Somehow I ended up doing the slideshow for my son’s elementary school graduation. As I suspected, it was a nontrivial undertaking and it sucked up a good part of the last week or so to complete. But like any endeavor, there were things that I learned, some unexpected.
I had a couple of thousand photos to go through to pick the most appropriate. About 240 images that would span from Kindergarten through 5th grade in 15 minutes, all synced to 8 songs. Luckily another parent was kind enough to pick the music. We used my Smugmug site so that other parents could also upload their favorite images. It’s a lot more work than you can imagine.
First, I needed to find good quality images that captured the flavor of the major events from each grade. I tried hard to include as many kids as possible. Not easy because many parents didn’t upload anything. Overall, perhaps 70% of the photos were mine. As a result, my son’s classes in the earlier years were over represented. With 140 kids in the graduating class, there was much searching for unique pictures.
I could do a whole post on the state of photography from the normal folk — the people who are not passionate photographers like you and I. Certainly eye-opening. As expected, there were many low-grade images taken with vintage cell phones with confusing compositions. This is to be expected, I guess — photography is not their thing. I searched for the best ones and incorporated them into the collective.
As for my work, I noticed changes over the years. Photo quantity followed a U. Lots of photographs in Kindergarten and 1st grade, decreasing through 2nd grade and hitting a low in the 3rd. Things picked up in the 4th and into 5th grade. I started with the Canon Rebel XT and 20D, then to the 7D and then to mirrorless and the full frame Canon 6D. I like to say that my photography improved throughout the years, but it hasn’t. It just changed, whether for the better, I don’t know.
Perhaps the most striking photos were in the 1st and 2nd grades. There was a noticeable image quality and technique upgrade from Kindergarten. Back then, I worked hard to master the external flash. Subtle bounce flash indoors and direct outdoor flash to tame the shadows. I also filled the frame with my subjects and had more posed shots.
I noticed a move towards a documentary style in the recent years. I frame wider to give more environmental context and with more action. I use less flash and more available light. This shift in style was probably due to my change in tastes as well as changes in equipment. I do more street photography and urban landscapes so my interest increased for wider focal lengths. My tastes moved from portraits to the environment. The modern cameras have better high ISO performance so I could shoot more in natural light.
The slideshow was a success. The kids laughed and the parents cried. For 15 minutes, 400 people re-lived 6 years through the power of still photography animated by iMovie and the Ken Burns effect. It was a lot of work but I guess it was worth it. I’m glad it’s over though. From experience I know that I won’t be shooting anymore in middle school. Elementary school was the last hurrah for this type of photography.
My kids are growing up too fast.
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