I don’t know about you but picture day was always a good day for me. I got to dress up nicely, pose like a model, and make some memories for my parents. I never thought about what it’s like on the other side of the camera though.
Photographers who do school picture days were asked: “What are your most cringe-worthy/strange stories of your career?” These are some of the best answers.
I spent 15 minutes with a guy because he blinked every time I took the photo. I tried everything in the book – making him close and open his eyes before snapping the picture, delaying the flash, shooting without flash, taking the picture while talking to him so he’d be distracted. Nothing worked.
I ended up taking his picture with a cellphone, because apparently what made him close his eyes was the shutter/mirror sound.
There was a very small country mountain high school where we used to take senior pictures at every year. There were only about 15 or 20 seniors each year, but there was no other photo studio or service for a few hours drive, so when we came to town to take pictures, it was a big deal. I did several sessions where I was taking entire family photos, newborn baby pictures, and bridal portraits during their senior portrait sessions. Yes, bridal portraits. Some were for upcoming weddings, but most were for the wedding (and/or children) they had already had during their junior year, and had nobody else to photograph.
One senior did couples photos with her boyfriend. They specifically earnestly requested a pose where the girl posed all cute on one side of the couch, while the boy sat on the other side of the couch, staring at her while stroking his beard. That one didn’t turn out well.
When I was a school photographer, to amuse myself I tried to give each kid in class a unique word to say. “Fuzzy puppies!” “Funky monkeys!” Et cetera.
So I get this adorable little girl in my chair. She’s got the thickest glasses I’ve seen, an overbite, and she’s pale as a vampire. I go, “Okay, say Fuzzy Kitties!”
And she gives me the most irritated look I’ve ever seen. “Uh, I’m allergic to kitties.” She said it like it was the most foolish thing anyone had ever said to her, and she felt sorry for how dull I was.
I was photographing a 3rd grade class. I got to an adorable little boy and went through my list of instructions: “Now turn your head here, shoulders here, oopsie, your right arm there. Wait. Please move your right arm.” He gave me the saddest little look and showed me the stub on his right shoulder. He had no right arm. I felt like a terrible person.
The worst thing I encountered was multiple notes on the forms parents sent back to us saying, “Don’t make my child smile.” Or, “They have a bad smile. Don’t make them smile.” How terrible is it to tell strangers you hate your child’s smile?! I understand some didn’t want big toothy grins because the kids were missing teeth, but that’s part of childhood. They’ll never be like that again. Why not enjoy it?
A kid handed me the little card with his name on it. Let’s call him Dave. I took it and read the card and said, “Hi, Dave!” He said, “I’m not Dave. My name is Logan.” I said, “Oh no, I must have the wrong card. I’ll look for the one that says Logan.”
Then he exclaimed, “I’m Wolverine!”
One preschool kid was particularly difficult to get a good picture out of. He was really cute kid, but I just couldn’t get a good smile. After about 20 attempts, he finally just kind of relaxed, and looked off into the distance behind me with this awesome natural smile. It wasn’t until he got off the stool and walked away that I noticed a stain on the back of his shorts and the terrible smell of feces. I still kept the pic; apparently nothing made this kid smile like a good poop.
(1/2) First off, we were expected to do three sets of pictures for each student, one for the yearbook (tux for boys, drape for girls), one for cap and gown, and one set of casuals. Casuals usually involved hand poses with a table we’d bring, and some cutesy stuff like roses. Or we would do full-body pictures meant to show off their clothes.
So a girl comes in, and she looks OUT of it. Like, really not connected to the world. I take the yearbook pics, I take the cap and gown. All the while, her smiles are so obviously faked and her eyes are just gone. It’s okay, I was used to dealing with students who didn’t want their pictures taken. I’m pretty good at loosening them up and making them laugh, but she was barely paying attention to me. She seemed really distracted.
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(2/2) I tell her to change into her regular clothes to take her casuals, and she agrees in monotone. She comes back and has huge bandages on her arms. Clearly, this poor girl had tried to take her own life recently, and was just taking these pictures out of obligation.
Every casual photo I took of her would have those bandages, and there would be no mistaking why they were there. Instead of taking them and having them show up in the proofs that would go out to the parents, I tell her, “Okay you’re good, thanks for coming!” And she just shrugs and leaves, just as apathetic as before.
This was like 6 years ago, and I still think about her sometimes. I hope she’s happy now.
Some kid showed up in a fursuit. Like, full on fursuit. He was dressed as a bright blue fox, and he ended up having a half hour long argument with the photographer and assistant principal over it.
Being a young female photographer, having to photograph male high school seniors is the most awkward experience. I’ve been asked out on dates, hit on, winked at, and straight up had any and all requests for them to smile nicely, stop goofing around or take their hat off, ignored.
On a Middle School registration day shoot, some kid comes up wearing a Naruto headband. I asked him to take it off, and he told me he wore it for religious purposes. I knew perfectly well he was pulling my leg, but I didn’t feel like making it a big deal. I just told him he’d probably regret it in a couple years and snapped the pic anyway.
My first job out of high school was working with LifeTouch in southern Wisconsin. It was fun, as I got paid to drive around and meet new people. About half way through the season, I was at some random school (per usual) and this kid wouldn’t sit up straight. I asked him to and he refused. Then I levelled with him, “Dude, I’ve been working all day. Please just sit up straight so I can take this picture and head out.” “I can’t. I have a hunch back.”
I’m calling BS. There is no way this kid has a hunch back. He’s a jerk at best. I call his bluff. “Please! Sit up and we can get this over with.” He then proceeds to unroll his spine, arms spread, with the grimace of a man in terrible pain. Being a teenager, I didn’t know what to do. I took the picture as he grit his teeth. If you’re reading this… I am so sorry.
Everyone has to wear the same outfit at a Catholic school. I took one kid’s pic, but then an administrator said I had to retake it because his uniform wasn’t perfect. It was retaken, but I deleted it and shipped the original. Screw the administration. I went to Catholic school too and I know the type of crushing pressure they use to make you conform. I deserve the strap. Tee hee!
A jock type guy sat in the chair. Apparently, he was a big fan of Jersey Shore (this was around the time that show was inexplicably popular) and looked like he was trying his best to emulate the characters. He even had a Pauly D haircut. He kept trying to do the most ridiculous poses with duck face expressions, and insisted that’s how he wanted his senior picture to look. I tried to reason with him and explain why that was a bad idea, but he wasn’t having it.
Finally, I made some stupid joke. He laughed, and had the best natural smile. So I hit the button and got a great pic! He was bummed that I tricked him into that though. I deleted all the other ones.
I did senior portraits, and this kid wanted photos with his two samurai swords. I tried my best to make it look cool but… I just… couldn’t.
I did school photography years ago. There was one kid in line bigger than all the other kids. Fits the jock/bully stereotype to a T.
I am going through the normal speech to get each kid in the right position. He is next in line behind me, and says, “The only picture I smile in is my mug shot.”
His turn comes up, and he reiterates he isn’t going to smile. Got it. So he sits down and go into my speech having him put his feet in one area, turn, and my force of habit I ask him to smile. He glares at me. I say ,”Or… not.” He laughs. Click! Enjoy the yearbook, you jovial jerk.
I asked a 4th grader if she had hurt her foot. “Uh, I have a prosthetic leg.” She was wearing sandals, but sure enough… rubber foot.
I asked a kid to please look at the camera like 3 times. Then I realized…
He had a lazy eye.
I do Santa photography. Had a 12 year old boy come in with his family. He was extremely excited to meet Santa. So excited, he decided to pee his pants as I was setting the shot up. Didn’t see until I took the first photo. With some clever hand positioning I was able to hide it for the most part. Parents didn’t even notice.
One time, I had identical twins wearing the same outfit (let’s call them Doug and Jeff). I had to take a couple shots of Doug and then just one of Jeff. I ended up accidentally deleting the pic of Jeff, so I just relabeled one of Doug’s pics as Jeff.
I was a photographer for grad photos. You can’t believe some of the moms of the high school girls who would take one look at the girl’s picture and exclaim, “She looks awful!” while the daughter was sitting right there.
About 6 months ago, I had to do a shoot for an all boys school. The day went as normal, mostly good shots, a few clowns but that’s what I come to expect. Then something happened that I will never forget.
A kid comes out, and I have no clue what’s wrong with him. He seems really nervous. I take a few shots, and he seems disengaged. On my final shot, he starts scratching his arm rapidly. Then he yells at me, “Delete the photos!” At this point, I don’t know what to say. I pretty much say that I’ll go and talk to my superior and walk away. My supervisor says I can delete them, so I do.
I come back to the kid and I tell him I deleted the photos. He says that he doesn’t believe me and stands up. I show him my camera. He freaks out and throws my camera to the ground, somehow breaking it. This child then proceeded to run off…
My cannon 700D was broken. I have no idea what I did to offend this poor kid.
Female teachers all say the exact same thing when sitting down for a picture. My coworkers and I would bet which ones we would hear first. Here are some examples: “Can you photoshop 10 pounds off of me?” “How many years does this camera take away?” “Do you guys have a hair and makeup team?” This is about as annoying as when every adult says “remind me to stay off the road” when you get your license.
It was for a middle school. There was this young lady having her portraits done. She wasn’t doing anything wrong in hindsight. She was just very well developed for her age, and the shirt she was wearing showed a little cleavage. I’m sure her parents sent her out of the house just fine, and she probably felt very pretty and confident.
When we were shooting the class portrait, out of nowhere, this middle-aged female school administrator came up to her. She yanked her out of the photo and chastised her for her outfit. Then she made her wear this oversized baggy t-shirt and we redid the photo. I can only imagine what this girl was going through.
Some of this material has been edited for clarity.