One of the quickest and most cost-effective strategies to improve your school website is through compelling photography. Why? That's because an amazing photograph is more than just an image; it creates a narrative that resonates with prospective students, parents, and your broader school community. It's a snapshot of your school's culture, spirit, and values, showcased in a way that words alone can't match.
High-quality, engaging, and authentic photographs can significantly enhance your school's online presence because photographs not only add an aesthetic appeal but also create an emotional connection with your audience. Amazing photography makes your school’s website even more attractive and memorable.
However, photography requires more than just pointing and shooting. It demands a strong understanding of your school's narrative, an eye for capturing candid, genuine moments, and the technical know-how to get the shot.
There are some practical photography tips designed to improve your school's website with photography and the power of visual storytelling. Whether you're an experienced photographer or a shutterbug with a smartphone, these tips for better school photos will help you capture the essence of your school's spirit, and also increase engagement on your school's website.
1. Embrace Your Assignment
As a school photographer, your camera grants you permission to go where others can't — behind the scenes. From capturing the candid, quiet moments between classmates to the last-second victories on the sidelines, you're there to preserve these moments and tell the story of your school.
But it can be challenging to stay focused with so much on your plate — social media updates, emails, and other commitments may pull your attention away. But remember, you're there to photograph. Teachers are there to teach, and the students are there to learn, but you have a mission — to capture the essence of your school.
Stay focused, embrace your role, and concentrate on your assignment. Be proactive, engage with your surroundings, and make intentional decisions to get the shot.
2. Be the Invisible Storyteller
One of the most essential photography tips for school marketers is this: When telling your school's story with a camera, remove yourself from the communications process. With the camera as the tool, and you as the communicator, your images should connect the viewer to the subject quickly and seamlessly, without any hint of your involvement.
So how do you do this? Here are some tips:
- Find creative angles that add dimension to your images.
- Minimize the use of flash. It can interrupt the authenticity of the moment.
- Be aware of shadows, including your own, and avoid lens flare which can signal a camera's presence.
- Avoid over-editing. Filters and heavily-edited images can detract from natural interactions and settings. You’re looking for natural moments and natural-looking interactions. Adding a filter on your photos puts a timestamp on your images, and you want a timelessness to your images.
- Experiment with perspective. Don't just shoot at eye level; bend down, rise up, lean in, and find a creative way to present a scene.
Shots like this one from Germantown Friends School bring us closer to the action, and we slip into that moment of discovery.
3. The Best Camera is…The One You Have
The camera you need is the one you can use right now. Whether it's a professional DSLR or your trusty iPhone, it's not the camera that captures the magic; it's you, the storyteller.
Remember, parents and students, particularly younger families and Gen Z, crave authenticity over polished images. More than 50 percent favor content that’s light-hearted and informative and you don’t need a $10K camera to capture that. Your job is to deliver genuine, relatable moments that resonate with your target audience and prospective families.
4. Visualize Your Shots
When you arrive at an assignment, visualize the image you want to capture. Work backward from your ideal image and identify the best angle, background, and foreground elements. Consider the composition, lighting, and emotion you want to portray.
Remember, timing is critical and the difference between “good” photography and “great” photography is often about being in the right place at the right time.
This moment from Edina Public Schools’ site didn’t happen by accident — the photographer saw the moment brewing and knew what needed to happen to capture it.
5. Shoot with Purpose
Every photo should serve a purpose. Consider where the photo will be used (website, social media, newsletter) and compose your shot accordingly. Knowing the intended use of an image can guide your creative process and ensure your work aligns with your school’s overall marketing strategy.
Understanding where the photo will “live” can guide your composition, like if you need your subject in the middle of the frame for a hero image on your homepage, or if you need a compelling image with a 16:9 crop for your next email newsletter.
Take this photo from The Potomac School, for example. The extreme horizontal crop makes it ideal for hero panel images and contains all the emotion and excitement within the frame.
A happy moment between two students can be found in Tuxedo Park’s main navigation — the perfect home for a strong, vertical image like this.
6. Capture Emotion
The most compelling images are those that capture emotion. Avoid taking 'record pictures,' which is just a photo that merely records an event having actually taken palace. Strive to capture the raw, authentic emotions of your subjects. This is what separates a great photographer from someone who simply owns a camera.
Tupelo Public School District always has great imagery — from memorable moments in the classroom to more lighthearted fun during events throughout the district.
Pro tip: When an image has competing emotions in the same frame, those reactions can be even more powerful. For instance, the thrill of winning the big game vs the agony of defeat.
7. Engage your subjects
Photography requires engaging with people, which can be awkward, especially for introverts. But remember, it can be just as uncomfortable to be in front of the camera.
The trick is to engage with your subjects. Using humor or empathy to put your subjects at ease and break down barriers, and a smile and a handshake can help break the ice. It’s a simple concept, but it can do wonders for your subjects letting their guard down and creating more natural moments.
A genuine moment like the one featured on The Haverford School’s homepage stops users in their tracks and pulls them into the messaging. Perhaps the setup may have been staged, but this authentic moment brings so much more emotion to the page and makes the content that much more impactful.
8. Tell a Story Visually
When possible, use multiple images to tell a broader story. This could be through photo essays, slideshows, or even social media posts. Include a mix of wide, medium, and closeup shots to introduce characters, set the scene, and provide detail.
Remember, all good stories have characters, conflict, and resolution, so use your images to introduce your characters, place them in situations, and provide details about their experiences using a mix of imagery.
This Instagram collage from Seacrest County Day School presents a wide, medium, and close-up to present a mix of visuals to help tell the story.
9. Arrive Early, Stay Late
To capture the full story of an event, arrive early and stay late. The best shots often happen before an event starts or after it ends. Arriving early gives you a chance to absorb the scene, check your lighting, and prepare for the shoot while staying late might offer candid moments that add a unique perspective to your story.
These extra moments can reveal unplanned, candid scenes that bring your story to life. The unguarded moments before an event begins or after it concludes often provide the most authentic and compelling images.
10. Practice Your Composition
Master the basics of composition to create visually pleasing images. Follow the rule of thirds, seek out faces, get close to your subjects, and use light creatively. Once you're comfortable with the rules, you can begin to experiment and develop your own style.
- Rule of thirds: Divide your frames into thirds and place your subject on the intersections of those divisions. That helps present your subject and the setting in a way that’s balanced.
- Frame left to right: We read left to right in our Western culture, and when your subject is on the left, leading to the right, there’s a natural, comfortable flow of information that’s more pleasing to the eye.
We all wish our campus looked like this, right? This image from Marin Academy is well-composed, with the mountains originating in the top left, sweeping our eyes down and to the right until we’re met with a group of runners. It’s a beautiful shot, and well thought out!
- Every photo should have a face: Always show a face and people in your images. Photos with people are instantly more interesting and relatable.
- Get close! The closer we can get to our subject, the bigger the emotions.
- Don’t fight the light! Instead, work with the light and use it creatively to compose a scene. Try to avoid using a flash when possible.
- Triangles are the strongest shape, and they’re very powerful when it comes to composition. Why? Triangles comfortably move our eyes through the frame, in a repeatable pattern.
11. Reflect on your Work
Finally, take time to reflect on your images. Carefully review your shots and ask yourself:
- Have I captured the essence of the story I wanted to tell?
- Did I miss any key moments?
- Could I have used a different angle?
- Were there distractions in the frame that I didn't notice at the moment?
Always seek feedback from others. This can help you gain fresh perspectives, and refine your skills. Remember to be open to critique, because that's where growth happens.
What does this look like on your school’s site?
So how does this come together and where should we be posting these images? Look to strategically place images at these key points across your site:
|Highly emotional areas||High traffic areas|
|Giving pages||Community pages|
|Landing ad page||Career pages|
As users navigate across the site and explore different pages, Jackson County School District keeps them engaged with great imagery throughout its navigation.
Remember, the school websites with great photography tell a story. Each image you capture contributes to that narrative and with these tips in mind, you'll be well-equipped to capture images that do justice to the vibrant and dynamic world of 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 Senior Content Marketing Manager, Connor plans and executes marketing strategies and digital content across the web. A former photojournalist, he has a passion for digital media, storytelling, coffee, and creating content that connects.