I was going to write this post last year but, by the time it occurred to me, all of you had already taken back-to-school photos of your people. Hopefully I’m catching most of you in time for this year. As for everyone else? I’m sorry but I don’t feel bad even a little bit. Summer has been over for you for weeks now and that’s all kinds of unfair, so just don’t even look at me right now. I’ll be nicer to you in my next post once I’ve been alone for six straight hours on a weekday for the first time since Season 10 of Friends originally aired.

Venting aside, here are four tips to help you take better first-day-of-school photos this year (or next!).

1. Use an actual camera.

You know that DSLR camera you just had to have before you relinquished your soul to Android and then IOS? Yeah. Go find it. It will be happy to see the light of day before Christmas, which—c’mon, be straight with me—is the last time you remember using it.

Not only will powering up your big girl (or boy?) camera be responsible (you did pay through the nose for it once upon a time, remember?), but it’s also cool for your kids to see where photos used to come from.

“You mean, like, when you were young in the old days, Mom?”

“Yes, I mean like that. Don’t you have somewhere to be for the next six hours, Punk?”

back to school photos

Related tips:

  • If you know how to boss your camera around, tell it to focus on their eyes and everything else will fall into place. If you don’t know how to do this, Google “how to manually focus DSLR,” and then practice what the YouTube videos preach.
  • Watch the background and adjust your position slightly if you notice a pole or a wall or a branch or a thing of any kind growing out of your dear cherub’s head. Also (as in the photo above), compose a few shots with something in the foreground to add dimension.

2. See beyond the backpack (and printable back-to-school signs)

If you follow Tip #1 you will be more likely to actually have prints made of your photos instead of accidentally burying them at sea (like when you drop your phone in the toilet because you are so excited to use the bathroom uninterrupted for the first time ALL DECADE). 

With that in mind (the print-making, not the potty-going), see this photo op as a great time to create some portraits of your kids to display around your (and your parents’) home for the rest of the year. By all means, get some shots of them wearing their backpacks and holding their trendy little signs (if you must), but then remove all of that and just get them. Since you’ve already gone through the trouble of getting your camera out (and especially since their hair will never look this good again all year), spend a couple extra minutes capturing a few shots that don’t scream, “THIS WAS MY FIRST DAY OF ___ GRADE.”

These are the images you’ll unearth for their high school graduation parties, I promise.

Related tip:

  • If your kids aren’t wearing uniforms, choose a coordinating color and make sure they all have a little pop of it somewhere in their outfit. That color for us last year was orange…

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3. Be in the photos

Do you remember what your parents looked like in their twenties when you were peeling classroom glue from your palm, or later in their thirties when you took those awkward first steps across the middle school parking lot?  No way. You only remember what your parents looked like when you saw them last week or last month or for the last time. 


Unless they handed their camera to someone else and said, “Here, please take our picture.”


Preschool – 1986

Yes, your kids are getting older, but so are you. Give them the gift of someday being able to see you with them on their “first days.” If your outfit coordinates with theirs, even better.



back to school photo tips

So what if I also had on orange capris to go with her headband. SO. WHAT.

Related tip:

Under no condition does “be in the photo” mean “take a selfie.” Please, no. Never that. 

Be in the moment. Be in the photo.

Evan's first day of preschool in 2010

4. Do all of this…THE NIGHT BEFORE!

The first morning is chaotic enough without adding the likes of this to the crazy…

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So don’t.

Clean ’em, clothe ’em, and tell ’em to get their butts downstairs for a dress rehearsal. 

Then in morning–when other parents are stressing and corralling and demanding smiles from their darlings–post a photo you took 13 hours earlier and enjoy being fully present on this very first, never-gonna-come-again day. 

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And whatever you do, don’t forget the mimosa!