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Assembly-line photos are a whirlwind of craziness and fun. These can include school dance photos, team sports, drill team, preschool, business headshots, and anything else that involves a whole lot of people that you have to photograph the same way in a short period of time.
These sessions can be a nightmare if you aren’t prepared, and can be boring if you aren’t creative. I’m going to share some of my secrets for making these sessions some of your favorites and delivering photos that will please moms, coaches, teachers, and kids alike.
Before the day of your big assembly-line session, write out a list of exactly what you need to capture that day. Do not deviate from this list, especially if you have a large group. If you are working with teens especially, you’ll get requests for “just one more” picture, or requests to see what they look like in their photo. You might get requests to take photos not on your list, like best friends, or for a clothing change. If you want to keep your sanity, you have to smile, express how sorry you are, but give them a firm, “No”.
My lists might look something like the following. You can use this list as a starting point, and adapt it to your needs.
Let everyone know right at the beginning how things will go, and keep everyone moving through quickly. It’s always good to have an assistant helping you line everyone up, and get the next in line prepared before they get in front of your camera. I usually use one of the coaches or teachers to help guide their kids, but you could bring a friend along too.
Things can become chaotic quickly, especially with kids and teens. Be firm, decisive, and even a little bit loud if necessary. Let everyone know what is coming up next, and have them line up and wait for their turn so you aren’t trying to gather people every time you need to do the next photo.
If there’s something they need to decide (like what their class “silly” pose will be) warn them ahead of time, so they have time to prepare and think of something before it’s their turn.
Whether I am photographing the entire class, a team, a group together, or photographing each individual, I like to give them a chance to show a little bit of who they are.
If it’s a younger group, like preschool, the teacher and I collaborate to have something fun for at least one of the photos. We’ve done holding apples, writing their name on a chalkboard, graduation caps and gowns, reading a cute children’s book, sitting on a stack of books, etc.
For organized team photos, I let them know that after we do all of the basic photos, I will let them each do one fun photo. For example, for the swim team, I give them two location options, either jumping off the diving board or in the water at the end of the pool.
Everyone who wants the diving board option lines up there, and everyone who wants in the pool lines up at that location. I don’t let them do both because if you start that, they all want to do both, and there’s just no time for it. Once they are at their location I let them do whatever they’d like to do, but they only have one chance, and only a few seconds to set it up.
When school dance couples start to arrive, I let them know that they will be doing one “fun” pose together, and to start thinking of what to do. Many of them are “regulars”, and know that’s what I’ll be doing, so they come ready with ideas. If they can’t think of something, I give them a few ideas. They might go back-to-back, or make serious faces. Maybe one wants to pick the other one up. They could dance together, or make silly faces.
When I do the group silly pose, I don’t give them time to plan. There are too many kids, and they’d be there all day trying to agree on something. Instead, I take the regular smiling photo first, then a serious face photo, then I say, okay, on the count of three, something crazy! Then, I count to three as they hurry and do their thing, and then I snap about 10 photos or so and choose the best one later.
It’s easy to forget to breathe, let alone remember to have fun when you are photographing 60 kids at the same time. However, it’s important that you don’t get too robotic with your assembly-line photos. If you can have a little bit of fun interaction with each person, you’ll get much better photos.
Help them relax, and you’ll get some genuine smiles that will be much better than those old school photos we used to get, where half of the time you were mid-blink, looking away, or not smiling. Assembly-line photos are a great way to get to know a whole bunch of wonderful people at once. Smile at them, and forget about the cheese.
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