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Why Your School Looks So Last Year

Posted by on March 25th, 2019
Posted in Blog, Independent Schools, Nonprofit Communications, Nonprofit Design   

One of the most effective things independent schools can do to build community, increase enrollment, and boost donor dollars is too often left undone; it’s time to commission a professional photoshoot.

They say a picture is worth a thousand words—and that’s only a small fraction of a shoot’s value.

We recommend you take a serious look at the images your school currently has on hand and ask yourself:

  • Are these photos current? Or have the students pictured moved on long ago?
  • Do your pictures accurately reflect your school’s brand? Can you see your values and personality reflected clearly?
  • Will prospective families see your photography and be motivated to engage?

If the answer to any of these questions is no—and even if your photo library ticks all the boxes—you most likely could benefit significantly from a photoshoot. Making your school look its best provides the emotional cues that will resonate with all of your audiences.


If you haven’t scheduled a photoshoot recently, chances are it’s because a) they can be expensive and/or b) they’re challenging logistically. We understand. The good news is that while Mission Minded isn’t in the photography business, we do assist many of our independent school clients in planning for, producing, and making the most of photoshoots.

We’ve got some insight and advice we’d love to share.


1. Act Now

The school year may not start until August, but if you drag your feet on approving or planning a photoshoot you’ll run into one of two problems:

  1. by the time you get everything lined up, it’ll be summer and school will be empty, or
  2. budgets will get depleted and you won’t be able to lock in the funds.

Don’t wait until your branding process is complete before planning a photoshoot. Assess your existing photo library now, decide if new images are required, and put a shoot on the calendar and in the budget for after your brand will be finalized.

Remember, just because your current photo library is strong doesn’t mean those photos compellingly tell the story of your school. As your brand develops, your photography needs to keep pace.


2. Plan as Much as You Can

When does your school look its best? What moments most evocatively capture the values and personality of your community?

While it may be possible to get everything you need on one day, most often a number of full- or half-day shoots spaced throughout the year will produce the range of shots your marketing and development departments need.

Start by brainstorming a list of shots that will bring your brand to life. Then, consider who you need or want to feature to put your community’s best face forward. With this information, whittle down a shot list to make the most of precious photographer time.

Army and Navy Academy photographed by John Davis


3. Build the Right Budget

While you might get a talented staff member to take pictures using their phone, cutting corners will almost definitely decrease the value you get from the work. Not only can a professional supply the right equipment and the expertise to use it, you’ll also get artistic talent, facility in staging and capturing the images on your shot list, and post-production skills that turn great shots into powerful marketing tools.

When deciding on a photographer and on the number of days you want to book, think about where you’ll be using the images. For many independent schools, that’s new admission materials plus:

  • Website
  • Social Media
  • Newsletters
  • Advertisements
  • Annual reports
  • Fundraising materials

The more uses you have for images, the more you’ll need to satisfy that need. We find that a one-day shoot produces around 1,000 photographs, about half of which are useable. Of those 500, a fifth will resonate with your school, and about a tenth will find their way into regular usage. That’s 50 images from a day-long shoot—and most schools can accomplish great things with 50 to 100 fantastic photos each year.

And, while you’re considering how much to budget for photoshoots, don’t forget to consider video. More and more, video is proving a compelling marketing tool.

Drew School photographed by Tara Arrowood


4. Cultivate Buy-In

You’ve set aside the funds, found space in your calendar, and booked a photographer—now it’s time to prepare the community. Doing this is not a matter of just including an alert in a newsletter; you need to build real buy-in.

  • Make sure teachers and staff understand how the disruption of a photoshoot pays off by strengthening the school, deepening the community, and increasing funding.
  • Recruit key students and teachers to participate and encourage more general participation. By pre-arranging times, locations, and subjects for your must-have shots, you help guarantee that the day will produce what you need.
  • Communicate with families to secure releases and ensure students show up on the shoot day properly attired. If either fails to happen, even a fantastic photographer can let you down! It’s best to know in advance which students can’t be featured. Likewise, you don’t want students photographed wearing worn-out or non-school branded clothing. Bright, saturated colors photograph more cleanly and school colors help tie photographs in to marketing pieces that utilize the school’s palette.

Don’t leave your school looking so last year. It’s your current efforts that your audiences want to see—and that’s particularly true for schools. Revitalizing existing materials with current, professional-quality photography should be in every school’s budget, every year.

Photoshoots are one of the most effective tools your school has to demonstrate what it cares about, and why people should care about your school.

Marin Academy photographed by Leah Fasten


Rod Lemaire is a Mission Minded Partner and Creative Director, overseeing our award-winning design studio. Rod delivers more than a decade of art direction and communication design expertise for mission-driven organizations.

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