Checklists for yearbook photographers

Written by Jill Chittum

As coverage of the school year is winding up, think about what would have helped your photographers this year, and consider creating a checklist for them for next year.

One of the photo documents I created early in my teaching career was a shooting checklist for photographers to take on each assignment. Because I cannot be at each and every assignment with every photographer every time, it is important that they have a quick and easy reference guide.

The shooting checklist is not rocket science, but if you need a way to get rookie photographers up to speed quickly, it can help.

I find that with some photographers, they might, well, forget that things like ISO, shutter speed and aperture matter once they are out on assignment. The checklist my photo editors and I have refined over the years is not bulletproof, but it offers shooters a backup while they are out on their own.

From the beginning, I decided that I wanted the checklist to be the size of a sheet of reporter’s notebook paper, which is then laminated and stapled into the front cover of the photographer’s notebook. That way, it’s always with them and easily accessible on assignment. This year, a few of my yearbook photographers have even made copies of the checklist and pinned them to the corkboard behind their computers for everyday reference.

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This photo, taken at the “Art for Kids” event at a local arboretum, is a good reminder to bring a flash, even when you think you may not need it. Many times, at outdoor events, a little bit of flash to “fill” in areas is a good thing. Here, the action was taking place under a tent, so a flash would have helped pop the color on the subjects just a little bit more. This image could have been improved by changing the angle, maybe lower, to catch the younger girl’s face in the mirror.

Keep in mind that this is just one form of a shooting checklist. This covers supplies and technical information. You may decide you want to add an item that says “Get an overall, a detail and a grabber shot” while on assignment. Maybe that’s a separate checklist your photo editor develops. I think when it comes to this on-assignment checklist, short and sweet is best. You don’t want to overwhelm the photographers.

As I said earlier, this will not necessarily be the silver bullet to solving all of your photo issues, but it can help immensely. Photographers armed with proper training and this little reminder can be much more successful in the long run than those who cross their fingers and hope that luck is on their side.

The Blue Valley High School Photographer’s Shooting Checklist

1. Before you leave the classroom, make sure you have a charged battery and your CF or SD card. Double-check the camera backpack to make sure all equipment is in the backpack and that it is operational.

2. Before you shoot anything, format your CF or SD card using the menu functions in the camera. This way you will start with a clean slate, and it is better for the card in the long term than deleting images as your card fills up.

3. Before you begin shooting photos at your assignment, assess the lighting situation. Indoor? Outdoor? Fluorescent? Tungsten?

4. Set your ISO. Use the following as a guide:

  • Night football: 1600
  • Volleyball/Basketball/Pep Assemblies (anything in gym): 1600
  • Most classrooms: 800
  • Outside/Cloudy or Overcast Day: 400
  • Outside/Sunny Day: 100 or 200

5. Set your camera to manual (M) mode so you can control the shutter speed and aperture.

6. Set the white balance (WB) so it is appropriate for your situation. Remember, you do this using the menus in the camera.

7. Based on lighting conditions, set your shutter speed and aperture so that your images will be properly exposed. USE YOUR LIGHT METER.

8. Be sure to gather caption information while you are on assignment. Get names (spelled correctly), grade/position, and ask a few questions about what they are doing while you are there. It can be helpful to jot notes about clothing and looks so that you match the proper face with names when you are back in the newsroom.

9. Return the camera to the cabinet as soon as possible so it is available for the next photographer. Double-check to verify that all equipment you left with is in the backpack, and if there is a dead battery, put it on the charger, and leave a note with the backpack.

Jill Chittum

Jill Chittum, MJE, is currently a Walsworth Yearbooks sales representative in Oklahoma and Arkansas, as well as an accomplished guest speaker and presenter at yearbook workshops across the country. Prior to joining Walsworth, Jill taught journalism and advised the yearbook and newspaper at Blue Valley High School in Stilwell, Kansas. She also spent five years as a photographer at the Wichita Eagle, the largest newspaper in Kansas.