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School Photography

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Since the beginning of professional photography as a trade, one of the greatest photographic opportunities has been the photography of schoolchildren, which was originally done to provide the school with a pictorial history of its students and their activities. Photographs were often made by the local professional photographer and the prints were then sold to the school for use in their archives.

As photography became a part of everyday life, photographers recognized this work could be expanded to taking individual portraits and class pictures, which would then be sold to the students. This introduced the students, and their families, to the idea of having a professional portrait made for them at an early stage of life.

From the days of black-and-white photography, individual photographers worked for the local schools. School photography has grown into a major industry for specialized companies such as Jostens or Life Touch pictures on the east coast of the United States, who maintain their own photographers on contract. The photographs supplied in school photography now range from wallet-sized pictures to large, framed portraits. The work is now primarily done in color. The specialized companies have their own programs and marketing divisions to determine the offering best suiting their clients’ needs. This often can lead to future visits to the school for special occasions.

With companies specializing in school photography, new opportunities for photographers have developed. School photography companies hire a number of photographers, usually under contract for each school season, to shoot for them. The photographers selected are either practicing professionals, using the jobs to fill in for slow times in their studios, or recent graduates having completed a recognized post-secondary education in photography. A self-taught photographer with a strong portfolio will also sometimes be considered. The locations are contracted by a sales division and scheduled for the photographer.

The photographer is responsible for setting up a portable studio at the school, with equipment usually provided by the company. The shooting of the portraits and class pictures will be done as previously contracted by the sales division. When completed, the digital photographs are sent to the photofinishing firm for developing and printing. The photographs are then forwarded back to the school for distribution or in some cases directly to the students or their families. Sometimes, the photographer will take the prints back and distribute them while trying to secure future portrait sittings for special occasions such as graduation.

Although the programs vary from company to company, they typically provide the student with a number of packages of different-sized prints to choose from. Such packages are predetermined by the photofinisher and based on the printing and finishing costs.

In a large school this work can be repetitive, as little time is allowed for taking each portrait. To photograph a large number of students, capturing the best possible portrait requires both the skills of proper camera use and the ability to manipulate the subject to the right pose quickly. A common background is selected to help reduce the length of time needed to take the portrait. Attention is also given to placing the lights, the posing chair, and the camera in fixed positions that are suitable for most subjects. Sufficient lighting allows the photographer to focus on the initial subject only. When the proper setup has been completed, the photographer will have no need to readjust the equipment during the shooting session. During the shoot, the photographer will reconfirm the focus and lighting, usually at the beginning of each class.

To vary the programs, while keeping the lights and posing chair in the same position, some school photographers make use of a special camera called a rear-projection camera, manufactured to insert a chosen background into the picture. This allows the student to choose a background from a preselected list. A slide of the desired background is inserted into the camera before the photograph is taken, and it is photographed simultaneously with the student on the same frame of film. Once again, lights, posing chair, and camera remain in the same position. The set is designed to avoid the practice of having to come back to the school to re-shoot out-of-focus or poorly lit photographs.

In some rural locations, the local professional photographer maintains the school business and will do the selling as well. The photographer selects a photofinisher offering the packages that best suit the clients.

In either case, the competency of the photographers to provide acceptable portraits for the subjects determines their success in the trade.

Schori, Katharine Jefferts - Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church of the United States, Career, Sidelights [next] [back] Schmidt, Maarten

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