How to organise a successful school photo shoot

Written by James

Nothing makes a better impression than a set of professionally taken photographs. However, organising a successful photo shoot requires good planning. We’ve used our experience to put together this article, which takes you through the entire process, from planning to logistics on the day.


1. Choosing a Photographer

This is the most important decision you’ll take throughout this process. The temptation may be to choose a parent or “friend” of the school in order to save money. However, this can often end in tears. Whoever you chose, ensure they have a proven track record, are CRB/DBS checked, have an excellent portfolio and can work within your budget and timeframe.

2. Getting permission

I know this sounds obvious but you’d be amazed how many schools leave it to the last minute. Ensure that all of your pupils have signed photo permission forms that allow them to be part of the shoot. Simply Google “School Photo Permission Form” and you’ll find hundreds of examples. (It’s also good practice to cover the use of video too!).

3. The purpose?

Why are you having the photo shoot? Is it for a particular project (prospectus, website, poster campaign etc)? It’s important to bear in mind anything that could impact the composition of a photo. For example, the majority of website photos are shot in landscape, as people tend to view them on landscape devices (desktops, laptops etc). However, an A4 prospectus may need to be shot in portrait. Make sure you inform your photographer and show them any concepts or designs beforehand.

4. Know your brand

For a shoot to be successful, the school must know the key messages they want to convey. A good set of photos should portray the strengths of the school in visual form. If you’re stuck on this try looking at your mission statement or ethos. Another good exercise is to ask various stakeholders (teachers/parents/pupils) to come up with 5 words that describe the school. If everyone comes up with the same 5 words, it means you have a strong brand and the start of a brief for the photographer.

5. Telling the story

Once you’ve clarified your key messages, you need to break them down to their most elemental form. Don’t provide your photographer with a copy of your mission statement and hope that they interpret it correctly. Instead, give them a number of simple keywords/feelings and then trust them to capture each one when the opportunity arises. This will allow the photographer to cross off each of the objectives as they go through the day and you’ll end up with a set of photographs that successfully reflect your brand.

The example below shows (From left to right: Friendship, Innovation, Trust and Fun).


6. Activities

Ensure there are interesting activities happening on the day. Try and focus on different styles of learning rather than subject based scenes, as a child writing maths equations and a child writing historical quotes… is still just a picture of a child writing. The activities should also involve children moving as it lends a more interesting composition. Also ensure you cover all age groups. There’s no point complaining afterwards that there are no pictures of year 3 if the photographer wasn’t given the opportunity of shooting them.

7. Scene setting

This is very important. To ensure you receive a varied shoot you need to set up a range of scenes throughout the day. Try breaking the day down in 30 minute blocks for each scene/activity. This gives you time to move to each scene and time for the pupils to settle in the photographer’s presence. (remember this sometimes takes longer for secondary pupils as they are more self-conscious). Also, remember that the photographer needs a break for lunch!

8. The environment

Ensure classrooms are clean and the wall displays are up-to-date. If you are taking exterior shots of the building, ensure that the grass and been cut and everything is looking its best. Uniform is also a consideration. Parents should be informed of the photo shoot beforehand and uniform standards must be strictly followed. We’ve lost a number of excellent shots in the past due to a pupil in the background wearing trainers or with a shirt un-tucked.

9. Provide a Chaperone

To move swiftly from scene-to-scene it’s critical that the photographer be chaperoned by a member of staff throughout the day. Staff will be more receptive and it allows the photographer to concentrate on taking pictures, rather than telling a child to tuck their shirt in! Also remember that it’s likely that the photographer doesn’t know the layout of the school.

10. Plan a route

Plan a logical route around the school that coincides with your planned scenes. This will hopefully prevent doubling-back on yourselves and losing precious shooting time. Put the plan up in the staff room beforehand so each member of staff knows their allocated slot. This will allow them to prepare the children beforehand and speed up transition between scenes. Also have a contingency plan in place in case the weather turns nasty!

logistics on the day

11. Briefing

Share your plan of the day with the photographer beforehand. This will give them time to provide feedback and confirm that the logistics are realistic. It will also give them time to consider how they might capture your key messages. Assign a 15 minute meeting for when they arrive to allow time for introductions and to go through the plan or any last minute changes one last time.

12. Be flexible

Even the best laid plan can sometimes go awry due to unforeseen circumstances. It’s important to remain flexible so that you don’t compromise the entire shoot. Sometimes it may mean re-visiting an activity at a later time or finding a new opportunity that you didn’t know existed.

Good luck! You’re all set! 


Our photographer (James) comes with a wealth of experience and has been regularly shooting schools for over five years. He tends to shoot in a documentary (fly-on-the-wall) style, capturing natural compositions from a distance. Around 90% of our shoots are carried out as part of a larger project (website/campaign etc.) but you can hire him for bespoke shoots at any time.

If you are interested in hiring James for a school photo shoot, please explore our Photography service to find out more and view a sample from his portfolio.

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