Washington — Fourth-grader Sheriff Akeju, 9, stood tall and proud so as not to wrinkle his favorite gray sweater. He needed to take a nice picture because he plans to slip one to his aunt before her trip to Nigeria.
Second-grader Donna-Lee Bellamy, 7 looking sophisticated beyond her years in a sparkly blue sweater with a faux fur collar and her long hair done up in a bun preened and posed.
Jordan Lima, 5, smiled sweetly for his mother, who stopped by to tame his cowlick and wipe his nose. She wants to put an 8-by-10 in the living room.
It was picture day at Carole Highlands School in suburban Takoma Park, Md., where girls in jewel-tone tops giggled self-consciously and boys in immaculate shirts rehearsed their smiles in plastic mirrors as they waited their turns.
"Turn this way, sweetie. Very good. Now, don't wiggle," photographer Stacey Swann told first-grader Dolair Campbell, 6, who refused to have his picture taken until he'd retrieved his favorite red vest from his classroom.
"Now say 'Peaches!'"
"Peaches!" Dolair said, and burst into giggles.
"One more time," Swann prodded. Six months as a school photographer has taught her that giggly faces don't make the best pictures. "Now let's try again. Look right here! Say 'Peaches!'"
School pictures once were dull poses against boring backgrounds. Today's school pictures have panache. Backgrounds range from tie-die to sun splash to environmental scenes including mountains, lakes and trees painted on canvas. Colors range from basic blue to such vivid colors as "hot pink," "emerald" and "cerulean." School photographers are now taught how to work with children.
"There has definitely been an evolution in school pictures," said Clifton Tracey, 37, president of Herff Jones Photography/Delmar Studios in Annapolis, Md., which contracts to take pictures at dozens of Washington-area schools. "Everything from the texture of the backgrounds to the lighting and the training we give to photographers has changed.
"It used to be that you took the picture, and if you didn't like it, that was pretty much it," Tracey said. "Now, we do retakes to satisfy parents who didn't like their pictures."
For students, picture day is a time for flaunting their favorite dresses and shirts. Many boys at Carole Highlands said they went to the barbershop before picture day. Several girls wore their hair in elaborate upsweeps adorned by fancy barrettes and flowing ribbons.
"I chose this top for my pictures because the colors match the beads in my hair," said Miatha Vandi, 6. She and her first-grade classmates straightened one another's braids and collars as they prepared to go before the camera.
"This isn't my favorite shirt. My Scooby-Doo shirt is my favorite, but I wore this one because we just buyed it for pictures," Jonathan Cruz said.
Second-grader Keith Martin checked both profiles in a mirror, then smoothed his favorite sweater the black one with the red stripe that makes him look like a skier. "My mom said to take a nice picture, and I do not want to look all messy," he said.
For four hours, Tracey and company brushed back errant locks of hair, wiped away milk mustaches and coaxed children with no teeth or crooked teeth or braces on their teeth to smile for pictures that they hope will bring them more joy than embarrassment in the years to come.
"It takes patience to get them to relax and trust you enough that you can take a really good picture," Tracey said. "We want to give them something that their families will be happy with, so we work hard at it."