We have a tradition in the United States of “Picture Day” in the schools. Ever year without fail photographers ascend into the schools, set up their elaborate backgrounds and lighting and photograph hundreds of children in a single day. The parents are given several order options for printed photos. A few weeks down the line the photos packages are delivered to the school and passed out in class to the children.
When I was young it was an exciting time! I loved seeing my photo, and knowing that it will be hung on the wall of my house for the rest of the year with my other sibling’s school photos. As I started to get older I would turn that envelope over once I received it in class, afraid of everyone seeing my picture. I think back how silly it was that I was embarrassed of a photo of myself.
In my family we could not afford to go to a photo studio or hire a professional photographer. We had snap shots of course captured by family members. School photos were our one chance to take a beautiful studio photo at a value we could afford. No expensive sitting fees or complex pricing options. School Photos were easy. You parents paid a small fee for prints. You got ready in the morning in your best clothes, with a promise to your mom that you would not get dirty at play time. You stood in line, and when it was your turn you sat where you were told, and smiled when they said smile! They fixed your hair and titled your head and BAM! the flash went off and you were done. In all honesty I loved ” Picture Day”!
I am now on the other side of the camera for this magical day. A couple years ago I had just come back from a trip to India and needed a job. I saw an advertisement for a hiring event for a school photographer position. I had formal education in photography in college and had my own photography side business where I did portraits and such. I was intrigued by the idea. I went to the event and was hired the same day.
This is now my second season of being a school photographer and I have to say I love my job! There are challenging parts to it of course. The equipment is heavy and you get a work out putting it together. We drive long hours to the schools. We are usually up very early in the morning and see the sunrise.
All that tiredness goes away when you see that sweet little kindergartner in front of your camera and is so shy! You get him to smile by saying “say stinky cheese”. You snap the shot! You look at your screen and you see a beautiful smile that you know will be treasured by his parents for years to come.
Or that nervous High School girl who you know is very concerned about her yearbook photo! She trembles as you pose her for the shot! Her shoulder are up and her head is sunken down and she looks like she is trying to disappear inside herself. You break your routine and ignore the long line of waiting kids and you promise her that she can look at her photo before its approved. She calms down and smiles and looks beautiful. She runs to the camera to see the photo as soon as it is shot. She sees it breathes a sigh of relief and is so happy with the picture that she thanks you countless times! I know that I just made her day!
Probably the most rewarding aspect of my job is when we photograph the special education classes. Some of those children can be challenging to photograph. I remember I had this one child last year, he was severely autistic and was non-verbal. His mother was there at the camera with me and I could see the stress on her face! She confided in me that they had not been able to get a photo the last two years and really wanted one this year. I took a breath for inspiration. He did not want to look at the camera or stand still. I asked his mom what is favorite thing was and she said he loved to study butterflies. I called his name he looked in my direction and I asked him if he liked Monarch butterflies because they were my favorite butterfly. He smiled for just a brief moment and I pressed the trigger of the camera. I got the photo! It was not perfectly posed. He was not even centered, but there was that smile! His mom was so happy and said that it was the best school photo he had ever had taken! It is those moments that make me love my job!
I have photographed over a thousand kids this season and we are only a few weeks into the school year ! Every time I take a photo of a child I know that I am capturing a very special moment in that child’s life! A moment that will never return, and I am freezing it right there for them to remember and cherish. I feel a big sense of responsibility with every photo that I take. I also feel a great sense of joy knowing I am filling homes with the images that I capture.
I loved picture day as a kid and this job allows me to feel the magic of picture day everyday at work!