your harddrive.  Too often we have great plans and projects that never get completed (remember number 2?)  Before your photo session even takes place, schedule your design meeting with your photographer.    Your photographer is an artist and well prepared to help you in selecting artwork to compliment your home and enrich your life.  Take advantage of her experience and artistic eye.

What are your tips for a great family portrait session?


The Holiness of Portrait Photography


One of the great privileges of being a portrait photographer is getting the opportunity to be a small part of my clients’ lives as they grow, change, and move from one stage of life to another.   Whether it be a graduation and then wedding, a wedding and then the first baby, or a series of family portraits that document special milestones I always feel a special connection with these returning clients, a bit like a trusted auntie.

Just a few weeks ago I was invited to photograph the Hamilton Family.  It was a rather short session as their son needed to get home to pack — pack for his first post-training assignment in the military.  I had, 4 years previously, photographed the son for his High Senior portrait, before he headed off to college, and now here he was a full grown man on his way to a new life.  Just this past January we did a special High School Senior session for his talented little sister.  Amazing and so humbling to watch as this family moves into a new stage of life.


I think because I have already passed through most of these life stages myself, having raised three children and moved into the realm of grandparenthood,  I become rather nostalgic, wistful when doing a portrait session.  I know how fleeting each stage of life really is.  I want to stop time, if just a moment, so the person can later look back at that tiny hand or freckled nose and remember.

For me, portrait photography is something intimate, something to be treasured, almost holy.  Perhaps that is an overstatement, but truly, I feel so blessed to be permitted to enter into the “family circle” in this way, knowing that these images will likely be passed down to future generations, that they will be shown to great-grandchildren,

” . . . and this is what my father’s mother looked like when she was your age.  See that?  You have her eyes.”

More than eighty years of my mother-in-law's life- ages three, sixteen, and eighty-seven.
More than eighty years of my mother-in-law’s life- ages three, sixteen, and eighty-seven.