In the era of camera phones and Instagram, school picture day might seem a little outdated. However, that is the picture of your child that will go in the yearbook and is often the one grandparents and extended family want to display on their fridge. And really, how often are you printing out your favorite Instagram photos anyway?
Plain and simple, school picture day can be a good excuse to get a frame-worthy photo of your kid in your hand, not just in your camera roll. But because it is a once-a-year occurrence that can come to represent an entire year of your child’s life, there can feel like a lot of pressure to get things right. Still, it doesn’t have to be complicated.
To get the best tips on making the most of school picture day, we went straight to the experts who will likely also be taking your kid’s pictures. Lifetouch has been spearheading the school-picture game since the 1930s; they know a thing or two about school photography. Well, that and amazing laser backdrops from the ’80s.
Here are some of their best pearls of wisdom for a perfect school snapshot.
“There aren’t too many mistakes parents can make on school picture day,” says Lifetouch’s Leah Hytjan. “You want that ideal image to capture just who they are in that special moment in time, but it also should be an enjoyable experience for your child where they can feel proud of who they are.” That means not worrying about perfection and letting your kid have some fun with it — within reason. Don’t stress about little things like braces, cowlicks, or missing teeth; do let your child personalize their look so it feels like them, even if it means wearing that dress for the third time this week. That also includes glasses; these days, photographers know how to work with pint-sized lenses to reduce glare. Keeping their glasses on will keep your kid looking like they look the other, you know, 179 days of this school year.
Relaxing also means not practicing smiles or coaching your kid. Instead, Hytjan recommends telling kids to simply think of their favorite things when the photographer says “smile” — to help keep things looking natural.
Keep It Classic (With a Twist)
As a general rule, Hytjan recommends avoiding dressing kids in big logos or graphic tees for school pictures when possible. This keeps the image less busy and more focused on your child’s smiling face. Solid-colored tees and polos are a good idea. However, she also adds you should feel free to let your kid accessorize with favorite jewelry, bows, and other layers that allow some of their sparkling personality to show through.
The same advice goes for hair — instead of coming up with an elaborate fancy ‘do for just one day, let your kid wear their hair how they normally do. “Down and natural, in a bun, with a big bow, funky hair parts — they all look great as long as you love it,” says Hytjan.
Think Like A Kid
School picture day might be after lunch — which can include stains, crumbs, and more. If your kid brings packed lunches, maybe avoid things that could stain, like soups…or sandwiches with mustard (just for one day). Of course, this is contingent on age as well as the individual child; middle schoolers can probably handle getting cookie crumbs off their shirt better than the average kindergartener. Melissa and Shelley, the moms behind Stockpiling Moms, also suggest eating breakfast before getting dressed on school picture day to avoid last-minute spills there.
On that note, you may want to remind your kid to comb their hair or wipe their face before the picture, too. However, Hytjan adds that school photographers will generally be on hand to look out for things like crumbs and crooked collars. Lifetouch photographers, for example, are trained to ask a child if it’s ok to make any adjustments on clothes — or they’ll enlist the help of a teacher or other school staff.
Even if you plan to not make a big deal about school picture day, you still want to know when it is, if only to avoid graphic tees and a packed lunch of spaghetti. These days, most schools are good about reminding parents the day before (often with signs or take-home flyers). But if you aren’t always the best at checking the homework folder, you could easily miss the reminders.
But don’t fret: Picture day is probably listed in the school calendar, so look it up ASAP. And aside from writing it down on the family calendar, consider just putting a quick reminder in your phone for the night before. Plus, if you use school picture day as an excuse to get your kid a new haircut, you may want to plan even further ahead: “Sometimes a fresh cut can be too short,” Melissa and Shelley explain. They recommend giving it a week or so to grow out, to make it feel more natural.
But, if you totally blank on the date or an errant stray collar makes it through, it’s still not the end of the world. One day, that shaggy haircut and even the weird hair color you secretly hate that your kid loves will be a thing of the past — and you’ll be glad for the memories.