School photography for websites

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School photography for websites

Article written by in-house photographer at Wilson Design Group
panoramic school photography

Panoramic style of photography used to show facilities within the Learning Hub using photographic lamp heads to recreate a sense of sunlight flooding through the room.

The aim of this series of articles regarding website development, is to help those within the education sector to make informed decisions when procuring marketing services and to draw attention to the different approaches and options available.

In this article I want to concentrate on photographic content for websites within the education sector. Of course in relation to web build, there are many other important issues to discuss such as the navigational, functional and technical aspects, but these are discussed separately in more detail within other Wilson Design Group articles listed at the end of this blog. But for the purposes of this blog I want to focus in on the subject of photography in a little more depth with regard to its use in educational web content.

Whatever type of educational organisation you are – school, academy, college, university etc – this is undoubtedly one medium that is pretty much universally used to engage your audience, albeit often for different reasons. Yet it seems to me, that photographic content doesn’t always get the consideration it deserves in the initial planning stages of a site, often leading to a lack of cohesion between the photographic content and that of written content.

Now it might seem obvious that if you are going to talk about your science curriculum you may need a picture of pupils or students engaged in some science activity or if you are going to be listing the school uniform you make sure you have a great photo of some smart kids showing the uniform to its best and so on, not that I am suggesting you rigidly stick to this logical prescription all the time. However from my research examining many websites within the education sector, I have concluded that the rightful place of photography as an integrated part of layout and site navigation is not always fully appreciated in this manner. This may be born out in the way that photography is commissioned in the first place, frequently as a separate procurement to the website build itself by different service suppliers and hence resulting in a lack of cohesion to essential messages. 

“Ensuring that photos pervade throughout all pages of a website with relevance to written content.” 

The point here is that photography and website build ought to be coordinated together, preferably at the initial planning stages, under the same roof of a single agency so that the photographer and web developer can work in harmony. I am afraid in my experience simply handing over some photos to your web designer, that you may have already commissioned from another source, just doesn’t result in a cohesive result. My advise then, when considering photography for use on educational websites, is to commission both website development services and photographic services at the same time. In this way, photographs for any particular website can be taken, both in style and format, to complement the design of a site and ensure pictures have relevance to the website’s content. It’s probably worth noting that I would say exactly the same thing about photography in relation to print and prospectus design.

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The art of photography: Creating pictures that leap out of the page

Considerations of ambience, mood, lighting and expressions to ensure imagery really does have the “WOW FACTOR”

In the above section I talked about the relevance of pictures in relation to written content with regard to educational websites. You can also read more about How to plan for a photographic session further down in this article. But in this section I discuss something which I think is equally relevant regarding school photography. That is how the art of photography can reflect and enhance or emphasise key messages of an organisation and even inspire those visiting their website. 

The photo below of children in a primary school assembly situation, will hopefully help to exemplify the point raised above – this is a really simple demonstration just to ‘hammer home’ the point. This is a Church School with a warm, family and friendly atmosphere with an ethos of bringing enjoyment to the learning process. So the question posed is “how do you convey something of this important message, albeit of a subliminal nature, through imagery?” In this instance, simply by giving warmth and depth to the photo, recreating a sense of sunlight flooding through the room and capturing the beaming enthusiasm in the expressions of the children, conveys something of the subliminal message that this is happy school with a real ‘family’ atmosphere. Maybe that sounds easy enough. Yet behind the scenes it takes a lot of experience and knowledge (please believe me on this) to quickly organise these environments and seize the seemingly fleeting moment.

It ‘boils down’ to a photographer being able to fulfil the following criteria 1) Having the very best photographic equipment including lighting; 2) the technical expertise to operate the equipment; 3) the ability to plan and prepare, but still be ready to seize the unexpected photographic opportunity; 4) an absolute abundance of creativity; 5) for the photographer to have the experience, intuition and instinct to work cooperatively with pupils, students and staff; 6) to have the communication skills and dare I say, to show a little bit of leadership, without being a complete ‘control freak’ or ‘bossy boots’ of course, in order to put everyone at ease during a photographic session and make it an enjoyable experience, as much as possible for all concerned.

Well, if you ask another photographer they may delete or add to the above list of necessary skills, but in my experience working within the education sector for over the last twenty years, these would be my key points to underline concerning the creation of successful photographic imagery.

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Make sure your website makes an immediate impression

Of who you are and the quality of your service through photography

Whatever the logic applied to content within the pages of your website, it is clear that photography has the power to make an immediate impression upon your audience. Visitors will make a judgement within seconds of visiting your site about your organisation. It may be an unconscious thought or decision, but connections are made instantaneously between the visual appeal of a website and the services or practice behind the organisation.

So to maximise the impact of leaving a positive impression upon your audience every photograph on your website should absolutely have the ‘WOW FACTOR’ and ‘leap out of the page’ and in my opinion, on as many pages as possible within the site and not just on the homepage.

Certainly every time I walk into a school or an academy or for whatever level of educational organisation I am producing photos for, it’s always at the forefront of my mind, that I cannot come away with anything mediocre and that every image captured has to be a ‘real winner’. And guess what? After 15 odd years of doing this, I still get at least a little worried, (in a healthy concerned kind of way) because experience teaches me that you can never take anything for granted.

I have taken examples from my portfolio of school photography for websites in the slide show below to demonstrate some of the considerations made in order to achieve the visual impact talked about in the above paragraphs. Hopefully you will see immediately that creative lighting is one of the key components towards defining the ambience within a scene and expressing characteristics of the organisation, but more about this later, meanwhile judge for yourself from this slider.

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How you say it, can be as Important as What you say

The point that I stress then is that, paying due attention to setting the tone and mood of pictures through the use of creative lighting as demonstrated, can not only immensely enhance a picture, adding depth and interest to images, but also help to convey important messages about your organisation. So my tip, when hiring a photographer, is to make sure they have the full lighting equipment with lamp heads and that they are not just relying on a flash connected to the shoe of the camera, otherwise you will not get the results.

So how you pictorally say something really runs parallel to what you are trying to say, express or demonstrate. For example, I have taken photographs in many different types of educational organisatons. It may be a ‘Red Brick’ university or a ‘New Build’ college, a Victorian primary school, modern secondary school or a small independent school or for that matter a large campus with pupils and students of all age groups, each with their own particular characteristics and learning environments which need to be reflected. I personally believe that the careful choice of light, mood, tone and style used within the final imagery is a significant factor to achieve this goal.

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Photographic Subject matter for School Websites

Of course choosing relevant photographic subject matter is also part of the creative process towards revealing ‘the individual story’ behind any educational organisation. In this respect, it is often the case that the pupils and students themselves are the real ‘stars of the show’. It is always useful to pre-plan what activity they may be engaged upon and in which location they are to be shown. Architectural or landscape backdrops may also be relevant. Holistic consideration of all of these aspects can all help to ‘paint a picture’ and give an insight to learning environments and settings. Please read more about this in the section – Organising Educational Photography

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Achieving natural looking photos ~ Expressions

Being the fly on the wall

I can only give my personal view based on my experience regarding this subject. During photographic sessions in schools and academies or colleges, where I am trying to capture pupils and students in any environment, I am usually trying to be as the ‘Fly on the wall’. This is one way of creating the reality or illusion of reality that you just happened to perhaps sneak into a room and seize the moment without anybody noticing you. It’s rather like creating a piece of theatre, apart from the fact we are dealing with still images. Invariably I do not want people staring into the camera, unless that was the original intention. As soon as somebody looks into the lens the ‘game is up’ and the sense of capturing that natural looking, fleeting moment is lost. So I want to draw as little attention to myself as possible. This doesn’t mean I am going to sit down quietly in a corner with a long lens trying to be as inconspicuous as possible waiting for the opportune moment. That won’t work, especially when there is a schedule to meet. Nor can you ask pupils or students to act out some sort of performance while you take photos. They are not actors or actresses and if they did try, it would look unnatural.

Of course there are many ‘tricks of the trade’ and different age groups will react differently, but I think the secret lies in putting people of whatever age, completely at ease. I do not want to be in the least bit intimidating and the process needs to be made a fun activity, where the camera man is almost forgotten about. This is one of the reasons I never personally bring anybody else with me. My only photographer’s assistant will be a member of staff and a familiar face to all. It takes a little direction, patience and a bit of psychology to allow pupils and students simply to be themselves. It also means developing a good working relationship with staff who may assist on ‘the shoot’ and then to be ready to seize the natural, facial expressions that can relate something meaningful and breathe life into a picture.

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Ensuring Photographs fit your website layout

Planning Holistically

Choosing the crop area of the picture is also always an important consideration. You may have noticed images on many websites, where peoples heads are cropped awkwardly or too tightly, or where other aspects of the image, that were supposed to be in view, have been obscured. I have often seen this on the big ‘header pictures’ of pages. This is usually because pictures have been taken in the first instance without the photographer understanding or establishing the proportions and or resolution that images were intended to be inserted upon the website page. This comes back to the point, previously mentioned in the quotation in the first section, about photography and website-build being coordinated together, preferably under the same roof of a single agency.

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School Photography and Website Branding

Furthermore, I’m a firm believer that the style of photographs should be considered holistically with the design of the particular educational website upon which they are to be implemented. This kind of ‘Joined up Thinking’ at every level can reinforce the branding of any particular school, academy or FE / HE organisation. You may for instance want to bring out a corporate colour on some of the photographs, perhaps using duotones in some instances. A duotone means you are using two colours so instead of using full colour photographs all the time you may decide to use black plus a corporate colour. This is just one example of how photography can coplement a corporate identity, but there are lots of other subtle ways to do this in photographic styling.

Never forgetting that ‘branding’ or more accurately, ‘corporate identity’ is much more than just the design of a logo, but the constistent and cohesive application of all visual elements. We will shortly be publishing a blog devoted to ‘Branding within Education’, but for more information on this subject please connect to our website page on the following link.

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How to organise an educational photo session

For schools and colleges in relation to website design and for other purposes.

For any educational organisation arranging a photographic session, in my experience, the more advanced planning, that takes place between all parties, then all the better. Within this particular article I have written about photography in relation to website design. So here are some key points  that would be advantageous to prepare for, in the planning and organisational stages ahead of a ‘photo shoot’.

Please note, it may be useful, if not invaluable to discuss many of the points below, direct with your chosen photographer on location at your organisation. I  personally welcome the chance to do a ‘reckie’ or have a quick ‘walk around’ on site with the client, in advance of planned dates for photography, where ideas can be discussed more precisely. If timescales or any other matters prevent this, then I suggest allocating some time at the very beginning of the actual day of the ‘photo shoot’ to have a little ‘locational tour’ together, for plans to be reaffirmed and to make any required adjustments to your schedule that might come to light in the process. So ‘here goes’ on some basic preparation.

1) Ensure the photographer has an understanding of the proposed layout of the website so images can be created at the correct resolution and proportions. If this is not possible, then at least photos should be taken to give some allowance for unknown ‘aspect ratios” of the crop. But as my ‘mantra’ has always been, if possible I suggest placing the entire project of photography and web development within a single agency were planning for both of these disciplines can be coordinated holistically.

2) Prepare a list of suggested photographic ‘subject matters’ that need to be shown. You want to try and bring relevance between written content and the imagery.

3) Consider at a more general level what kind of educational organisation you are and if you want to place emphasis upon any particular values, facilities or practises. The photographer may well be able to reflect these attributes not just through chosen subject matter but also through creative styling of pictures.

4) Prepare an agenda in which the order of photos ought to be taken allowing for the average length of time that it may take for each subject matter, as specified by your photographer. This might be planned as matter of convenience in several different terms. 

5) When you actually come to arrange dates for the photography, if at all possible have some ‘fall back’ dates just in case the weather is awful. This may be more relevant if you are planning to take photographs outdoors. (For myself it doesn’t matter what the weather is doing, if it is just indoor photographs that I am taking, as I use lamp heads to recreate the impression of daylight anyway). I also check the 5 day weather forecasts before the planned photo session/s and if it seems certain to be prohibitive weather conditions for any proposed outdoor photographic activity, then I will contact the client to discuss alternative ‘fall back’ dates.

6) You will obviously need parental consent for pupils or students to be photographed and for their images to be published on your website. It’s always useful to have a list of those people that don’t have parental consent in this regard, so nobody ‘slips through the net’ and is accidentally photographed. Personally I always send a set of contact images to clients so that they can be double checked. Clients can also pick out their preferred images to be used.

7) There is also the matter of Health and Safety checks in preparation for photographic sessions which is often not considered. I can advise further upon this issue, according to the specifics of your location and layout of your organisation’s building and campus.

For a more detailed report and to be more specific to your requirements you can phone us direct or please just fill in the form below and we can advise further upon the subject of “How to Organise an Educational Photo Session”. This article talks about arranging a photo shoot for the purpose of websites. But please let us know if you wish to arrange a photo shoot for any other purpose, such as for printed literature, prospectuses or anything else and we can advise accordingly.

Please fill in a few details on the Enquiry Form, and we will respond very quickly.

You can also let us know if there are any other educational marketing services that you are considering commissioning. Also please do not hesitate to phone us for friendly advise about any of the issues raised in this article on 01522 510716.  There is also information on the legal, health and safety precautions and safeguards that you ought to comply with for photographic activity. (You wouldn’t necessarily think this was applicable for a photographic session but unfortunately it is true ~ but not to worry ~ we can talk you through it all).

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Interested in this article about educational photographic services?

Please fill in your details if you require more information about commissioning photographic services. Just remember to tell us what the photography is to be used upon. Many thanks.
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