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School Photo Day: Expert tips for getting a picture-perfect school portrait

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For many parents, there's something special about school picture day. They remember getting out of class, combing their hair, lining up with friends for their turn before the camera. Then there was the thrill of the portrait envelope arriving, of wallet photos handed out like tiny trading cards, or delivering prints to grandma to be placed on her mantle.

While that's still the case at many schools, today's kids, surrounded by photo technology, may not be fazed by another click of the camera, says Lisa Van Etta, who recently retired after 17 years as a yearbook adviser at Cypress Falls High School in Houston.

"I just think they are so wrapped up in Facebook and texting and all of that that they just don't really have time to worry about their school picture," she says. "In rural areas, school pictures are still big. When you get in the city, not so much."

Still, school pictures provide a rare professional sitting and, if done well, provide a seamless look at a child's growth and personality over the years.

"Many people are taking thousands and thousands of pictures every year ... They don't realize how much of their memory is in something digital," says Steve Lata, a photographer and territory manager with Missouri-based Inter-State Studio Inc., which takes millions of children's school photos each year.

"The school portrait is one of the only things getting printed and hung on the wall anymore."

A few simple steps by parents can make picture day a success, the pros say.

Above all, help children be comfortable having their portrait taken. They should feel good about their appearance, but not pose.

"The most important thing about a school portrait is having that genuine countenance of the child. We don't want them to be artificial, we want them to be as relaxed as possible," says Kelvin Miller, corporate vice-president of Minnesota-based LifeTouch School Photography.

Choose clothing in solid colours or simple patterns, and avoid shirts with slogans. Keep the accessories simple and small. Long sleeves will provide less visual distraction than short or sleeveless tops.

Clothing for portraits doesn't need to be formal. Even a favourite, oft-worn shirt can be perfect on picture day, Miller says. If possible, help your child choose an outfit that pleases both of you.

"Make it kind of a fun activity ... and be willing to compromise," he suggests.

As for grooming, the experts recommend haircuts two weeks before picture day. You'll have a nice-looking trim without that "just cut" look.

Wear sunscreen and limit sun exposure before pictures to avoid bright red cheeks or peeling noses. Trim fingernails, since hands might appear in some portraits.

So what's the biggest mistake parents can make on picture day? Forgetting the date.

Mark it on your calendar, so your child will be wearing appropriate clothes to reminisce over some day.

And don't overhype the occasion either, says Lata.

"I've even seen a lot of parents telling their child to practice their smile," says Lata. "As a photographer, that's one of the last smiles you want."

Encourage your kid to listen to the photographer's directions. Many school-photo photographers will use banter or maybe a high-five to put the child at ease in front of the lens and bright lights.

With digital equipment, they're able to check the photos right away for closed eyes and awkward expressions. That cuts down on the need for retakes.

"We train our photographers to take the photo of the child, to look at the photo and to say in their mind: 'If I were the parent, would I approve?'" Miller says.

___

Online:

LifeTouch: http://www.lifetouch.com/

Inter-State Studio and Publishing: http://www.inter-state.com/

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