I work at a school, and at the start of each year my department (combined IT and library) plays the role of school photographer of sorts, taking photos of several hundred new students that end up on their school ID (the official photographer comes in later in the year, so we need photos sooner, rather than later)

Our setup is somewhat basic: We have a HD webcam, some custom software and two screens. One screen contains the list of student names, the webcam preview and a big green "shoot" button, the other screen faces the student and shows them the same webcam preview, their name (to confirm it's them) and the final photo we take.

The webcam preview has a silhouette over the top. Students are supposed to sit on the chair and line themselves up with the silhouette so we get a consistent photo, but they're 12 year olds, so their height, posture, hair and such changes, meaning only a handful of kids fit into that silhouette.

After the fact, I go into JPEGCrops or Photoshop and manually crop the 300 or so photos. I use the rule of thirds and put the line for the top third on their brow, and try and line the center of the image up to their mouth. That gives a consistent photo with their eyes in the same spot and enough room for large hairstyles and broader students. You can see a sample image with a random photo I got from Google (in reality, the student would be sitting upright, facing the camera straight on)

Sample image

So my question is, how does a school photographer manage the differing shapes of students? Do they adjust their camera per-student? Do they just shoot wide and use a program to crop? Is it an automatic process or done by hand? Am I thinking this over too much, and should just spend the extra 10 seconds per shot to manually adjust the webcam?

I'm building auto-cropping into my custom software, so it'll use facial recognition to find the face and set the crop accordingly, but there could be software out there that does this for me, and I just haven't found it.


4 Answers 4


Unless there's some reason that the photos must be aligned and cropped perfectly (passport photos come to mind), I think you're overcomplicating things. Don't worry about rule of thirds or particular adjustments. Place the chair where you want it relative to the camera, and leave enough space that students don't have to move it to get in and out. Direct them to sit straight on in the chair and look at the camera (or your hand held above it). Move the camera vertically to get the student's head (including large hair styles) approximately centered.

I'd also get rid of the silhouette; it's probably causing more confusion than help. You can still keep a screen facing the student, if you want to show them their picture, but I'd only show the final picture since the live view could be distracting.

Remember, this is an ID card. The only purpose of the photo is to allow accurate identification; for that purpose, there's no need for it to be anything beyond a simple snapshot.

  • \$\begingroup\$ You're right, but these photos also go on medical records that staff have, so a good clear consistent photo is helpful when flipping through a bunch of them in a rush at a school camp. On top of which my boss would ask questions about why they weren't aligned. A colleague who did the actual photo taking on the day this year, suggested just having a small cross in place of the silhouette and telling students to put their nose on the cross which is easier to do. Finally, ID photos from other schools and universities are consistent and feels strange to be the odd ones out. \$\endgroup\$
    – Grayda
    Commented Apr 3, 2017 at 2:18

I am worried here. I don't try to be rude. But I will address a lot of points here.

Do they adjust their camera per-student? Do they just shoot wide and use a program to crop?

A photographer is not a photo booth. If you make the role of a photographer, you need to learn how to "see", so what do you think has been the right option for a hundred years?

You need to focus. You are not making portraits of students for a yearbook, you are making ID, so you need to think in terms of that.

They need to have some rules on the hair for the ID photo session. No "Tina Turner" hairstyle, no funny faces, or poses.

This solves a bit the diversity of hairstyles and framing.

No creative background lighting, or background textures at all, just plain white or whatever color.

This is for a reason. I allow you to change framing without the background changing much or the need to adjust it. If you have a specific framing you could need to move the subject. If the background is "flat" you can just reframe the camera, either panning or tilting and zooming.

The camera framing. As I stated, you need to learn how to "see" but in this case do not try to be very creative, be specific of a framing that WORKS for an ID, try to make it flattering yes but usable.

I have no idea how the silouethe looks like. I don't know if it works or not. But use it as a reference for the overall look, not as a mold.

A. If I were using a DSRL I would use a grid on the camera to frame the overall shape of the face.

B. Forget the creative side and use a Photoshop action to Crop it.

C. Give enough room on the sides so the photo looks not only good but usable. https://www.google.com/search?q=Correct+passport+photo The passport photos are too tight, you can make a better ID photo leaving some room.

D. This grid allows you to compensate for different shapes.

E. Here pointing the camera a bit up or lowering the subject.

F. Maintaining the overall look of the image.

enter image description here

I am recommending this lines to try to make a "mechanical" framing, (not a real composition. In that case, you should compose from start) I am thinking of a "volumetric" composition.

PLEASE use a flattering illumination.

If all my love for portraits is not good enough for you, and you still think in photo booth terms, I have not tested it, but looks promising:


  • \$\begingroup\$ This. A focusing screen that has 8x10 and 5x7 crop lines on it helps as well. \$\endgroup\$
    – OnBreak.
    Commented Apr 9, 2018 at 22:46

Fully automatic I don't think is possible.

Shoot wide by about 25% That is, there should be about 25% of the head size all the way around. Or, if you prefer, the head height should typically be half the frame height.

Set up the crop of 3rds view on your screen.

Crop so that the inner square of the thirds is entirely on the face.

After the first few you will be able to do several per minute.


So my question is, how does a school photographer manage the differing shapes of students?

I think a wise school photographer would avoid having to do any cropping after the fact, and would instead frame the photo the way you want it in the first place. That's what the silhouette is there for, right?

If you want to avoid cropping, you can move the camera or move the subject. Moving the subject will be easier if there's a background that you want to keep centered in the photo. The main adjustment you'll have to worry about is height, and you can adjust that quickly and easily by just having shorter kids sit on something to boost them up a bit, like a phone book or a dictionary.

  • \$\begingroup\$ Another idea with height, have them sit on an height adjustable office chair, adjust height untill the eyes are at the right level. \$\endgroup\$
    – lijat
    Commented Apr 9, 2018 at 5:36

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