By Jonathan Oleisky

It’s a visual world out there. Using photography to tell the story of your school or college has never been more important. Consider that every day, 95 million photos and videos are posted to Instagram. Post an uninspiring photo and people will swipe on by.

Getting the best photography for all your marketing needs, print and online, is crucial for your branding and word of mouth. Best-practice website design has less copy and more – you guessed right – images of gorgeous, story-telling photos that pull at the heartstrings and inspire inquires and website clicks. 

Making the most of working with photographers

We asked Anne Schulte, Kalix’s Creative Director/Art Director, and veteran of hundreds of photo shoots, to share her tips to get the most out of your marketing photography. 

1.  You get what you pay for. Hire a professional, not a hobbyist. You can negotiate a half-day, full-day or multiple-day rate. 

2.  Before you hire, take a close look at the portfolio and the photographer’s qualifications and experience. If the portfolio is predominantly studio still lifes with controlled lighting, he or she might not be the right fit for the candid moments you need to capture. Look for images of unposed, candid people imagery in interactive situations.

3.  When viewing a portfolio, do the images use selective focus? Classrooms are very busy and sometimes messy spaces. The photographer can shoot using this technique to create a soft, painterly background emphasizing the people or a small detail in the foreground in sharp focus. 

4.  Planning is key. Involve all the stakeholders – admissions, communications/social media, etc. – in compiling the shot list and timeline for the shoot day(s). What photos might be potential shots for website, view books, ads or magazine covers that might have copy on them? (Be sure to tell the photographer so he/she can shoot with “quite areas” to accommodate graphics and or text.)

5.  Don’t rush the photographer in each location. Making art takes time, and that perfect moment is frequently a later outtake in a series or some unexpected occurrence. 

6.  Use natural window light when possible. Ask teachers if subjects can move closer to a window to achieve a more beautiful lighting effect. (Using a flash has a more harsh and flat appearance.) 

7.  Shoot candids. Authenticity is key. The goal is to build a library of visuals that illustrate your school’s unique story. Kids posing in a straight line or with thumbs up or making faces don’t tell a story.

8.  If your students wear a uniform, avoid all-white or all-black clothing, if possible, which can lose details. Bring along a few school sweatshirts (in several sizes and in good shape) to the shoot. Raid lost-and-found or ask the school store for inventory you can return.

9.  “One shoots down on criminals and up on heroes.” When photographing people, have the photographer, squat down or even lie on the floor and shoot slightly up at the subject or at eye level. Too often you see images taken from a standing adult height, looking down on children.

10.  Always have a school representative present for the entire day of the photo shoot. If there are children whose parents have not signed photo releases or who may be leaving the school the following year, that individual will be key to preventing time spent on unusable photos, as well as wasted time and expense.

11.  Need more inspiration? Go to workbook.com, click on the photography tab and for “specialty,” type in school. You’ll see some amazing photos with which to generate visual ideas for your marketing.

What’s new in website design and photography?

Get off the carousel. The photo carousel is becoming passe in website design. Check out Finalsite’s blog on website design trends for some great ideas on how to use photography on your website. 

Amateur photography can tell your story, too.

With a little effort and creativity, you can capture the many photos your students, faculty, parents and alumni are taking every day.

Most faculty are taking and posting their own photos of life in the classroom, on field trips, etc. Make sure that teachers and professors are tagging you in their photos and using an institution-approved hashtag. If a big campus event is coming up (Parents’ Day, reunion weekend, first day of school, etc.), send an email to your constituents with a hashtag created just for that day.

For independent schools, what about creating a placard for families to use for first-day-of-school photos and posts? First day of school photos are staples of Facebook and Instagram, so why not have your students holding a sign that states, “First Day of School at (your school name and logo/branding)? You can email a PDF for downloading or send a pre-printed hard copy. This also works for college graduations.

Faculty who don’t post also take photos. Share a unique email (photos@schoolname.org or .edu, etc.) with all faculty, staff and coaches to send you their photos throughout the year and a one-sentence description. This way, you add to your cache of photos, don’t need to be five places at once and have control over where and how you use them across your social media.

Start a student photo contest. Through email, announcements, fliers (yes, students still read them), announce your contest. Maybe it’s “Facebook Pic of the Week” or a fun name that combines digital lingo with your mascot (iWombats, anyone?). Make it easy for students to get their photo to you (see the bullet point above) and advertise the prize ($5 gift card for coffee or the school store/café is amazing incentive). Post it with the winner’s name and year.

Invite alumni to be part of your school’s #TBT. (Yes, it’s still a thing.) Early in the week, announce the theme for the photos you want them to post. Halloween? Shots from their days on the soccer field? Graduation? Spirit pics? Ask them to send them to you (for your archives) for posting or have them post themselves and tag you. Alumni love to see old photos and tend to comment on them.

Go to any athletic event and there are several parents with great cameras clicking away. Ask coaches and athletic directors who those parents are. Reach out to them and invite them to be “photography ambassadors” for your school to share their photos with you. Set up a DropBox or Google drive to make it easy for them to share pics with you, and ask that they take a variety of athletes in action. When you post, be sure to use the parent’s name (and if he/she agrees, the name of the child and his/her uniform number or position).

Don’t sweat it if these photos are not the most artistic. They are great snapshots of what is happening in real-time, taken by the people – students and faculty – who are at the heart of your institution and mission.  (But a few tips from Jeremy Jenson, photography pro, can’t hurt to make the most of your photos for social media.)

Do you have tips to share on innovative ways to use photos to tell your story? Please share them here.

Stay up-to-date on the Kalix Summer Marketing Series.

#1 What is your Word of Mouth Saying about your School?

#2 7 Easy Ways to Take the Blah out of Blogging for Your School

#3 Best Ways to Work with Graphic Designers

#4 How to Execute a Social Media Audit for Your School

#5 What’s Your Position on Brand Positioning?

#6 Showing Your Website Some Summer Lovin’

#7 The Value of a Facebook Ad Campaign for Independent Schools

Jonathan Oleisky is founder and president of Kalix Marketing.