A new perspective on school prospectus photography
I teamed up with designer Jules Akel to work on the new school prospectus photography for independent school The Glasgow Academy. Right from the start it was clear we shared plenty of common ground. Working with a designer is something I really enjoy, especially when we are on the same wavelength, which certainly we were.
“I really like collaborating with creatives like Ashley who are meticulous in planning and passionate in their art,” says Jules. “The results are consistently impressive, making my work easier and looking so good.”
Between us we had a fair bit of experience working in the education sector, especially promotional publication photography. We both agreed that there is a real art to portraying children and young people in their natural environment.
Capturing the right expressions
Until around the age of 11 or 12, children are a joy to photograph, all grins and capering about, or serious stares and open faces, with not a hint of self-consciousness or embarrassment. A year or so on, however, and it’s a different story, with pre-teens and teens either adopting the super-posed selfie expression or staring miserably at the floor at the thought of being photographed.
Neither of these attitudes makes the life of the photographer easy, so it’s essential to have some tactics and strategies to make sure a shoot results in a true reflection of the school itself and, crucially, has zero cringe factor (as said teens might put it).
Precision and planning
School prospectus photography shoots probably require more organising than pretty much any other environment I’ve worked in. It’s that tricky balancing act of wanting to reflect the place on a normal day while ensuring that all the aspects of the brief are included. That means forging a good relationship with the client (hugely helped in this case by designer Jules who was involved at each stage) so every hour is used to the full, with activities all happening at the scheduled times and places you’re expecting. Meticulous planning pays off massively, and with the right guidance on the ground, a shoot like this can actually be a lot of fun.
Pupils at Glasgow Academy range from five to eighteen years old, so we had a broad brief with a lot of content to cover. With a limited number of days in which to shoot and only so many shots to take, we needed a creative concept that would be workable in practical terms but more importantly, produce the striking and original results we were looking for.
The solution? To structure the school prospectus not around the usual curriculum areas or age groups but on the core values which drive all aspects of the school, according to the Rector Matthew Pearce. This was a bold decision on all counts but what emerged was a remarkable publication based around a series of words: Service, Endeavour, Respect, Valour, Ambition, supported by the school’s code which urges everyone in the school to keep front of mind: Fair, Inclusive, Dynamic, Empowering, Motivating.
This was such a fresh way of approaching a school prospectus. It made the project far more creative – rather than ticking off places and topics – ‘chemistry lab, rugby pitch, music class’ we had to think much more laterally, looking for moments, expressions, details and activities that could illustrate the school’s code and values.
Getting the blend right in school prospectus photography
More than ever, I wanted to avoid awkward staged or posed pictures. Working with young people always requires a sensitive and patient approach. Setting an activity up and running, then capturing the magic as it happens is a fantastic way of getting children to forget you’re there; grabbing an impromptu moment from the sidelines can also get brilliant relaxed shots that portray not just the setting but also the personality and energy of the pupils.
I found that a mix of eye contact with the camera and candid shots showing the young people engrossed in whatever they were doing was the ideal balance. Both can demonstrate a vibrant and engaging learning environment.
‘Ashley is a supreme professional whose work is of the highest standard. Delivered on time and in budget. Ashley is a joy to work with’.
Good luck with the blog – you deserve every success.
Lesley Blair, Admissions Registrar and dynamo behind the whole project.
Screen and Print
This was an especially gratifying shoot because as well as seeing the pictures on the school website, they were beautifully reproduced in the printed prospectus. It’s hard to beat the feeling of turning the pages of a high quality publication and seeing your own work laid out with so much impact and reproduced to such a high standard. A testament to the power of print, a prospectus is still a significant part of the school marketing mix.
Glasgow Academy is the latest in a long line of photography commissions in the education sector going right back to the beginning of my career when I worked regularly for the Times Educational Supplements and subsequently Education Scotland (Learning and Teaching Scotland as it was) and Scottish Funding Council. Other school projects have included a series of shoots for Glenalmond College. For more of my Education work see Education Portfolio