- Associated Press - Tuesday, September 22, 2015

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. (AP) - Wearing a pale pink dress and white bows in her blond hair, a tiny girl runs red-faced and crying from the cafeteria at Templeton Elementary School.

It’s picture day, and sometimes the youngest students get scared because meeting a photographer and having their picture taken is new and out of their routine.

“We always get one or two of those,” says Caleb Pettit, a photographer from Pettit and Associates Photography.

Most of the kids are smiling as they line up with their classmates, waiting to sit under the bright lights before a cloudy gray backdrop.

“Smile for me,” says Amanda Thompson-Cesinger, one of the photographers. “There you go.”

Some wear what they might pick out from their closets on any day of school, while others have donned sparkling sequined dresses or neckties.

“I think I look good in green,” says 10-year-old Caleb Ketchem tugging at his green T-shirt.

At first, he says he’s going to be totally straight-faced in his picture, and then decides he may just smile a little when it’s his turn.

Chase Capestany, also 10, usually wears sweats to school, but not on picture day. Over the weekend, he went to the store with his mom and sister. They helped him pick out a black, gray and red shirt to go with his dark blue jeans.

What’s Chase’s advice to his classmates about getting their photo taken?

“Try your best not to sneeze.”

And he’s right. Whether they’re dressed up or down, the most important thing to capture is their expression, Pettit said.

“You always try to make them feel comfortable with the camera to get the best expression. At the end of the day, we’re taking school pictures; we’re selling school pictures,” Pettit said.

From bringing out stuffed animals to having the teacher stand behind the photographer’s shoulder encouraging the kids to smile, it’s important to snap that moment in time that will be archived in yearbooks, mounted in a frame on grandma’s wall or stowed away in dad’s wallet.

“There’s still a market for the school picture bust shot,” Pettit said. “A bust shot has been a bust shot for a hundred years, and it’s just not going to change.”

It’s a statement he’s heard his father, Randy Pettit, say before. The Pettits have been in the business of taking school pictures for about 40 years.

Although the bust shot is still popular, digital cameras have made their mark, and school photos don’t sell quite as well these days.

“Everybody has an uncle or a cousin or an aunt that’s a photographer, that does some senior stuff as a hobby. So they always want to go to those people and get some pictures taken,” Caleb Pettit said.

Just as digital photography has allowed more people to take their own photos, it’s also made the life of a school photographer a bit easier.

Pettit remembers seeing tiny capsules of rolled up film all over his house when he was a kid. His dad, Randy, had to worry about changing film and the camera’s settings each time. Now, the settings are ready to go before the kids get there.

The focus is on helping the students relax and getting a good smile instead of the camera.

Caleb Pettit might hit two schools in a day and take pictures of hundreds of kids. He doesn’t want them before his camera for any longer than 50 seconds, because after school he’ll be taking pictures of sports teams, and he may need to travel.

Pettit drives a lot, going from school to school across central Indiana from Terre Haute, where the Pettit and Associates office is located.

He likes to arrive at the schools around 7 a.m. to get everything set up before the kids come in, and he never knows what sort of studio he’ll be using. At Templeton, he was taking photos on the stage in the cafeteria. At other schools, he’ll set up in the gymnasium. Sometimes, students with special needs will feel more comfortable in the hallway just outside their classroom, so he’ll shoot their picture there.

It isn’t getting creative with space or driving that’s the toughest part, though.

“Scheduling is a bear,” he said.

Fall is the busiest time for Pettit and Associates, and before they arrive at a school, the company needs data to know how many kids they’ll be photographing and to keep track of hundreds of snapshots that are taken within two to three hours.

It’s the students who make the job fun.

“Kids are hilarious. They make me laugh every day,” Pettit said. “They’re innocent, little funny people,” he said with a laugh.

He calls the process of getting all their pictures taken “organized chaos.”

As he works with the front office to get every classroom into the studio, he tries to photograph the youngest children before lunchtime because they could end up with a big stain down their shirtfront after eating. He’s also got to be ready for the goofy kids. He’s known some who walk up to the camera with their collars popped up or wearing silly glasses.

Sometimes the best way to handle the pranksters is to indulge them. Pettit will agree to take one goofy shot, and then the “real” one for school.

Most of the students, particularly middle and high school students, know ahead of time if they’re going to smile or not.

Five-year-old Sophia Vanden Dries knew she was going to smile. She wore a pink dress, yellow and pink tie-dyed socks and sparkly silver shoes. The dress was from her grandmother.

When Leyda Velazquez, in a pink dress with a big white bow, walked up to place her toes on the line of masking tape a few feet from the photographer, she was ready to smile. Leyda said she likes to have her picture taken.

“It makes me feel good.”

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Source: The (Bloomington) Herald-Times, https://bit.ly/1We92Wj

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Information from: The Herald Times, https://www.heraldtimesonline.com

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