Editor's note: The following is information photographer Jeff Cagle compiled to help parents take the best photos possible on the first day of school.
Looking back at photos of myself taken through the years on the first day of school, I can't help but think how happy I am the fashion of the early-to-mid 1990s came and went, and are hopefully never seen again. As a photographer who got his start in the digital era, my thoughts quickly shift to marveling at how my mother managed to make quality photos on film cameras without the ability to check her work after every shot.
With cameras today offering bells and whistles like facial recognition and the ability to focus an image after it's taken, it's getting harder to make a technically poor image. But technology can't help composition, and there are still a few things to remember and avoid when taking back-to-school pictures:
Frame a tight shot
If you're using a point-and-shoot camera, chances are it has an ultra-wide angle lens. Tilt the camera vertically to a portrait orientation, then follow the rule of thirds: the eyes of the subject should be in the top third of the frame. If you want your kids to remember how cute they were when they are grown up, and not groan about how you dressed them or their chicken legs, a shot from the waist up should be sufficient.
If you're shooting indoors and using flash, be mindful of reflective surfaces. Don't shoot in front of windows, mirrors or stainless steel refrigerators or else your flash will bounce right back at you and likely underexpose the image.
Take it outside
With the morning sun low in the sky, there's some great light to take advantage of for this memorable photo op. Set up in front of bushes or a tree for a nice backdrop. One thing to remember, though, is that direct sunlight can create harsh shadows on the face. Either position your child so the sun is behind them or turn your camera's flash on so it can fill in the shadows with extra light.
A tip for DSLR users
If you've been bitten by the shutter bug and have jumped into the DSLR realm (that's digital single-lens reflex camera) but haven't moved beyond using the camera's automatic settings, try exploring Aperture Priority (AV) mode. Set your f-stop as wide as it will go — which is f/3.5 - f/5.6 depending on the focal length for most kit lenses — and make sure your focus point is your child's face. A wide open aperture allows you to create some nice background blur to enhance the image. Check your shutter speed and make sure it's at least 1/60 or faster so there is no motion blur, and adjust your ISO setting higher if needed. If this all sounds like jibberish or the bus driver is losing their patience as you frame your shot, jump back to the auto setting and fire away.
Parents: Show off those back to school photos! Submit your photos to Local Editor Charlotte for a back to school photo gallery. E-mail your photos with names, ages, schools and any other pertinent information to firstname.lastname@example.org.