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Props, poses take first day of school photos to new level

Published August 20, 2013 9:19 am

Tech • Digital devices and software help create more stylized images of big day.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2013, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

When Rebecca Dulgarian was growing up in Huntington Beach, Calif., her mother faithfully documented the first day of school with a simple photograph.

"We always posed in front of the same tree in the front yard," Dulgarian said. "It was just one of those yearly milestones, almost like a holiday."

For generations, back-to-school pictures have been an annual ritual for many families, chronicling the freshly-pressed outfits, trimmed and combed hair, toothless grins and either optimism or anxiety that come with a new school year. But the era of the quick-and-dirty candid snapshot is increasingly giving way to props, poses and postings.

Thanks to the proliferation of digital devices and photo-fixing software, back-to-school photos for many are becoming more stylized, more staged and more professional-looking. And photo-sharing sites like Instagram and Pinterest let all the world share in those precious first-day moments.

Several years ago as Dulgarian's oldest daughter, Macy, geared up for school, the West Jordan mother of four naturally pulled out her camera. But she also grabbed a box of sidewalk chalk, wrote the word "Kindergarten" in large letters on the driveway and posed her daughter beside the script.

After uploading the photo to her do-it-yourself design blog, BlueCricketDesign.net, her blog readers began reposting the photo and an avalanche of fans started pinning the "Kindergarten" photo on Pinterest. Within weeks, ABC's "Good Morning America" came calling.

"You kind of forget when you share about your life online that you're talking to a huge audience," she said. "To see these photos go viral, it's kind of exciting."

That worldwide reach has millions of proud parents posting their best efforts online. Mommy blogger Nicole Bangerter says photo-sharing sites and digital cameras are encouraging parents to consider a more creative touch to the traditional back-to-school shot.

"It's just easier now to share pictures and people want to share them on Facebook and Instagram," she said. "Photos from bunches of my friends from across the country whose kids have already started school have already started popping up on Facebook. It's becoming more common."

This year, the craft store Michael's asked Bangerter for a back-to-school craft idea. That got the Heber City mom of four thinking about a first-day photo prop. For about $25, she bought a 12-by-12-inch wooden picture frame, wooden letters, glue and spray paint to create a frame that her kids could peek through for a reusable back-to-school photo prop. Commenters on her blog, MomAlwaysFindsOut.com, seem to love it.

"I just wanted something simple," Bangerter said. "The props add a little bit of extra fun."

Backpacks, books, vintage desks and mini chalkboards appear to be favorites for online posters. Jennifer Bacher, a Sandy-based contributor to the photography blog ClickItUpANotch.com, said she takes a narrative approach her back-to-school photos.

"It used to be a simple snapshot, which is OK, but now it's more about capturing the lineup of backpacks and shoes or eating breakfast together," Bacher said. "Then I create a collage that tells more of a story."

She said you don't need a fancy camera to chronicle back-to-school moments. Just use natural light, zoom in on your child's face for a traditional headshot and don't always stay behind the scenes.

"I would have loved to have seen more pictures of my mother with me as I was growing up, so sometimes it's important to set up a tripod and get out from behind the camera," Bacher said.

Courtney Slazinik, mommy blogger and founder of ClickItUpaNotch.com, recently posted a full list of props and posing possibilities for parents looking to give their first day of school photos an artistic boost. Pictures of your child waving goodbye at the bus stop or walking down the hall toward the classroom can become cherished images, Slazinik said.

But she admits all this forethought and engineering may sound overwhelming for already stressed-out parents.

"Pinterest has a way of making moms feel terrible about themselves," she said. "You're constantly looking at other people's awesome pictures then they're looking at yours."

Slazinik said she loves the more thoughtfully-produced photos, but said they should never inspire guilt or pressure. She does some of the small detail shots of shoes and backpacks the night before to save time and stress the morning of.

BlueCricketDesign.com's Dulgarian added that first-day photos don't have to be taken in the morning if you're pressed for time; afterschool works just as well. And although even small props can enhance photos, first day of school pictures remain about capturing and savoring milestone moments.

"Just go with what you have," she said. "A box of sidewalk chalk is a back-to-school theme that's easy and cheap, but you can always just pose in front of a tree. That makes a beautiful memory as well."

For Dulgarian's kids, school starts Aug. 26. Photos will post Aug. 27.

jnpearce@sltrib.com

Twitter: @jnpearce —

Making back-to-school photos memorable

Pose your child alongside traditional school items such as books, crayons and backpacks.

Shoot a photo of your child at their desk or with their new teacher.

Have your child hold a sign with their grade and year noted.

Take a cameo of your child with ample negative space. Use Photoshop to write the child's name, age and grade in that space.

Get low — take photos at kids' eye level.

Source: ClickItUpANotch.com

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