The day Liam started preschool was one of the most emotional days of his life so far for me.

He started school mid-year, so we were the only ones going through it at the time, and although I knew it was going to be a big deal, I was completely unprepared for what an emotional wreck I was going to be. We'd already had a sitter three days a week for him so were used to being separated. I knew drop off was going to be hard, but I fully thought that I would be fine after that.

Uh, no.

I look at these photos above, taken just as we were leaving the house for his first day of school and wow, my heart is beating a little faster and I'm getting a little teary now just remembering how brave he was and, truthfully, how brave I had to be.

It turns out dropping your first child off somewhere new, to be with strangers, is WAAAAAAAY different than having a babysitter come to your house to watch your kid while you're downstairs working.

Only one of us cried, and it wasn't Liam. Although at least I held it together until after I left the school...

I look at these photos now, and I see a brave and excited little two year old, taking everything in his stride.

I look at these photos and I don't see his anxiety - I see mine.

At drop-off, I asked the teacher to take a few photos of the two of us - there you can see his anxiety, and heartbreaking bravery. And of course he did great, no tears the first day, only a few tears the second day, and very few after that.

In the early photos from preschool that the teachers took and posted for parents to see, I could that it took him a little while to settle in. And now, a year and a half later, he's a completely different kid there - confident and at ease, and I love seeing the close friendships he's developed with his classmates.

I know all around the country, many kids have already been back to school for a week or two, but here in New York City, most kids are going back this week.

So, belatedly for some, here are my tips for first day of school or back-to-school photos - and if your kids are already back at school, I'm sure you already took photos but it's not too late to take more that capture the emotions and feelings around this general time of new beginnings.

Don't forget, photographing your children is not just about capturing THEIR emotions, it's also about capturing your emotions.

Even if you're not in the photo, take photos that will remind you of what you were feeling.

Tips for first day of school or back-to-school photos

  1. Take photos the day BEFORE school starts to capture that last day of summer, the last day before they become a preschooler, first grader, high schooler or whatever it is they are becoming (see the photos I took the day before Liam started preschool). It will help you to remember that time and they'll probably be a lot more relaxed the day before (as will you!)
  2. Take photos the morning of school and build time into your schedule to do so. If there's going to be some anxiety around drop-off, taking some photos at home or outside the front door as you leave (like we did) is a good way of capturing the moment but not giving yourself something more to worry about actually at school.
  3. I did not take any photos of Liam outside school as I really wanted to be able to focus on making drop off the best experience for him possible. For older kids, this is probably not an issue. Also, at the start of the school year (rather than mid-year for us) I imagine there are more parents taking photos of their kid's first day and it's not such a big deal. I say go with the flow on this one, but your child's experience should be the number one priority.
  4. As I mentioned, I did ask the teacher to take a few quick photos of us together inside school. This was before the forward facing iphone camera so I knew it was the only chance I would have to get photos of the two of us. At the time, I kind of regretted it as all I could see in the photos that I of course looked at when I got home was the anxiety on Liam's face. However, I'm glad to have those photos now I know that everything turned out fine. Again, go with your gut on this one. Older kids are probably fine so it's great to get some photos of you with them on the first day of school.
  5. Take photos on the way home - I have some great ones of Liam's triumphant walk home (maybe he was just relieved it was over?!... or maybe I was!) And also of him at home showing me his already newly acquired ability to take his own shoes off!
  6. Take as many photos as you can of the rest of the day - they will help you remember the emotions surrounding the day, even if they are not shown in the photos. Same goes for the first weeks.
  7. Above all, shoot from your emotions - think about what you as well as they are feeling and use your camera to really be in the moment and see and experience what is going on more fully.
  8. Good luck! And feel free to share your experience down below in the comments section or on the Photosanity facebook page.

nyc baby, child and family photographer, former architect & mom alethea cheng fitzpatrick is based in brooklyn. her company, nestingNYC, specializes in baby photography as interior design & interior design for babies. she also teaches an online photography workshop for parents. find out more about The Photosanity Workshop or send her an e-mail!

take better photos a FREE video lesson with my
top 5 tips that will make an immediate difference in under an hour - it’s FREE!