Best Yearbook Photography Tips — Keep It Personal
Yearbook photography is all about creating memories. Generally, it's broken down into two categories: portraits and candids. Yearbook portraits are your basic head and shoulders portrait photo. Ideally these are done in a studio and feature consistent lighting, poses and backgrounds. The idea is to create a gallery of images that helps the yearbook owner remember his or her classmates over the years. These photos are also where classmates can sign their names and leave their thoughts about the yearbook owner. Generally, this part of the photography is handled by the yearbook company, which then makes its profits through selling senior portrait packages to the students it photographs.
Candid photographs, on the other hand, are often shot by the school community (although sometimes the yearbook company will also provide candid photography). This article focuses on yearbook photography tips based on the candid aspect.
One of the major events in yearbook photography is the big dance of the year. It can be the high school prom, the college formal, or even a military social (I've edited and shot for high school, college and military yearbooks over the years). In each case it's important to understand that photographing such events calls for capturing images that do more than just show people.
Formal dress is expensive, flashy and colorful and makes for great images. It's important to capture the gowns, tuxedos and uniforms and show the wearer's pride in their outfits. In some areas (Southern New Jersey, for instance) the custom is for the high school girls to give an impromptu fashion show for parents and friends outside the venue. Be prepared to get some images of them strutting for their audience. Wide angle lenses can capture the dress and the crowd, just make sure your primary subject is close to the camera so she dominates the frame.
Speaking of showing off, don't forget that participants often rent limousines (either singularly or by pitching in). Make sure to capture some images of the attendees as they exit the limo (use flash and a wide angle zoom lens).
On the dance floor look for tight shots of couples slow dancing together along with wide shots of the crowded dance floor. If spotlights are being used, look to backlight a dancer or couple for an interesting silhouette.
Don't forget to grab some table shots too. Have the half of the table with their backs to the camera move to the other side so they're in the picture too (either pose them standing behind the seated couples, or arrange it so women are seated and men are standing).
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More Yearbook Photography Tips
Graduation is a major moment in a student's life and graduation day is a great opportunity for memorable candid photos. Look for shots of students interacting with family members and friends (a telephoto zoom comes in handy here so you can capture intimate moments while giving people some space). Keep in mind, graduation day can lead to some very emotional images as friends realize an important part of their lives has come to an end.
Look for messages taped on head gear plus signs in the stands. A classic image is the student body tossing their hats in the air at the end of the ceremony. Make sure you're prepared for this opportunity and have a wide angle zoom on the camera at the time.
One last thing, check for cars that are painted or decorated for graduation. If you can, make sure you have some students in the image as well (always try to avoid static images of inanimate objects. Yearbook photography is all about people.).
During the year, community members have multiple opportunities to display their talents (this is true for every yearbook I've ever worked on whether high school, college or in the military). These events can provide challenging but wonderful photographic opportunities.
They're challenging because you're often shooting under difficult lighting conditions and more often than not, the use of flash is forbidden. This means you'll have to work at high ISO settings and deal with the hazards of slower shutter speeds. While a tripod or monopod may come in handy, there's still the issue of subject movement too. Look for moments of minimal movement and favor getting close to the action so you can shoot with wider optics (reducing the likelihood of blur from camera shake).
If you're photographing a play, try and attend a dress rehearsal since it's possible you may be allowed to use flash (this varies from school to school). Even if you can't use flash, at least you'll have greater freedom of movement and will have more locations to shoot from. Make sure you vary your compositions from wide to close-up and also mix up horizontals and verticals. Look for interaction shots between performers and don't forget to get shots of the audience and the behind-scenes personnel.
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Additional Yearbook Photography Tips
Sports are a big part of the yearbook scene. While an entire article could be written on photographing any one individual sport, there's still some general advice that works no matter what sport you're shooting.
The first thing to keep in mind is that you're often working at cross purposes. While it's important to get some good action photos, since this is for a yearbook and not a newspaper, it's also important to make sure faces are identifiable and as many different individuals as possible are depicted (it does a yearbook no good to offer a section on a particular sport that only features images of the star player and no one else). Look for images of players in the dugout watching the game, coaches teaching or advising players. Shots of athletes at different positions (warm-ups and practice sessions are good times to get these images) waiting for the action to start can also be useful. Don't forget to get some close-ups of equipment and pictures of the people attending the events. These extras give the layout artist some flexibility in page design and can lead to a more attractive yearbook.
It's also important to visit a few classrooms and get shots of teachers and students being, well, teachers and students. Look for shots made from behind the student using their head and shoulder to act as a frame to focus on the teacher. Also get some wide shots of the classroom plus a few verticals shot down the rows of students so you can show a lot of faces (make sure you're shooting at eye level with the seated students and not from a standing position).
Some classroom settings offer more interesting opportunities than others. Labs and art rooms often have the students out of their desks and actually doing things. This can lead to much more interesting photos than students seated at their desks taking notes (although you will need some of these shots too). Talk to teachers to find out about particularly interesting demonstrations they may have planned which can lead to more exciting photos.
General Yearbook Photography Tips
One of the biggest challenges a yearbook photographer faces is managing to be in the right place at the right time. Staying aware of events and activities is a constant challenge. Try to establish good relations with anyone involved in scheduling events and make sure word gets out that you're always looking for something interesting to photograph.
Try to keep a camera with you as much as possible too. Often photo opportunities spring up when least expected. If you're ready to shoot, you can take advantage of such opportunities.