"You have brains in your head.
You have feet in your shoes.
You can steer yourself in any direction you choose."

—Dr. Seuss

Summer has flown by and school is upon us.

Which means it's time to take some back to school photos to memorialize another new beginning and another year of learning! Whether you have a DSLR or just your iPhone camera, I've got some tips and ideas for grabbing a few nice photos of your brood!

1 - Lighting is key

It's probably no surprise that one of my first tips for you would be to consider your lighting! Basically, lighting can really make or break any photo, even just quick iPhone shots of your kids. In order to avoid squinting kids, try to find even light whether indoors or out. If you are indoors, window light is your friend and is preferable to overhead lights or lamps. When outdoors, avoid struggling with splotchy light from direct sun by finding a shady spot. Try going under a mature tree or against a shaded side of a building.

Harsh direct sun = squinty eyes and blotchy faces!

Even lighting in the shade = no squinting and no glaring patches of light and shadow

2 - Work for those smiles!

Ok mom - I know as well as you do that your kids are smiling and goofing off with grins galore until the moment you want them to take a picture. I'm willing to bet that the minute you ask for a picture or pull out your phone or camera to snap a photo you probably get faces like this:

'Come on mom...no pictures!!!'

But I want to assure you - it is possible to get your kids to laugh, often even when they are in a rotten mood! And let me just tell you, asking them to say 'CHEESE!' won't cut it. It also won't give you a real genuine smile...you'll get whatever your kids version is of a forced-deer-in-headlights-overly-pronounced-toothy grin. Check out the difference between my own kids fake smiles vs real smiles, when I actually got them laughing.

Deer in Headlights

Cracking up for real!

Fake 'Cheese!' Smile

Sweet Genuine Smile

So how do you do get those smiles? Here are a few of my go to tricks:

The first, which may not be surprising is simple 'potty talk'. I am not sure I have met a kid who doesn't start snickering and giggling when the topics of stinky feet, smelly farts or poop come up. Don't get me wrong- these are NOT my favorite subjects but I'm telling you it works!

I also get smiles out of most kids when ask them to picture someone they know wearing a ridiculous costume, 'How funny would grandma look dressed up like a banana!?' or if I say something like 'Hey guys, guess what we are having for dinner!? Broccoli ice cream with mushroom fudge sauce! Sound good?' (Their response: A scrunched up nose, an 'Eeeeeeew, no way!' and then a pile of giggles!)

Don't be afraid to be ridiculous and goofy - tickles, singing baby shark in a monster voice, pretending you can't see them until they smile - whatever works! And if you run out of your own ideas, try funny noises by having something like this Duck Whistle on hand. Whatever you do though, just don't ask them to say 'Cheese!' because you won't get what you want. If you are going to go the 'Cheese!' route, at least spice it up by asking them to say 'Cheese!' now 'Cheeseburger!', now say 'CheeseBOOGER' :)

3 - Add a prop!

Letter boards, chalk boards, balloons, and pennant banners are all great props to throw in with your version of 'First day of (grade level)'! You could even do a sign that is all about who they are right now by writing things like their name, age, grade, and all their current favorites (books, music, food, sport, etc). Have them hold an apple (or even balance it on their head) or some other school supplies like a handful of pencils and a few rulers! Go ahead and make it as kitschy as you want - your kids are adorable and can pull off anything!

If you like the letter board idea, here's the one I have that I have repurposed for so many things already! 

4 - Document their learning

We already talked about using signs as a cute prop to catalog your child's grade and the year, but how about letting them do the sign-making labor! This is especially good if you start young, as you can see how their handwriting improves from year to year! I love little-kid-handwriting!

5 - School Pride

Show off your school pride by taking a photo each year in front of your school's sign! It'll probably be a bit crowded on the morning of the first day of school, but get a quick snap, or try back on the second day of school - no one will know the difference!

6 - Do a side by side

Dig out the photos from the past (first day of school last year, or the last day of school before summer) and show their growth and progression by showing them side by side.

Kindergarten 2018

1st grade 2019

7 - Time travel

This one takes a bit of prep - but how about starting a tradition of photographing your children holding a print of the previous year's photo. You'll create a cool time capsule effect and will have some unique time-travel shots each year! (This is also my dutiful reminder to you to print your photos!)

8 - Plan ahead and don't rush!

The first day of school can be a mad dash to get everyone fed, dressed, packed up and out the door (heck, any day of school can be like that!) so if you are at all worried about getting the perfect snap in the chaos of the morning, consider taking your posed picture the day before! The kids will be excited to try on their new outfits a day early, you won't be rushed as you try to find a good backdrop and even lighting, and I promise not to tell anyone that you got a head start!

9 - Don't forget the candids

Don't put your phone or camera down yet! I love all the proper and primped, hair-combed-new-clothes-wearing shots with the 'First day of ___' signs, but if you know me, you know I love candids even more! Stepping onto the bus, giving a friend they haven't seen since school ended a hug, playing on the playground before the bell, or meeting their teacher for the first time. It's these kind of shots that you will look back on years from now and really see their personalities shining through!

10- Get in there!

You spent the summer planning pool days and kids crafts, shuttle them from this camp to that, and spent money you could have spent on happy hour drinks on new school shoes instead. And now the day has finally come...bittersweet I'm sure (Anyone out there simultaneously jumping for joy at your new found freedom while wiping a tear from your eye as you think about how another school year is already here? Just me?) Well, this day is as much yours as it is theirs, so go on and get yourself in there with your babes like the proud mama you are- Even if it's just a quick selfie!

Whew, congrats, you did it! You survived another summer with the kids and now you have a bucket full of tools to use as you document this next chapter for your kids!