The Complete Guide to Yearbook Photography – 24 Yearbook Photo Tips You Don’t Want to Miss

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Photography has become a huge part of our life. It’s normal then to expect our best photos to end in a beautiful yearbook. But how can we be sure that the photos we take are good enough? Thanks to awesome yearbook photo tips of course!

We can’t resist. Whether it is for a selfie, some street-art on the way to school or a photogenic dish in a trendy restaurant, we have to take pictures all the time. We need to document our life and show our community what we like, who we are. As a result, 300 millions photos are uploaded everyday on Facebook (just to name a few).

But does it mean that bad quality photos have disappeared for good? Unfortunately not… I’m pretty sure that half of the shots out there are still blurry, out of focus or underexposed. And I can assure you that most of them are not suitable for printing.

Yes, technology gave us the power to take sublime photos, but, if we don’t apply the basics of photography, the quality of our yearbooks is in danger. Because even the most beautiful design can be ruined by pixellated photos.

Don’t worry – you’ll see in this post that it’s not that hard to get amazing results. From understanding your camera better to discovering the secrets of photo composition; from organising your photoshoots to selecting the right photos and making them available to your design team, you’re about to put your hands on game-changing yearbook photo tips!

Get your cameras ready and let’s get the photo party rolling.

Chapter 1: Knowing your camera is important.

Before delving into the details, I’ll quickly run you through the basic jargon of photography. This way, you’ll get a better idea on how your camera settings can affect your photos. I tried to illustrate each term with clear examples, but if you need to go more in depth on some of the  topics, feel free to check out the other articles I linked to. It’s the complete guide to yearbook photography after all!

camera menu button

The settings are accessible via the Menu Button of your camera like above.

01. Aperture – or the power to play with the focus.

Chances are you’re going to take a lot of portraits for your yearbook: students, teachers, school staff, and so on. Managing the aperture is the perfect way to add the pro touch by isolating your subject from the background.

Choosing the right setting, you can make your subject crisp, sharp and the background a little blurry.

How does it work?
Practically speaking, changing the aperture setting lets in more or less light into your camera. So, in two steps, here is what you need to do:
> Focus on your subject
> Open the aperture by lowering the f/stops until your background is blurry enough.

That’s it! You’ve just learned how to play with depth of field!

What setting for which purpose?
Photography experts recommend the following settings:
> F1.4 – F5.6 for portraits
> F4 – F9 for snapshots and group photos
> F11 – F22 for landscapes.

You get the idea:
> lower value in f/stops (high aperture) = more light
> higher value in f/stops (small aperture) = less light.

But keep in mind you’ll have to combine this setting with the shutter speed.

Here is an example spotted on this excellent post about aperture from Picture Correct.

yearbook photo tips - aperture 2

Special Tip

You can use the same technique to create your own yearbook backgrounds using the bokeh effect. Check out this great article to learn how to create a spectacular background using bokeh.

bokeh backgrounds

Don’t have the time for that?
Check out the free background collection we’ve prepared for you.
Access our online yearbook builder here.

02. Shutter speed – or a way to play with image sharpness

For your sport pages, or any action shots in general, you have two main possibilities. The first one is to stop time by getting a very sharp image (top image). The second one is to show the movement and emphasize on the whole action (bottom image).

You can manage this using the shutter speed settings. A fast shutter speed will allow you to capture a quick shot. A slow shutter speed will take longer (you’ll notice it immediately with the noise it makes) and will capture more details of the moving action.

The shutter speed is measured in fractions of seconds. Here are the settings recommended by professional photographers:
> 1/500 sec to freeze a soccer player in action
> 1/250 sec for children playing
> 1/125 sec for everyday photos
> 1/30 sec when panning sports
> 5 to 10 sec for writing in sparklers
> You’ll find more examples here.

03. Why white balance really matters

Have you ever wondered why people turn out yellow on a photo taken inside? Or blue when you use your flash? This is what the white balance is all about. Your camera settings can be adjusted to respond to different light sources.

Camera’s presets or manual settings?
Both options are possible and accessible – even for beginners. Your camera might offer a couple of modes like: Cloudy, Day Light, Tungsten, Fluorescent, etc. In fact, these modes are related to the white balance. Check out the image below to understand which preset you should choose depending on the lighting conditions.

You can also use the custom or manual setting, and take a photo of an object that has a large solid neutral color, like a wall or white tee-shirt. Check out this awesome article from SLR Lounge for more details.

04. Play with ISO settings to have the right grain on your photos

Have you ever used a film camera before? If yes, you probably remember buying film rolls (if not, feel free to ask your parents). Several film rolls were available at the shop, offering different ISO (100, 400, 800 or more). This number told you how sensitive your film was to light. Well, in the digital era, this measure has been incorporated in a setting on your camera. But basically, it does the same thing.

When set to a higher value, this setting can help your photo become brighter but at the cost of seeing noise or grain (those little specks visible on some dark photos!). Check out the difference on the photo below.

Here are some recommended settings you should use depending on the lighting conditions:
> ISO 100: outdoors on a very sunny day
> ISO 200: inside on a sunny day, by the window
> ISO 400: outdoors in the shade
> ISO 800-1000: inside but far away from a window
> ISO 1600 and more: dark environments, night shots, etc.

05. Don’t be ashamed, you have the right to use your camera presets!

Too busy to learn about photography techniques? Use your camera’s presets to save time. Here are the most common ones:

  • Auto – This is the most basic one. This setting does everything at once. You can still adjust the zoom and ISO manually.
  • Portrait – This setting is designed for taking profile or head shots of people.
  • Action – This prioritizes faster shutter speeds, which is ideal for sports and outdoor activities.
  • Landscape – The main adjustment this setting does is a small aperture. This allows you to capture scenes in detail.
  • Macro – Allows you to focus on small subjects at a very close distance (small animals for instance).
  • Night-mode – The shutter speed is usually slowed down to allow more light in the camera. This is ideal for shooting in the evening or darkly-lit locations.
  • Av and Tv modes – More advanced, these modes allow you to manually choose the aperture and shutter speed while taking care of the rest of the settings.

Special Tip

Don’t forget to set up the highest possible resolution. This will give you better chances to get high quality printable photos. The lower the resolution will be, the more risks you’ll take… Below are a some examples of acceptable image resolutions.

camera resolution setting

At this stage, your camera doesn’t have anymore secrets for you and it’s time to get started with taking pictures! But wait…

Chapter 2: What makes a great yearbook photo?

Of course, knowing your camera is not enough. We now have to talk about what’s on your pictures and what are the stories you want to tell your audience. In this chapter, we’ll tackle the basics of photo composition as well as a few tips to boost your chances to succeed. Enjoy!

06. Apply the rule of thirds to add more depth in your shots

The easiest way to ensure that your image is balanced is to imagine that your photo is divided into a 3×3 grid. The intersection points serve as a guide as to where your subject or focus is best seen. Some cameras or phone apps enable the overlaying of this grid on top of your shooting viewfinder as you shoot. Try to remember this technique, especially during school trips or excursions. This will add a very nice touch to your pictured reports.

rule of thirds

The boat lies directly under an intersection made by the grid. While it’s not a must to follow, this rule is a quick way to ensure balance in your photos (and identify the environment your subject is evolving in).

07. Use natural lines to draw your reader’s attention

Another way to build interest in your photos is to use leading lines. This doesn’t have to be obviously drawn in lines but rather an organized arrangement of elements directing your eye. You can use this technique to play with your school architecture (building, sport areas, etc.). Could be great for a yearbook cover!

08. Symmetry will always work

Instagrammers would know that symmetric photos work great in showcasing almost anything: from landscape to people. Try to make it more interesting by introducing an element that breaks from the pattern!


The pictured temple’s immensity and grandeur is more felt when shot symmetrically.

09. Make the right choice between background and foreground

Another important thing to establish is your foreground and background. The foreground is composed of the elements that you want to focus on. The background contains the other elements that are still present in the photo but you do not want to highlight. It is important to consider this before shooting to avoid a crowded photo.

fore-back contrast


Imagine you want your students to present the flower species they discovered during an excursion for your science class. As you can see on the left, the flower is well isolated. Whereas on the right, it’s a bit lost with the rest of the background. See the difference?

10. Think before you trigger: beware of bad framing

So you found your subject… Now, make sure there’s no undesired element in the frame.
Here are some examples of things to check for:
– No fingers in the frame (still a common one!)
– No shadow of the photographer in the frame
– No one doing a funny face in the background
– Nothing ruining the composition of your shot (like if you could see the microphone in a TV interview)
– No funny visual effect with a tree, a light post or anything similar

I think you get the point. But if you really like photobombs / photo fails, make sure to check out this hilarious article.

Special Tip
If reshooting is too much of a hassle, framing your image in another way is a good trick to make use of what you have.

11. Use the light to your advantage

I love the quote on this image from So simple and so true! Some photos suffer from either too much or too little light. Make sure your photo is well-lit by going outdoors when the sun is up or by having adequate lighting if shooting indoors. You can always do great things with the little bit you have:
– Use the light coming in through the window
– Use a lamp
– Use your smartphone light
– Use a sun shade reflector to redirect the light towards your subject

More inspiration in this great post from the Clickin Mom’s blog: 4 ways to create dramatic light at home.

I think you now have a couple new tricks in mind to get started. That’s when it all begins!

Chapter 3: Photoshoot day – the ingredients to make the magic happen

In this chapter, you’ll find useful tips on how to prepare your subjects. The idea is to help them be confortable and at ease… so you can get the best shots! You’ll also find a couple tips and tricks for organising your photoshoots.

Portraits: get people ready

12. Have them practice their most flattering pose and expression.

Here is a selection of tips I found in this great list:
– Practice posing in front of a mirror
– Smile naturally
– Don’t look straight at the camera and tilt your head
– Turn your body 45 degrees away from the camera
– Make sure you feel proud of who you are.
– Take a lot of photos and pick your favorite!
Don’t be shy to try out facial expressions and poses before your shoot!

13. Encourage them to be healthy.

Get lots of sleep before you get your yearbook photo taken. Try to pass up on caffeine, energy drinks and stress as this may take away the fresh and relaxed vibe you’d want to give.

14. Have them think about their outfit.

There’s no harm in trying out different sets of outfits before the big yearbook photoshoot day! Aim for something that reflects your fashion style but is timeless.

Special Tip
If you’ll be shot in a studio, avoid wearing white! This will cause the light to reflect and will cause the colors of your photo to become washed out.

15. Help them decide on their hair and make-up (or the lack of it!).

Decide on a look before! Try which colors and styles will compliment you and your outfit the best.
To find your way, check out this post on how to look good in pictures.

16. Try to relax and pose away!

The nicest you is the one that feels good, happy and comfortable. No need to be under pressure, simply remember that your yearbook is here to remind you of your best years at school! If you feel better posing with your friends, then do it!

17. Your checklist for profile photos

  • Make sure that the entire face is seen. They can wear accessories and props but ensure that their face remains unobstructed.
  • Find a focal point – try the eyes. Make sure that the subject is looking at the camera directly. This makes the photo more personal and consistent as compared to just picking out a random photo.
  • Try to have the same set-up for everyone (background, lights, etc.). When making profile pages for classes, it would be best if you plan a shoot where everyone can have their photos taken. This ensures high quality photos will be used for every student.

18. Your checklist for group photos

  • Direct people. When shooting groups, do not be afraid to make them act a little!
  • Avoid empty spaces in between people and make sure that the framing doesn’t cut anyone off.
  • Ask people to pose in different ways, but also make sure to take photos from different angles and distances as well!
  • Figure out which works best to show the character of your subjects and the tone of your yearbook (corporate and serious, fun and colorful, etc.).
  • Try shooting from far, in portrait or landscape orientation, leaving enough background and space around the group so you can have more cropping options later.
  • Double check your files to see if anyone has been mistakenly cropped out!
  • Use your school’s student list to make sure you didn’t forget anyone.

19. Your checklist for landscape photos

  • Catch the “golden hours”. This is usually after sunrise or before sunset. The sun’s light is tamer and softer during this time, while still illuminating your subject well. It’s best to hold off your photoshoot during noon as the light is too harsh and would end up making your photos too bright.
  • Make sure your photos are focused. Depending on the usage, having a clear contrast between your foreground and background or having everything in focus is good. Just make sure you know your content beforehand to determine which style is better.


When taking photos of landscapes, it’s best if you take a shot with little to no people in the frame.

20. Schedule everything and stay organized

Your reader will see your visual content first, so make sure it is just as well composed as your written content. What does the article say? What or who needs to be in the picture? Knowing this will help you plan your photoshoot. Here are the things to consider:

  • Schedule all the important events of the year.
  • What’s the time of the event and is there someone in your team available?
  • What will the weather be like? What’s the lighting at this time of the day (especially if your shooting outdoors).
  • What time does your location open? Do you need special access or permission?
  • Will you need flashes or reflectors to aid lighting?
  • Will you need any props, costumes or accessories?
  • Do you need a specific background? Do you need to create a backdrop?
  • Is your camera fully charged?
  • Do you have space in your memory card?
  • Do you need a tripod? If you’re shooting in dim light, I recommend using it.
  • Make sure your photos tell a story:
    – Photographs say a lot on their own and also serve as excellent complements to your articles.
    – Make sure your photos add value to the topic, use captions if necessary.
    – Photos including people are always better. It provides context and helps tell a story.
    – Take a lot of shots using different angles. It’s better to have more choice when designing.

Chapter 4: Final Touch – collect, organize and edit your yearbook photos

21. Collecting and organizing your yearbook photos

With so many memories to look back on, you might have to select from hundreds of photos. As you know, a yearbook  is generally full of profile pages, event coverages, articles, etc. Avoid the hassle and make sure that your photographers, writers and designers are working hand in hand from the very beginning of the project. This will ensure that the vision for the yearbook is the same for everyone and decrease your work load when it comes to choosing the right photos.

Picking out the best will be simple as long as you have previously sorted the photos for easy access. This is one of the best ways to exercise some organization skills for any yearbook maker! If you are gathering photos from different people, make sure you instruct them to pre-select the photos before sending. Some helpful tips you can share with them are:

  • Change the file name to something descriptive. You can name it according to what event the photo is from, who is in the photo, what is being done in the photo, etc.
  • Organize them inside folders. This can be done by date (month and year would be best) or by event. If you are using Fusion, you can arrange and name your folders directly inside the yearbook builder.
  • Double check if there are any duplicates and delete accordingly.

22. Make sure their quality is suitable for printing

Make sure that your photos are in good quality. Easy ways to know if your photo is good to print are:

  • The bigger the file size is, the better. If your file is less than 1MB, then it is surely a low-resolution photo. These might look good online but not so much when printed.
  • The longest side should be measured at least 1000px. Avoid using a photo that is very small when you view them on your computers.
  • If you see pixels, do not use it! Pixels make up a digital photo file. A photo that is high quality will have higher pixel density that causes the pixel to be almost invisible unless you zoom in. The moment you see visible pixels will be a sure sign that you have a low-resolution photo at hand.

Processed with VSCOcam with a6 preset


It isn’t very hard to see how the quality suffered for the low-resolution copy on the right.
The details from the original on the left have noticeably decreased.

23. Edit your photos if needed

edit in canva

Finally, after having done all of that to get an amazing shot, you can still have a play at editing your photos online to really polish them. The great thing with Fusion is you can do that directly within your yearbook builder! You can adjust lighting, contrast, add special filters and even customize and record the settings code to use it again on other photos. Perfect to that little personal touch to your photos throughout your yearbook.

24. Make it an enjoyable experience – for everyone!

Don’t stress too much, because creating a yearbook should always be a fun experience for everyone.

Well, I think we went through the most important. Here are the things you should remember from this post:

  • Knowing your camera is very important because aperture, shutter speed, white balance and ISO can help – or destroy – your photos depending on how you pay attention to it.
  • You really need to think about photo composition and follow the main standards (rule of thirds, leading lines, symmetry, framing and lighting)
  • Your photos have to tell the right story (and be complementary with your articles)
  • Everyone has to be preprared for the photoshoots, as a model and a photographer.
  • Selecting and organizing photos is important to save time and get beautiful results.
  • Editing your photos at the end is one of the keys for design consistency.

I hope this helps! If you have any questions, please leave a comment below and I’ll get back to you right away. I can’t wait to see the results :)

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After a degree in corporate journalism and 4 years in a publishing agency in Paris, Julien fell into digital. Passionate about content in general, he loves turning good ideas into practical tips & tricks. That's just one of the things he does at Fusion Yearbooks, as a Digital and Content Manager.

Australia's #1 Yearbook Company