First-Day-of-School Photos Get an Extreme Makeover

By ABC News

Sep 5, 2012 6:53am

ABC News’ Mary Pflum reports:

Like scores of mothers across the country, Brenda Ponnay is busy getting ready for the start of another school year.

The Irvine, Calif., mom has lunches to pack, forms to fill out and also a first-day-of-school photo shoot to prepare for.

“I’m always surprised at how much it makes a difference preparing a photo like this,” Ponnay told “Good Morning America” of her 6-year-old daughter, Helena’s, first-day photo shoot.

“It seems silly at the time, or even forced,” she said. “But I’ll look back and think, ‘Oh, I’ll remember it.’ But, of course, it’s amazing how much you forget.”

Ponnay is one of a growing number of moms for whom the first-day-of-school photo is no longer just an afterthought but, instead, a carefully choreographed photo op, one often filled with props like homemade signs crafted to coordinate with first-day-of-school fashion.

“I wish I had photos like this when I was growing up,” she said.  “I think my parents had two photo albums total and all the photos were faded or badly cropped.”

Last year, Ponnay’s daughter, Helena, was photographed using a Hello Kitty theme. This year, it’s cat ears.

“It’s really special I can do this for my daughter,” she said of her efforts, which also include asking Helena to say cheese while she filled out a special back-to-school-form she created to chronicle her daughter’s hopes for the year.

From coast to coast, moms like Ponnay are capturing first days of school in unprecedented style, with ever-larger props, artwork and themes.

Lauren Lasher, a mom from Westchester, Pa., used foam core, an X-Acto knife and chalkboard spray paint to create a series of first-day photos of her preschool-bound son, Brady.

“I think capturing that exact moment is so important because the time goes so fast,” she said.  “I think it’s just nice for the kids to have something to show when they grow up.  This is what I did every year on the first day of school.”

Michelle Madhok, the founder of MomFinds, an online fashion blog and buying guide for moms, said social media is behind the increasingly elaborate photos.

“With Pinterest, Facebook, Instagram and Twitter, everyone can see what every else is doing with their kids,” she said.  “It becomes a competition and almost becomes an arms race of who can take the better pictures of their kids.”

Rebecca Dulgarian of West Jordan, Utah, could be considered an expert in the art of first-day-of-school photography.  The first-day portraits she took of her daughter, Molly, last year went viral.

“I had people emailing me saying, ‘Oh, thanks for that great idea. I’m going to do it this year,’” she said.  “And looking back, I started it with her [Molly] in kindergarten and it’s going to be so fun to see, like, first grade through high school and see how she’s grown.”

This year, Dulgarian prepped three first-day portraits, for Molly as well as two other children, eight-year-old Macy and three-year-old Charlie.  The backdrop included larger-than-life chalk drawings and an elaborate desk Dulgarian set up for her kids to pose with.

“Facebook right now is just jam-packed with every friend’s first day of school photos and their kids,” she said. “It’s just  a fun way to, I don’t want to say show off your kids, but, let’s be honest, you’re showing off your family.”

Though the first-day photos of her children are a long way removed from the thumb-over-the-lens candid shots Dulgarian’s mother snapped of her as a child, the priceless sentiments — the first-day-of-school excitement and nerves — remain the same, she said.

“I can remember every first day of school my mom marching us out there standing in front of this one tree in our front yard and snapping photos,” Dulgarian said.  “I really didn’t look forward to taking those pictures but, looking back, those are some of my treasured, treasured photos.

“It’s worth the effort to do it with my own kids because I know that they’re going to love these pictures, if not now or next year, you know, 20 years from now,” she said.  “It’s really going to be meaningful to them.”

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