A few weeks ago, I had the privilege of visiting The Key School in Annapolis, Maryland to learn all about their academically-expressive philosophy, as well as take some photos around campus. After speaking with the Director of Enrollment and the Director of Communication, I had a pretty clear sense of how The Key School operates in order to meet each student's unique learning needs, so that they can flourish inside the classroom and out.
While formalities are essential, after spending the day on campus it quickly became clear that I could have completely skipped this introductory meeting and still would have discovered that their academic mission of hands-on learning, individualized teaching, and excellent student-faculty relationships was evident in and out of the classroom.
The students were engaged, and I could easily tell that they genuinely wanted to be there — something that cannot easily be fabricated. Their energy was radiant, transparent and endearing; and the faculty were interactive and engaging, creating a classroom setting that was both exciting and rigorous.
All of this made the six hours I spent there incredibly enjoyable.
Admittedly, my initial task of portraying this immensely spirited atmosphere through photography seemed rather daunting. Shots of students sitting in a classroom or of teachers at the chalkboard have the ability to come across as monotonous and boring, which was the exact opposite of how I experienced The Key School.
How were photos even capable of translating the energy that this school radiated without seeming too extravagant or phony?
Word to the wise: the trick to taking photos that sell what makes your school special is about capturing the right mini-story at the right time, in the most unique, visually appealing way.
Your school could have the most determined students or the most inspiring faculty, but if your photos look like they could be found on any school's website, lacking originality and energy, that's exactly how your school will be perceived.
Instead, aim for variety. Already have a lot of photos that show students at their desk? Try getting some of them outside during PE class. Tired of having the subject positioned in the center of the frame? Switch it up and place the subject off-center to keep things interesting. Avoid posed photos, as they are way less believable than the transparency that comes with candid shots. Don't be afraid to take close-ups, either, as they are often easier to look at than zoomed-out photos that have way too much going on.
Take a look at some of the photos I took at The Key School down below, along with tips to ensure that the photos on your site are an authentic portrayal of all the reasons prospective students will fall in love with your school.
Having an interesting angle can make or break the effectiveness of a photograph.
This shot puts emphasis on the student, but also reveals the one-on-one interaction with her teacher. Not only does this point of view make the photo visually engaging, but also successfully highlights an integral asset of The Key School's teaching philosophy.
This is another example where angle and cropping are key in taking successful photos. In just this one shot, we can gather a lot about The Key School- a high level of teacher-student interaction, hands-on learning, and an overall engaging classroom atmosphere. Plus, with this point of view, you practically feel like you are right there in the classroom with them!
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Remember that timing is everything when capturing candid moments.
When taking photos, try changing the shooting mode on your camera to "continuous." This allows you to take multiple photos in a matter of seconds. You will be surprised with all the amazing facial expressions you'll end up with!
Don't forget to get classroom close-ups!
Close-up candid shots of students attentively listening and working in class are essential in leaving parents confident about the learning environment their child would be in. They also effectively translate the classroom setting in a believable way that doesn't seem staged or forced.
Take photos from all different angles.
It can be challenging to take clean, crisp photos inside relatively small and busy classrooms. Play around with where you position the focused area of a particular frame.
In a photo like this one, focusing on the subject in the foreground while placing him off-center creates a dynamic composition of the students working.
Take advantage of the energy happening everyday.
Take advantage of your students' contagious spirit and energy. PE class and recess are great opportunities to capture action shots that reveal the joy and vitality that exists on your campus. Just make sure to switch your camera to "Sports Mode" so that your photos are clear!
Communicating that current students are genuinely happy at your school can be difficult, especially when only using posed group shots to do so. Instead, try taking a handful of candid photos. Your students' joyful and enthusiastic nature will be more transparent and believable, continuing that authenticity throughout the rest of the site.
As the saying goes, a picture is worth a thousand words.
And when you are trying to communicate what makes your school special, you'll need all the unspoken words you can get. Sometimes, great photos can even express what words simply cannot, making them crucial investments for your site.
Now it's your turn! Play around with those camera settings, experiment with new backdrops, and take an absolutely absurd amount of photos- you can never take too many!