Autumn has always been an opportune time to refresh your image library with a cache of images that capture the energy that comes with the start of the academic year: high-spirited faculty, trees bursting with color, and smiling students who are ready to see their friends and tackle another school year.
Similar moments could be photographed year after year, but at this point in a pandemic teaching environment, if your website features imagery that doesn’t showcase your school’s response to the massive shift in how we teach and learn, your photos and videos could be nearly two and a half years-old (gasp)! It’s always a good idea to keep your visuals fresh, while showing the reality of daily school life amid COVID-19 safety precautions.
Whether your school is predominantly in-person, hybrid, or shifting to a remote environment this fall, you’ll still want to refresh your photo library with imagery that is engaging, accurate, and unique to your campus and programming. With many schools requiring students to wear masks for in-person learning, it begs the question: "Is it possible to take good pictures of students in masks?" The answer is: "Yes!" Grab your iPhone, DSLR, or GoPro, here’s your photoshoot checklist to make sure your website features all the “Kodak Moments” this fall.
If you find yourself behind the camera lens or you’re hiring a freelancer, make sure you capture the instances that show how you’re prioritizing moments on campus, together. Time is of the essence, so be sure to grab these shots within the first few weeks of school—you never know if safety precautions might dictate a shift to remote learning.
That Feel Good Spirit
Your community is reunited and back on campus (finally!). Capture the energy and spirit, and focus on the heightened emotions that are often lacking over Zoom. Prioritize photography that features relationships and connections that are solidified during in-person learning. Similar to previous years, that includes students who are engaged in classwork and socializing with friends and teachers. Since we’ve been apart for more than we care to remember, capture groups of people learning together in small groups, and focus on the mentorship between faculty and students.
Break out the pom-poms! The homepage of Saint Mary’s Hall in San Antonio, Texas features a charming moment between younger children and an older student who is seen welcoming them to campus with some festive cheerleading. If the pandemic has taught us anything, it’s the value of community, and that there are always creative ways to lift spirits and celebrate our schools, even if this year continues to look different.
With these expressive eyes alone, you can see how masks can’t hide the smiles of students at The International School of Kenya. The school’s homepage hero images burst with color and joy that break through the realities of school life during the pandemic.
Since the start of COVID, Tupelo Public School District has featured some of the most vibrant photography we’ve seen. Despite teaching and learning in a pandemic, the imagery gives their classrooms and hallways a sense of reprieve, where kids can be kids and the learning continues. Popping colors and endearing moments between the youngest children and teachers show an environment that proves kids are resilient.
Depending on where your school is located, your campus may look its best in the early fall. The fiery red and orange autumnal colors really pop against the clear blue skies. Capture groups of students walking from class to class, enjoying the outdoors, or moving between the academic or residential buildings, especially if you have boarding students; they are living on campus after all. Use your school’s unique landmarks and features to capture the atmosphere of what it's like to be on campus.
As shown by Maret School in Washington D.C., autumn can be the perfect time to feature not only how beautiful your campus is, but also how your community lives and learns within it, so focus on classes that are held outside before instruction moves inside or online.
Health and Safety Measures
Highlight the safety measures that are in place to keep your community safe while allowing you to offer in-person learning. That might include daily health screening stations, handwashing, social distancing, and masks. Not only is it an accurate reflection of your school’s daily routine, but it will also resonate with prospective families who are seeking those safety measures.
Nearly every image on Old Trail’s homepage includes masked students and faculty. Even in their welcome video, masks and health protocols are front and center. These safety measures are a part of “normal” in-person learning for many schools these days, so including them in your imagery is an appropriate nod to the extra steps your school is taking to help your community stay together for in-person learning.
Covenant Day School in NC incorporates “pandemic-era” imagery in their site’s main navigation drop-down menu, including images of masked students in the classroom, elbow bumps at drop-off, and masked faculty leading lessons. Mask-less students are included on the site, too. That decision speaks to the reality that while things look a little different now, their programming continues to prevail, and here’s how school life will hopefully look in the near future. Prospective families will appreciate that candor and representation when exploring their site.
With the uncertainty of this year, your programming may need to be able to switch gears at a moment’s notice to accommodate families who have chosen to remain off-campus or need to be at home for a time. If your school offers a hybrid learning option, be sure your photography reflects the flexibility of your programs, how it connects at-home and in-person students, and how it offers families a choice. Show, don’t tell, how your school makes those accommodations for families without a lapse in programming.
Technology to Support Learning, Not Replace It
Since the pandemic, there has been a tidal wave of technology that assists in hybrid learning, and while the tech is important, the latest gizmo only facilitates the learning; it doesn’t replace it.
In this image on Charlotte Latin’s homepage students are back at school, but their classmates at home still get a front-row seat by logging on and joining the discussion. Their imagery shows how the delivery method of the lesson has changed, but the classroom technology supports the academic and social growth of their community. Their homepage’s “The Future is Bright” tagline juxtaposed against the classroom image is a nice touch, driving home the message that things are looking up.
Ridgefield Academy’s video helps visualize the flexibility of their programs while highlighting the technology that enables them to connect the classroom to at-home learning. Since Ridgefield began integrating technology into its educational program nearly a decade ago, its Parallel Remote Learning program was able to hit the ground running during the pandemic, allowing the school to offer its curriculum remotely for the entire Preschool through Grade 8. Including imagery of your students and families participating in classes from home helps to visually communicate the efforts being made to bridge the gap between in-person and remote learning with flexibility and convenience.
If you find your school community shifting into a remote learning environment this fall, it’s essential to capture imagery that showcases how expectations are being exceeded. In 2020-2021, nearly every school had a crash course in virtual learning. Some flourished, others struggled. This time, expectations from parents and students are higher than ever before.
Unless there’s a super-creative exception, try to avoid screenshots of the Zoom grids we’ve all seen over the last 18 months...Let’s face it, photos of distance learning can be stale and a reminder of the bleak, early days of the pandemic. Lower quality, submitted photos often lack the professional grade of the imagery we’d expect to see, so there’s a real barrier to capturing engaging imagery when students are learning at home. Luckily, there are a few techniques to help liven things up:
Show Emotion and Engagement
Imagery with active participation will help elevate your images of students learning from home. That includes students and faculty alike smiling, waving, and participating in the coursework. Expectations for virtual learning are high, so if your imagery captures the engagement and excitement from both sides of the screen, it can help ease parents’ fears of passive learning.
Show Routine and Structure
Images that show students at home in their own DIY classroom imply a sense of order and routine that may have not existed last year. Collect images of students focused, locked in and ready to learn, not curled up in bed staring at their laptops while their cameras are off.
Whenever possible, collect images that demonstrate how the relationships and mentorships are continuing to develop. In a virtual world, that can happen with fun online social groups, like book clubs, or cooking classes and dance parties—all the ways your community is connecting online outside the traditional academic schedule.
Sunvalley Community School’s Digital Campus features imagery that speaks to the connections between students and teachers. A big smile from a beloved teacher can make campus feel a little closer during virtual learning. Their images also showcase students in their personal learning environments, focused and ready for their lessons.
Depending on how the pandemic is affecting your school this year, these first few months back could look different from past years. If the majority of your website’s photography still features maskless students and faculty, it’s time for an update! Grab your camera, because it’s the perfect time of year to gather new imagery that truly reflects daily life at your school.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Connor has spent the last decade within the field of marketing and communications, working with independent schools and colleges throughout New England. As Finalsite’s Web and Marketing Manager, Connor plans and executes marketing strategies and digital content across the web. A former photojournalist, he has a passion for digital media, story-telling, coffee, and creating content that connects.