Fine-Tuning Your Campus Photography

Photos hold an incomparable power to tell your story. To show what your students value. To capture one-of-a-kind moments on your campus. To communicate what makes your school something special.

There’s no secret trick, no silver bullet, for a masterful photo shoot. Rather, it’s a fine art that requires careful planning and execution—along with a healthy dose of flexibility.

At 5° Branding, we’ve been part of hundreds of photo shoots. Here are some helpful tips we’ve picked up through the years to deliver compelling, versatile photos.


A well-planned framework assures that you include everything you need and that you use your time effectively.

  • Consider the seasonal timing. How does this affect the landscape, dress, and lighting?
  • Plan around the school calendar. Avoid finals week, and choose a time when students are available and active. Consider scheduling during special events that represent unique dynamics of your campus life.
  • Strategize according to your purpose.  Are you simply updating your general photo library? Are you shooting for a specific concept, campaign, piece, or objective? Do you need certain types of photos for specific uses, such as horizontal shots with extra head-space for web headers? Understanding this thoroughly can greatly affect the schedule, equipment, locations, and personnel needed for the shoot.
  • Maximize your time by intentionally planning for specific locations at specific times of the day. Consider lighting and activity at different times. For instance, schedule wider outside/campus shots for early morning and later afternoon on bright days when the lighting is more directional. Twilight is a great time to capture campus shots as lamp lights mixed with dusky skies transform the campus vibe. And don’t schedule pictures for an 8:00 a.m. lecture when students look like they just rolled out of bed.
  • Leave room for surprises. Some of the best photo opportunities pop up unplanned, so allow flexibility in your schedule.

Choosing a Photographer

It goes without saying, but it’s worth emphasizing: You get what you pay for. Shooting with a Canon Mark IV wirelessly tethered to an iPad Pro doesn’t always translate to great photography. Nor does intensive post production work to highly stylize the end product. Great photographers are great for a variety of reasons. Unless you’re catching someone early in their career, don’t skimp on your photography budget. Hire a professional with proven experience. Look at their work, talk to them about their experience with campus photography, and check their references.

Planning and Staging the Photos

Some of your choicest photos are taken in unexpected, candid moments. Don’t miss those. But most of your photos need to be planned and staged—without looking planned or staged. You’ll need a wide variety of scenes and poses for different purposes. If you’re working with a firm, make sure the art director is involved in the planning and scheduling and is present at the shoot. You don’t need to pay for a sales rep following you and the photographer around, but an experienced art director can bring value and expertise to a shoot.

  • Choose settings that make the most effective backgrounds. What are favorite student areas on campus? What are your most impressive or noteworthy buildings or geographic features?
  • Recruit student and faculty models. Include a broad selection of individuals who represent the gender and ethnic diversity of your campus. Recruiting friend groups together often makes for a more natural outcome, but watch out for homogenization.
  • Prepare participants. Give them some tips for clothing to avoid—like glaring non-school logos or messages, and sloppy or immodest attire. Coach them on natural expressions and interactions in groups. If they need props—book, backpack, and laptop or hammock, kayak, and bike—make sure they know ahead of time what’s expected or provide it yourself.
  • Keep your eyes open for impromptu opportunities. The most significant elements in your school’s story are unscripted, and your camera can tell the story.

An expertly-planned photo shoot can be a priceless investment in your branding and recruiting strategies.

Does your photography tell your school’s story with excellence?