How do I use photography to make a better yearbook?
Written by Sarah Scott
Mitchell Franz, from Yoakum, Texas, wanted to be a writer when he was a kid. He joined his school’s journalism program, where the small staff size mandated that everyone take photos for their publications. With encouragement from his adviser, Paula Adamak (now Walsworth Yearbooks rep Paula Griffin), he fell in love with scholastic journalism and photography.
“I fully committed. I wanted to be a photographer,” Franz said.
He turned that passion into a career and the 29-year-old now works as a full-time photographer. In the latest episode of the Ask Mike podcast, host Mike Taylor, CJE, interviewed Franz about the ways yearbook staffs can improve their photographs.
The professional started with some general tips for improving photography.
First, study other photography. Look at National Geographic. Check out the Walsworth photo contest winners.
“Study that photography. Train your eye, visually, what to look for,” he shared.
While shooting, Franz recommended getting in the habit of watching your backgrounds and edges of the frame.
“You’re looking for distracting objects, things you may be able to move out of the frame,” Franz explained. “Make the frame more interesting. A lot of photographers just look at the center of the frame and not the edges.”
His third piece of advice is to wait for the right moment.
“A lot of photographers are just impatient. They want to come in, get the photo and leave. If you have 30 minutes to take an image for a class before you have to go back, you may wait 25 minutes for that one killer moment at the end,” he said. “I’d rather see you do that than walk in, take a picture and leave.”
Photographers shouldn’t overlook the fundamentals, like how to properly hold a camera. Franz also stressed the importance of filling the frame. Never be afraid to get closer to your subject.
Every situation requires a different camera setting.
“As soon as I change lighting conditions, I’m changing the lighting settings on my camera,” Franz shared.
He suggests utilizing custom white balance – just find something white to photograph, like a blank sheet of paper, and set that as your sample image in the camera menu.
Franz specializes in sports photography and said that sports reaction, compared to sports action shots, deserves attention. One of his favorite shots is of a crowd at a basketball game waving their hands, with a player from the opposing team out of focus in the foreground.
“It’s not always about what’s happening on the court, or on the football field, or on the baseball diamond or whatever it may be. There’s lots of great moments happening on the stands, in the sideline,” Franz said.
“I don’t know why high school photographers hate academics,” Franz bemoaned. “They treat it as the inferior subject or assignment in photography when really it’s not.”
There are so many classes happening every day, in so many different subject matters, that the options for academic photography are enormous. Even in a class that seems regular from the outset offers plenty of opportunities for candid moments of students laughing or stressing out.
“There are moments we miss by not keeping a camera with us,” Franz said.
He suggested yearbook staffs take turns carrying a camera with them all day. This gets classmates and teachers used to having a camera in the room with them while increasing the photographer’s chance of capturing a great classroom moment.
If you can’t carry a DSLR camera with you, use the smartphone camera in your pocket.
Communicate with teachers regularly so you know when special events are happening. Franz suggested sending out notes throughout the school year.
But Wait! There are Prizes!
Franz challenged photographers to rise to the challenge of taking great academic photos. He and Taylor created a challenge with prizes. Entries are due Nov. 30. Listen to the episode for details on how to win one of two $50 gift cards, plus more tips on improving photography in your yearbook.