Vector image of a camera and flash.

School pictures and low vision

Tips for everything related to school pictures and low vision, based on my own experience.

Over the years, I have posed for several school pictures for things like the yearbook, my graduation photos, student IDs, and other images that are taken by school photographers. As a young child, I didn’t know how to express to those around me that I had trouble seeing the camera, so as a result a lot of photos taken of me in school feature me either looking away from the camera or looking very confused at the camera because I didn’t know if I was looking at the camera or not. Luckily, this has improved as I have gotten older and learned a few tricks for posing for school pictures with low vision, though I definitely wish that someone had shared these tips with me when I was younger, or shared them with my teachers or family members. Here are my tips for everything related to school pictures and low vision, based on my own experience and the experiences of my friends that have other visual impairments and eye conditions.

Ask for no camera flash

In high school, I was diagnosed with a neurological condition and photosensitive migraines that are triggered by bright or flashing lights, as well as general photophobia, which is a more general sensitivity to light. Since receiving this diagnosis, I have requested that photographers not use the flash when taking school pictures. While not a lot of photographers recognize the name of my neurological condition, they do understand the phrase “I have a condition like epilepsy,” and many school photographers have an alternative lighting system in place for students that have epilepsy and can’t handle flashing lights. Some schools may require a student have a file with the school nurse saying they can’t have flash photography or may require that the school nurse be present when the student’s photo is taken.

As a side note, I know that many people with epilepsy do not consider flashing lights to be a seizure trigger, but because of the prevalence of photosensitive epilepsy in children, the photographers at my school had a plan for taking photos without the flash in place.

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Wait in an alternative location for photos

This may not be the case for all people dealing with school photos and low vision, but I always found standing in line with all of the bright and flashing lights from the school cameras to be disorienting, or it would hurt my eyes – even before I was diagnosed with the additional neurological issues. In this case, it’s helpful for teachers or volunteers to give students the option to wait in an alternative location before their photo is taken- for me, this was typically in a hallway or backstage area away from the lights, and I was allowed to wait with either a friend or family member so I wasn’t stuck by myself.

While it isn’t the same as school picture day, I was allowed to get my first student ID photo at college taken during off-peak hours- I had to go to another office during lunch to get the photo taken, but I didn’t have to stand in a room with hundreds of other freshmen waiting for my turn.

Triple-check that clothes are on correctly

This likely won’t be a problem for older students, but when I was in fourth grade I failed to notice that my pants were on backward for school picture day, the day that class photos were taken. I was in the front row, right in the center, and it was incredibly obvious that my pants were not put on correctly that morning – and my family still laughs about it many years later. So learn from my fail and make sure that clothes and jewelry are all put on correctly before taking school pictures.

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Figure out where the camera is pointing

I have double vision, and while normally I can figure out which image is the one I should be focusing on, there are definitely times I am wrong. Alternatively, the camera might be outside of my peripheral vision or at an angle which makes it hard for me to know where to look. There are a couple of tricks that I use to make sure that I look at the camera:

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Glasses, school pictures, and low vision

Taking glasses off or not

Some of my friends with low vision prefer to take off their glasses for school picture day or for photos in general because there is a bit more glare from their glasses, but I never take my glasses off because of my condition. If a photographer tries to get me to take off my glasses, I tell them that I have low vision and cannot take off my glasses for medical reasons, and they typically are fine with it.

To add a funny story, I was once threatened with a student conduct violation in college because I refused to take my glasses off for a new ID photo and I reluctantly agreed to take them off. The resulting photo featured me not smiling or looking at the camera, and my eyes were red from the light hurting them. To top it all off, no one recognized me in the ID photo and I had to present my state-issued ID alongside my student ID almost everywhere I went. After that incident, I worked with my college to allow students with low vision that need their glasses at all times to be able to wear their glasses in student ID photos, and I also shredded that ID the moment I got a new one.

Can I wear tinted glasses for school picture day?

I started wearing tinted glasses in eighth grade for my photophobia, and haven’t worn non-tinted glasses since. Most school picture providers do not allow students to wear sunglasses, however, they will make an exception for students that wear sunglasses or tinted glasses for medical reasons. The same goes for college or student ID photos.

Should I close my eyes?

I don’t like closing my eyes for school pictures because I feel like my facial expression looks strange, or I  will be asked to take another photo because I blinked. For most group photos in high school though, I would close my eyes since I wear tinted glasses anyway and my face isn’t the focus of the image, because I didn’t feel comfortable asking the photographer not to use a flash.

Dealing with comments about eyes

During my junior year of high school, a photographer snapped at me to stop crossing my eyes, saying it looked ridiculous. My eyes naturally cross due to accommodative esotropia, and I told them this, but they still acted very dismissively. At the time, I felt very upset and didn’t know what to do, so I did nothing. If I was faced with that situation today, I would report the photographer’s comments to school staff so that they could ensure that no other students would get those types of comments again.

Should I have my blindness cane for school pictures?

I didn’t use a blindness cane until I was in college, but I typically don’t like to have it in group photos because I am tempted to lean on it, and it also might have a glowing effect from the flash of a camera. I definitely use my cane to orient myself to where I will be standing or sitting for a photo, but I either put it outside of the camera view or fold it so that it is more discreet.

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Other tips for school pictures and low vision

By Veronica Lewis/Veronica With Four Eyes,

Updated September 2023; original post published September 2017.

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