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Your School's Secret Marketing Tool: Cell Phone Cameras
Stephanie Griffin

Photography helps to fill in the gaps between words on your website, in a brochure, or on social media.

But you already know that, right? It goes without saying that most school marketers know good photography is essential to your school’s brand and marketing efforts. Despite this, too often a school’s ability to have good photography or videography is hindered because of budget.

But it doesn’t have to be.

You may not have the means of hiring a professional to come in to take amazing photos, but you do have a cell phone, right? Yes, you read that correctly: your cell phone is the secret marketing tool you’ve been missing out on using. With a few tips and a little guidance, great photography is readily available with our cell phones that anyone is capable of taking good shots on their own.


Mia Johnstone, marketing consultant and professional photographer with over twelve years of experience working in private school marketing, recently joined our Content Marketing Manager Mia Major for a live webinar on The Power of Your Cell Phone's Camera for School Marketing to share how you can use your cell phone for your visual marketing efforts.

Cell Phone Photography 101: It is All About Light

To begin using your cell phone for photography and marketing, it is important to first understand how a cell phone camera actually works. One of the most important basics behind how our cell phones take photos is understanding how they use light.

Below are three examples of how cell phones read light and how this can impact the result of your cell phone photos.


In the first photo, you’ll notice to subject is slightly overexposed. This is because it is taken in direct sunlight. This isn’t necessarily bad, but bright light can also cause a photo to appear harsh.

The second photo is taken with the light source behind the person. This is a big photography “dont’!” In all cases, the light source should always be behind the photographer, with the light hitting the subject/object of the photo. In the case of this photo, the person in the picture will seem very dark because the cell phone is reading the light behind the person.

The third photo is the most ideal situation you want to have when using your cell phones to take photos. This photo is taken with “open shade”, which allows more of a softer light and makes the lighting on the person similar to the background. (So contrary to a popular belief that sunny days means better photography, cloudy days usually offer the best opportunity for taking photos everywhere on campus!)

Watch this webinar on demand any time here.

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Best Practices for Taking Photo Using Your Cell Phone

There are six important best practices for taking the best photos on your cell phone:

Turn off your flash. Flash tends to be an automatic feature of your cell phone’s camera, but goes straight into the eye and doesn’t always result in the best photo. However, sometimes flash is your only option — such as when photographing in an extremely dark setting.

Set your resolution to the highest setting. This is to improve the quality of your photos and will be good for printing photos if you were to use them in a school brochure or any print marketing. If you’re using an iPhone, there are no resolution options for photo, only video — although using HDR mode and turning off “live” mode results in better-quality images. Android devices have a resolution setting in the phone’s camera settings.

Consider whether the photo will be used in a portrait or landscape setting. For example, if you are going to use a photo in your website’s homepage image slideshow, you will want to be sure all your photos are taken while the phone is landscape (horizontal). However, headshots can be taken in with the cell phone being held for a portrait (vertical) photo.



Delete or download current images from your cell phone. This is important to free up some space for taking new images on your phone. You don’t want to be in the middle of a photo shoot and run out of space.

Use natural light. The most ideal scenario for this is taking photos in shaded areas. You don’t want any heavy light on faces. Clouds are the best for taking photos with your cell phone because it allows some natural light to come through without it being too bright on your subjects in your photos. When you don’t have great natural light available, you can use a reflector to reflect the light on to the individual in your photo.

Use Photo Editing Apps to Enhance Your Photos Even More: Cell phones are great for photography because you have hundreds of free (and paid) tools at your disposal to edit and enhance your photos. I reached out to Mia Major, our Content Marketing Manager, (who also happens to be a photographer and Instagram-savvy marketer), for a few of her favorites:

  • Afterlight: This app costs $1.99 and has a lot of beautiful filters to make your photos pop! I recommend using the same 1-2 filters across all of your photos to streamline the look and feel of your site and social media.
  • FaceTune: An app for portrait perfection! This app is also $1.99 and can be used to whiten teeth and soften skin.
  • Retouch App: This app is a little pricier, ringing in at $2.99, and can help you delete virtually anything from the background of your photo.
  • PS Express: If you have a Photoshop or Lightroom license, you can download their apps for free on your phone and use on-the-go.

What to consider before shooting photos

Before you starting taking any photos on your cell phone's camera, there are some important aspects to consider:

  1. When you prepare to take photos of students, consider their general dress, hair, and overall appearance. The best dressed never fails for school photos.
  2. Be the director! Whether you need to make changes to outfit, hair, swap out clothes or props between students, be open about your vision and what you want the image to “say”.
  3. Work with your students and make sure they smile. If you ask them to give you their best fake laugh, you may be able to get a photo or two of their most genuine smiles.
  4. Don’t just take one photo — take four to five each take. This is good for immediate feedback, can give you an idea of what may need to be changed, or may end up resulting in the best photo for you to use.

Mia also recommends using this Photo Posing Guide eBook as it's another great resource to help enhance your school’s marketing photography!

4 Types of Great Images You Can Capture With Your Cell Phone

Seven seconds is all it takes to make a good impression to your website visitor and convince them to stay (or leave) your school’s website. Prospective parents coming to your website, for example, expect to see photos of students, your campus, teacher interaction, and more to help tell your school’s story, highlight its value, and convey messages through visuals as to why they should consider sending their son or daughter to your school.

To tell your school’s story with the best imagery, there are four types of great images you can take with your cell phone and use on your website to convey these messages.

#1 Wide shot of your campus


Wide shots of your campus are the perfect kinds of images for your website, brochures, and more because it allows the viewer to really see your school in depth, especially if they haven’t been there in person yet. You’re able to show off a larger area through a wide shot, and typically these are the best kind of images that work well on a school website. The Gow School, for example, has quite a few widescreen shots in their homepage slideshow that features students, buildings, and classroom interaction that can easily spark the interest of prospective families.

These can easily be taken using your cell phone’s camera by holding it horizontally — or, you can even use the panoramic setting!

#2 The Classroom Shot


Classroom shots are a great addition to showcase your academics and student experience at your school. Taft, for example, has a slideshow of some great photos from the classroom with students smiling, teacher interactions, and hands-on learning. These photos can easily be taken with your cell phone in the classroom while you have students together in a discussion or to give a sneak peek inside the classroom environment at your school.

Some important aspects to keep in mind for these types of images:

  • Make sure students look engaged and are smiling
  • Remove any clutter (such as backpacks or writing on boards) that may distract viewers from taking in what’s happening in the photo
  • Take the photos with the light behind you, and on the faces of the students. To get the best light, consider opening window blinds in the classroom so long as the sun is not shining directly into the room

#3 College Counseling


Prospective families want to know students at your school will advance to a good college/university after they finish studying at your institution. Photos behind your college counseling program should prove this. For example, Phoenix Country Day School does a great job using this image on their college counseling page with students at the school wearing t-shirts of the colleges and universities they are going to the following year.

#4 The Authentic Faculty Photo

Do you feel like every school website you see (including your own) has the yearbook-style photos of your faculty on the blue gradient background? Granted, a streamlined look is nice. But you want to know what is even nicer? Personality.

As a member of your school’s community, you are part of your school’s brand. It’s great to have other photos of you that are not your typical ‘school’ photos. This is huge for someone like a head of school or director of admissions, the image you put out there in photos of you are as important to the prospective families considering your school. They need to know who you are and be comfortable with approaching you. Having these different types of images of you can also help sell the culture of your school and give your school some personality.

The Potomac School’s faculty pages feature actual selfies for their staff!


Consider having these ‘selfie’ images taken “in action”. What do you do in the school and how do you want to convey that in an image? You or someone else can use your cell phone to take your selfie. Sit in front of a window, take several shots, save your favorites, and use them — like on your school website or LinkedIn profile.

With selfies, you don’t be worried about the background as much; your office won’t matter as much if you have good lighting. Clean up any clutter, keep it simple and have fun!

Use Your Photography Assets Anywhere!

It’s obvious that the images you take can be used on your school’s website, social media, and more, but here are some other uses for your school’s marketing efforts.

  1. Create a digital eBook about your school with your photos. Keep it to about six pages. You can use Google slides to create it and turn it into a PDF — very tech savvy and easy to do!
  2. You’ll especially want to consider using the photos you take for admissions, from your Admissions page on your website, to your brochures or print collateral. You need photos of you, your students, and campus to engage with prospective families.
  3. Use an image in your email signature. For example, with many of the event emails that go out, I include my headshot in the signature (see below):
  1. Enlist help from your students who may also have the tools to help you take the best images. Many students today have drones that are great to take area shots of your campus.

Let us know if you’re looking for some additional guidance with your school’s marketing and how to best use these photos.

The Power of Your Cell Phone's Camera for School Marketing


Stephanie GriffinAs Finalsite's Events Marketing Manager, Stephanie is passionate about sharing what's happening at Finalsite with all school professionals. She is a co-producer for the FinalsiteFM podcast network and brings a fresh perspective for marketing with her background in social media, communications, and radio broadcasting. Stephanie enjoys helping schools stay ahead of their marketing goals by tracking new trends and developments.

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