In my experience with photographing in schools over the years, I've seen the importance of several key elements. These basics have a profound affect on the success or duress of picture day. Here are some points to consider.
Location of the location.
Where will it take place in relation to the other areas of the school? Is there enough room for the camera, cameras as well as all of the students coming and going?
When a class is being photographed, students will be waiting to be photographed and students waiting for the rest to finish. Are there areas where they can wait without being a distraction to the child being photographed? If they are all able to be in the one room, the hallways will remain clear and less noisy.
Sometimes a class may arrive a little too early or the current class is still there when they arrive. Is there enough room? If not , where will they wait?
How is the noise level?
Children get excited on picture day, no matter what the age. Chatter is high and they can easily not be aware of the class next to them taking a quiz or listening to their teacher.
Is it safe?
If on a stage, is there enough room so that no one may fall off? Are there obstructions or large items that may fall over? Be careful photographing in a hall or corridor. I'll never forget the humbling an administrator received when an inspector came in and saw an exit had been blocked by junk piled up for months.
Are there items in the room that can be a distraction, ie. sports equipment, musical instruments, art supplies etc.
If in a gym, cafeteria, or auditorium, will it be used for other groups throughout the day?
There are several factors when it comes to the picture day schedule. Two basic methods are the common ways to go.
The sign up sheet.
This is where the teachers choose a slot based on the needs of their particular class. A field trip, test, messy lunch, gym etc. all have an affect on the children and their preparedness for the picture.
The other basic method is youngest grade first to oldest.
The second is easier for the photographer. It takes a little more work to photograph pre-k , kindergartners and first graders. It also takes a little more time. This is good for the photographer who can get tired toward the end of the day.
When it comes to the older children, these issues are not so much the case.
Scheduling may be by homeroom or a specific class i.e. gym.
Some schools will take turns each year among the teachers, for example, all of the science classes throughout the day will have picture day so this year the four science teachers will bring all of the students to the photo location. Next year might be the history classes etc.
How much time for each class?
I have found an adequate amount of time is 30 minutes per approximately 15 students from pre-k to first grade. 30 minutes per approximately 20 students from second grade and up.
As the students go up in age, the pace moves a little quicker.
Add in a couple of buffer time slots for deviations from the schedule.
This allows the schedule to get back on track if need be. There are almost always delays or situations that arise to throw off the schedule. (I don't know how many fire drills and bus drills I've gone through. It's as if they are planned that way since the whole student body is consumed with picture day anyway).
An example could be for every two time slots add an extra five or ten minutes.
Allow short breaks
It is also important to allow short breaks for the photographers to visit the rest room if need be, have a mental break, drink of water and a quick bite to eat. (Imagine what it is like to photograph upwards of three hundred children one at a time all in one school day).
If there is a special needs class, schedule ample time at the beginning of the day. Be sure it is quiet and private. Some picture day locations include the cafeteria. When children are arriving to school and waiting in the cafeteria before going to class this is NOT a good time for special needs classes. It is noisy, overstimulating, and not private at all.
If there is enough time for a few buffer zone time slots, I've actually set appointments for the child who might have a hard time with their picture day experience. (This can be for special needs or the child who is just plain intimidated or scared).
Building a familiarity with the students, teachers and staff.
Little children love picture day whether formal portraits, class pictures or candids around their school and classrooms. If a relationship of trust is established, it becomes one of the biggest thrills for them. They really look up to the photographer and have a happy day. There is a great feeling to the photographer as he or she overhears a little child talking about how much fun they had getting their picture taken, as they hop and skip to the car with mom or dad.
Picture day can never be underestimated in it's affect on young children.
As each season or year goes by, the photographer becomes a staple in their lives. Someone they can look up to. Children need positive role models and a successful picture day also includes a chance for them to gain one more.
When it comes to the older students, I think it takes a little more work on the part of the photographer. If the location and schedule are favorable, he or she will have a better chance at it.
Older students, especially middle and high school age are victims of peer pressure. They are overly aware of how they appear to their friends and enemies. A good photographer will keep this in mind and endeavor to win their confidence by not embarrassing them in front of fellow students, teachers and staff. If they trust that the photographer has their best interest in mind and are going to help them look their best they will cooperate much more willingly.
It is also important to foster a good relationship with teachers and staff. This takes credibility. Administrators must be convinced that the photographer understands their needs in maintaining order and flow throughout their day as well. (After all they are facing total chaos if things go wrong).
Each year gets better and better.
It is a relationship of trust that has to be built from the first moment on and continued over time.