10 steps for great yearbook photography

Photography can take a yearbook from good to great, but you don’t have to be a professionally trained photographer to capture beautiful images. With advances in both camera and smartphone technologies, the device used matters less than the techniques. So grab your favorite camera, and try out these 10 photography composition tips.

1. Be Ready

Preparation is key to any great photo, and it starts with the simple act of being sure you have all your equipment prepared, memory cards cleared and batteries charged. Be sure to arrive early, anticipate the action happening and stay late. Images shot during the game are expected, but being present for the preparations before and the emotions after gives your readers insight into the moments not typically seen.

2. Stop the Action

Whether you’re capturing a sporting event, a field day or the principal getting a pie in the face, properly stopping the action is important. This technique works best on a traditional point and shoot or SLR camera, but burst photography modes now make it possible on smartphones. Be sure you are properly exposing the image by letting in enough light through your aperture settings as well as using a high shutter speed.

3. Experiment with Angles

It has been said that the best photos are taken in the most uncomfortable positions. Crouching down, leaning over, standing on a chair or laying on the ground can make for interesting angles you wouldn’t normally see. Use your creativity to show the reading a perspective they may not be expecting.

4. Frame the Subject

As you’re looking through the lens (or screen), watch for elements that can help frame your subject. Frame with natural elements or with props interacting with the subject. This technique adds interest to any photograph.

5. Stay Focused

It goes without saying: always use photos that are clear and in focus. But experimenting with depth of field to throw certain elements in a photo out of focus can make for dramatic images. To use this technique, open your aperture as wide as possible or tap the subject on a smartphone to focus on a specific element.

6. Let there be Light

Lighting is an important element of photography, but that doesn’t always mean you need to use a flash. The absence of light can provide for interesting images. Use the natural light as much as possible, and when shooting outside, avoid backlighting your subject with the sun. Think about the sun as a “natural flash” so it should always be behind the person holding the camera.

7. Look for Lines

Leading lines in an image add an extra element of interest to your images but is one of the most under-utilized composition technique available. When shooting, look for lines that start at the bottom of the frame and guide the viewer’s eye inwards and upwards.

8. Get Closer

While cropping and zooming after an image has been captured is possible, it’s best to crop within the camera the old-school way: by walking closer to the subject. Capturing an up-close view eliminates distracting elements. Also, be sure to align yourself with your subject’s point of view. If you are shooting pictures of small children, shooting from a lower perspective gives you the view of the action from their eyes.

9. Rule of Thirds

One easy technique to apply to your photography today is to shoot using the “rule of thirds.” Imagine dividing your image into both horizontal and vertical thirds. Where these imaginary lines intersect is where you should place the subject. An off-centered subject makes for a better image every time.

10. Have Patience

Learning new photography skills takes practice, so be patient with yourself. Review your images immediately after an event and self-evalutate which techniques you feel confident about and which ones you can continue to improve.

We’re going BIG for JEA/NSPA Dallas!

JEA/NSPA will host its fall convention this week in the heart of Dallas, which is also the  hometown of Balfour Yearbooks. We are excited this great city was chosen to host some 4,000 plus journalism students, educators and professionals from around the country, who are coming to seek solutions and discover new trends in media, publishing, journalism, broadcast and photography.

Balfour will host more than 400 attendees as they tour our publishing facility, learning about how yearbooks are printed and manufactured once they leave the yearbook classroom. With help from more than 30+ Balfour employees, the tours will focus on the pressroom and pre-press technology as well as innovations in bindery/cover processes. But what sets Balfour apart is the human element and how people are a part of every stage of the production process.

Back at the Hyatt Regency, the Balfour booth will be showcasing its latest yearbook software technology, BalfourGo, a cloud-based, on-the-go yearbook software solution allowing staffs to harness the power of Adobe InDesign on any device. Learn how this solution can work for your staff, or catch a demo of StudioWorks+, ImageShare or myYear.

Be sure to stop by the Balfour booth and grab a copy of our new Elements Magazine, check out our 2017 Yearbook Yearbook and look through award-winning yearbooks published right here in Dallas. Yearbook gurus Kel Lemons, Judi Coolidge and Julia Copeland will be offering critiques on your 2018 yearbooks, and space is still available to sign up. New this year, you can even watch as Juan Valdez, our cover design ninja, designs yearbook covers on the spot.

The booth will also feature a new product launching soon that we would love your feedback on. Receive a free commemorative #nhsjc Dallas patch for checking out our new personalizable line of backpacks.


We’ve got you covered

When it comes to covers, we tend to be swept away by the pretty fonts, cool designs and fancy cover applications. We’re so excited about the theme we sometimes forget the boring details. But there are a few cover and spine essentials integral to the yearbook’s historical function and its level of consistency.


First up is the cover.

We know the cover should include the look and feel of the theme, but what exactly does that entail? Essentially, it should include the typography, colors and graphics that will be inside the book. When working on the cover, make sure the cover artist uses fonts you have and plan on using throughout the book. (If the cover artist uses a font you don’t have, get a copy or switch to type that is compatible with your font options.)


Just like with typography, the visual look continues with the colors and graphics. The cover is a precursor for all the visuals on the inside pages. If the graphic element on the cover is a series of squares, we shouldn’t see circles or triangles inside the book.


In addition to the theme connections, the cover should also include the name of the yearbook and the publication year. Usually, this runs small and in one of the chosen fonts (especially, if there’s more than one font and that second or third font has not been introduced on the cover yet). It’s not necessary to put the school name on the cover although you can if it’s a school tradition or you prefer it included.


Don’t neglect the spine.

We’re so enamored with our covers that we sometimes overlook the spine. But that vertical strip is the first visual when a yearbook is on a shelf. Like the cover, it should have the look and feel of the theme. The colors, typography and graphics should carry over to the spine.


But the spine holds more than a visual presence. It provides information critical to the historical and reference functions of the book. The spine should include the school name, city and state, volume number, yearbook name and the publication year. Often, the city and state are missing from the spine, making it more difficult to differentiate between schools with the same name or to determine the school’s geographic location.

The volume number and year are also spine essentials. They let us know what year the book was published and the current volume number. Another overlooked aspect of the spine is the location of these two figures. Strive to keep the volume number and year in the same spot each year. This becomes an important visual when numerous volumes are placed together on a shelf. (Hint: Use last year’s spine as a starting point for the placement of the school name, volume number and year.)


Although some staffs add their theme logo to the spine, it’s not necessary. There’s plenty of other information that’s needed on the cover and the fonts, colors and graphics are a strong tie to the theme. Plus, the theme logo is featured prominently on the cover.


What about the back?

There’s no set criteria for the back of the yearbook cover. At the least, covers usually carry the colors and some graphics onto the back of the book. Some staffs opt to continue their cover treatment on the back (for example, a thermal cover might have the latent image on the front and back). Another option is to include the school seal or the mascot on the back, often blind embossed or debossed.


Whether it features air texture, a die-cut or UV coating, the cover should illustrate the theme and provide essential information. The old adage “never judge a book by its cover” isn’t the case here. We want you to provide all the necessary details for the preservation of your book’s place in your school’s history. When it comes to spines and covers, we’ve got you covered!


Create a style guide for your yearbook

As you start visualizing the look and feel of your yearbook pages, the abundance of available design choices can be fun but overwhelming. This is where creating a style guide helps. So what is a style guide and how do you create it?

A style guide helps to create a consistent look and feel for your yearbook. It positively impacts the design process by limiting the number of available choices when it comes to fonts, colors and other graphic elements. Your style guide can also touch on headline and writing styles to keep a consistent tone. Picking the right elements to put in your style guide is important, and here are the steps to creating a style that will set your yearbook apart and speed up the design process.

1. What’s your tone?

The tone of your yearbook will determine the style. What feeling does the cover design and theme phrase hope to evoke in your readers? Is it warm and traditional? Bright and funky? School spirit? Retro? Grunge? Determining the tone will help guide you as you select fonts, colors and graphics so this step is important.

2. Decide on fonts

Balfour offers a wide array of font options, but it’s best to limit your fonts to a small collection of three. Pick an easy-to-read font for text and student names, pick a headline font for your main text, and mix in a fun, decorative font to add style.

3. Pick a color palette

Less is more when it comes to colors, too. Use your color palettes to complement the tone of your yearbook. Consider starting with your school colors as a base or pick a fresh palette to match your theme. Check out this fun site to help generate color schemes.

4. Choose headline styles to hook readers

How will you present the topic of each page or spread to your reader? Most yearbooks have titles or headlines to quickly tell the readers what to expect. Get creative by creating a catchy headline while mixing together your font styles and colors determined in the previous steps.

5. Consider design elements

Based on the tone and theme of your yearbook, what graphic elements, if any, will you include? Less is always more when it comes to clipart and backgrounds, so consider a subtle way to use graphics to tie your book together. If you are using clipart, limit your gallery to a just a few pieces and reuse them in different colors.

Keep track of all your selections on this handy style guide sheet.

Get a great shot, get some cash!

There’s a great thrill in capturing an unexpected fumble or a pick-six on Friday night. Seeing a defensive block with the volleyball in the frame and the player in focus is a win. Snapping the shutter at just the right moment is the difference between a great sports photo and a mediocre one. And it could mean some extra spending cash.

With fall sports in progress, it’s an ideal time to submit action shots for our Great Shot Photo Contest, accepting entries Nov. 13-30. We’re looking for your best photos that show sports, action or movement.

And even better, that’s not our only category! You can also enter photos in a brand new category – Creative Lighting. We’d love to see photos featuring unusual uses of sunlight, artificial light or light in motion.

To improve your chances of winning, make sure:

  • Images are sharp and in focus
  • Faces are visible (for the action category)
  • The ball is in the frame (for sports like tennis, volleyball and football)
  • The photo depicts some type of action, motion or movement (for the action category). Avoid submitting emotion photos for the action category.
  • The photo displays some type of unusual or creative lighting, whether it is flash, sunlight or artificial light (for the creative lighting category)
  • The subject fills most of the frame
  • Photos are not overexposed, underexposed or poor quality (noise, low resolution)

Photographers can enter up to three times a day at our Facebook page (Click the “Great Shot Photo Contest” tab on the left) and vote for their personal favorites.

We’ll feature entries on social media throughout the contest and choose first, second and third place winners as well as several honorable mentions. Photographers will receive certificates and the top three photos will receive Visa gift cards, up to $500.

In addition, the People’s Choice category is back and we’ve added a K-8 division for elementary and middle school students to enter. We’ll pick the top three winners and honorable mentions in the K-8 category as well for certificates and gift cards. And don’t forget, advisers can enter too!

Here’s a flyer to hang in your room to remind photographers to enter. #balfourgreatshot

Good luck shooting!