11 Tips For Better First Day Of School Photos

11 Tips and tricks you’ll want to know for better first day of school photos. Plus free printable back to school sign.

At first I didn’t give much thought into the whole first day of school photos, thing. But as the years have gone by I’m so grateful that I have them. The kids are changing so fast that when you put the pictures side by side, you realize how grown up they truly are.

The sneakers have gone from velcro to shoe laces. The backpacks are changing from cartoon characters to just one solid color and we all know the reason we bought it in the first place, was because of the pockets. And that once small little girl who use to stumble up the school bus steps is now hopping on and hardly looking back.

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Many of us have pretty great cameras on our phones, but just because you have a nice camera doesn’t mean you know how to achieve that perfect photo. In fact, it can come with a few challenges.

The sun making them squint, the background isn’t ideal, and they are using their fake smile! But you keep your cool anyway because, after all, it’s just a picture.


Table of Contents


The best start to good first day of school photos is preparing the night before. Pack the kids lunch the night before, set out clothes, and make sure the hair brush is where it’s supposed to be an not under the sofa.

Make any first day of school signs a few days earlier and have them ready to go by the front door.

First day of school photo with chalk sign.


Plan a certain time you need to be out the door and give yourself 15 extra minutes for first day of school photos. You might not need the entire 15 minutes but this way you’ll be able to get better results. If someone forgets something inside they can run inside and grab it without it being a big deal.

Now we have plenty of time for fun poses and extra giggles.


The next question is where. Where is important for two reasons. The first reason is because it’s your background. The front door is always a great backdrop and so is a brick house or even a white garage door.

  • Front door
  • Side brick house
  • White garage door
  • Vegetable garden / greenery
Striking a pose for the first day of school.

Better first day of school photos, in front of our tomato plants.

Pro tip- Have them step several feet forward so they are not so close to the background. You can even use your phone on portrait mode and have the background become out of focus for a more desired and professional look.

What if I don’t have a beautiful door? Get creative with your space. Before we painted our door, it wasn’t much to look at. So instead of using the door we used the side of our brick house. But that area wasn’t exactly beautiful either!

But the brick and the lighting were something I could work with. So I sat her down against the brick wall and used her backpack as a prop. By posing her lower to the ground, and getting down to her level, we were able to crop out all the undesirable things and only focus on the good.

Brick wall for first day of school photoshoot.
Holding out chalk sign.

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Lighting is just as important as the where. With bad lighting they may end up squinting or have dark shadows on their face and under their eyes. You’ll also get a beautiful catchlight (sparkle) in their eyes with good lighting.

How to find good lighting- Direct sun in the early morning hours is not your friend. Find an area where the sun hasn’t hit yet. For example, we have a few trees across the street that keep our side yard in the shade during the morning. By using this area we have gorgeous soft light with that sparkle in their eyes.

Sun making kids squint for first day photos.

Direct sun causing harsh lighting and squinting.

Better lighting with happy smiles for first day of school.

Much better lighting. No squinting. Catchlight in eyes to make them sparkle. Indirect sunlight. No harsh shadows.

You can also hold your hand out in front of you and turn around slowly. As you turn, you’ll notice how the shadows hit your hand and where the softer light is. Just moving a few feet to the left or right can make a big difference.


First day of school photos can be a lot of fun! When they’re little they are filled with excitement of the new upcoming year. They have big dreams of becoming astronauts, ballerinas and professional baseball players. It’s amazing to look back and see how their interest grow. Depending on how you want your first day of photos to go, they may even be able to help color the signs.


We all know the fake smile I’m talking about. The one where they hardly grin and it looks painful. In this house we have a few ways to get our kids to smile and some of them are a little bit silly.

You could go with the normal say cheese and that might work just fine but if you need some extra help you can try this.

  • Parent- “Say silly.”
    • kids- “Silly!”
  • Parent- “Say crazy!”
    • kids- “Crazy!”
  • Parent- “Say ridilious!”
    • kids- “Ridiculous!
  • Parent (gasp) “What did you just call me?!”

This exchange almost always gets the kids to laugh out loud since they all just called their parents silly, crazy and then ridiculous. And if that fails you can always have them shout “Daddy has stinky feet!”

Just be sure to get all the giggle pictures as they look at one another and question where mom’s sanity just went.

Little girl laughing at mom's jokes.


Start simple with individual photos of each child. From there you can hold up any signs or props you might have. Then you can move on to sibling pictures. Have them hold hands, hug, say silly things or tickle.

Back to school pose ideas.
Siblings hug in back to school pose ideas.
  • Full length
  • Head and shoulders
  • Backpack on
  • Looking over their shoulder
  • Hold up back to school signs
  • Strike a silly pose
  • Jump for joy
  • Hug siblings

Pro tip- When photographing different poses try to never crop a photo at the joints (elbows, knee, wrists). If you’re photographing a head a shoulders, make sure you have a full frame of a centered head and shoulders, then crop off right at the chest line.

The same is similar when taking a ¾th length photo. Center the head and have the photo go just below the hips and above the knees.

Pro tip- Get down to their level so you are photographing eye to eye instead of looking down at them.

Pro tip- Don’t crop later in camera as it doesn’t come out very nice. If you’d like both a full length photo and a head and shoulders, be sure to take one of each by moving yourself forward and back and not zooming in or cropping later.

Over the shoulder back to school pose idea.
Holding chalk sign out to camera.

Remember to keep your energy and excitement up. Even if you’re not getting exactly what you were hoping for, the last thing you want is for the kids or yourself to become frustrated.


Going back to school can be exciting but it can also be really scary. It’s important to be ok if it’s not the ideal photo you had in mind, because in the end you want them to have a wonderful first day that is stress free.

Years from now when you look back on these early parenting days, you’ll smile warmly at the little froggy face staring back at you in the picture.


Shhhh, no one will know. Take them on the second day and if it keeps happening just let that be your new family tradition.


Remember to remember the little things. Planning a photo shoot can be a lot of fun but the candids of them brushing their teeth or waiting for the bus, can be just as beautiful.

Back to school photo candid of a little girls jumping in a puddle.


Social media can be a great thing but it also comes with it’s share of dangers. Never share sensitive information. That includes the school name, teacher’s name, other children, bus times/numbers or your location. Keep these things private and only share on a need to know basis with trusted family and friends.


As time goes on, these photos will become treasured memories that you keep for their graduation party to display side by side with their senior photos. So print them out and tuck them away.

Save them for that day you think is never going to arrive because I promise you, one day you’re going to want that photo of your little one stumbling up the school bus steps.

Little girl stumbling up the school bus steps.
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