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.
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?”
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.
This year’s group of seniors was about one third the size of last year’s class, not because the number of students graduating from home education is smaller than in past years, but because the number of home schoolers choosing to attend the state organization’s annual event has decreased significantly.
CHEA holds a special place in my heart. I started Home Schooling in 1982 and home educated my three children from primary through their high school years. That first year of home schooling was a real adventure. There was no state organization of any kind established to help or guide. Very few textbook publishers would sell their materials to non-traditional schools, the political situation and legality were in question, and the voices of “experts” representing differing philosophies, from “unschooling” to correspondence schools, were hard to wade through. Finding like-minded families with whom we could share our struggles and support one another was very important to our success and sanity. And so, at a small gathering of young mothers at a park in Southern California, while children ran and played, Christian Home Educators Association was born.
Today, the homeschooling atmosphere is much changed. The legal ambiguity is gone and home education, while still the significant minority, is almost common place. The problem of finding appropriate curriculum has shifted from too few choices, to an overabundance of tempting options. Where once we counted the days till we could gather together to share teaching and parenting strategies, closely examine every book before we purchased, and be encouraged by Godly leaders and by the sheer number of other like-minded attendees, now the internet, public charter schools, and local education cooperatives have, for many homeschooling families, taken the place of the state-wide convention.
While I am pleased to see homeschooling grow and mature, and I am thankful that it is not as difficult as it once was, there is the danger of this ease lulling us all into complacency, or worse apathy. The migration away from a central state-wide Christian home education organization, if that is in fact what we are witnessing, weakens our voice as a whole. Who will speak for us as we face the new challenges to homeschooling; common-core, immunization, alternative lifestyles? Will it take new persecutions to rally us as one again? Are we really so well informed that we no longer need to hear new insights or to be encouraged?
I don’t know the future of CHEA, or of home education for that matter, but I pray that this new generation of home educators holds tight to their convictions for the ride ahead and that they consider seriously their part in protecting their rights and that of future generations.
So, to this 2015 Class of Home Education Graduates, CONGRATULATIONS! I pray you will represent us well as you engage in the wider world.