Franciscan Hall night shot

This picture is worth 1,000 applicants: Planning your enrollment success story, picture by picture

Spectrum Client Hilbert College used dynamic lighting and unique perspective to create this stunning photo of Franciscan Hall on their Hamburg, NY Campus.

Spectrum Client Hilbert College used dynamic lighting and unique perspective to create this stunning photo of Franciscan Hall on their Hamburg, NY Campus.

When it comes time to promote the best face of your school to prospective students, having gigabytes of OK pictures simply doesn’t compare to having the one right picture.

“The difference between the right word and the almost right word is the difference between lightning and a lightning bug.”

Mark Twain, The Wit and Wisdom of Mark Twain

Spectrum’s design team works with images supplied by clients in all of our print and digital campaigns. Over the course of hundreds of college promotions, we’ve located trends in terms of not only which photos are frequently requested, but which photos are frequently lacking. With images that perfectly encapsulate your school’s team spirit, diversity and campus beauty, you can more effectively tell the story of what makes your school unique—and ideal—for every student.

We’ve polled our designers about what types of photos they feel should be a part of any school’s marketing asset arsenal, and suggest that your team takes some time this year to capture these shots. Knowing that you have an ideal photo to pair with a Drive to Apply mailer or an Open House invitation can reframe – and elevate – your entire strategy.

Events & Visits

Having photos of students enjoying last years events is an awesome start for promoting this years. Happy, smiling students engaging in activities or posing for the camera is a hallmark of college marketing—so how can you really elevate it? Students on campus, great shots of your beautiful buildings or maybe a favorite area where students love to hang out are all a great start, as well as kids sitting in groups talking, studying, relaxing on the lawn. But what makes a campus visit at your school unlike others? Really look for moments of connection between prospective students and current students and faculty. Catch them in the act of falling in love with your school, rather than just posing on its campus.

Campus Shots

Accentuate the best parts of your campus—obvious, right? You want to draw students in and allow them to picture themselves there. With that in mind, the beautiful parts of your campus are just building facades unless there’s life in the shot. Many of the campus photos we see do nothing to capture anything beyond a sterile, if pretty, idea of what an empty campus looks like. Flipping the classic ‘campus shot’ on its head by including students, using dramatic lighting, highlighting seasonal looks and showing extreme close-ups or widepan shots can make your campus truly animated.

Have an aerial shot? Even better. This is a great way to feature a large campus. Keep in mind that aerial shots include some less attractive elements of your campus, like parking lots. Either plan to crop those out, or go the extra mile and dress them up. One of our clients used sidewalk chalk to write a welcome message on their parking lot for an aerial picture shoot and prospective students actually asked to see it when they arrived for a visit.

Sporting Events

Fans! Mascot! Game day fun! We want to see the excitement on the faces of those cheering on their favorite team. Action shots during games are vital for the sports sections on your website and in my print collateral. Have great coaches you’d like to feature? Take their picture! For many students, though, campus athletics goes well beyond team sports. If you have an athletic center, an aquatic center, tennis courts, or even attractive jogging paths around campus, make sure to include photos of them. Student who value health and fitness will plan on using your facilities – so make sure that you show them off in addition to the young men and women sporting your jerseys.


Making sure your student body is accurately portrayed is important when setting the stage for the type of environment new students will be a part of. This can be a touchy area, as tokenism in youth marketing can come across as overt and clumsy. To avoid this, have an organic mix of shots of all of your students, and don’t view any single piece of marketing as necessarily requiring a pageant of every student on campus. If your marketing mix is varied, students will see your diversity at different points in your campaigns. Make sure to have good, diverse shots—just don’t make them your entire case for diversity.


Students have to learn sometime right? Nice classroom shots can be hard to come by. Candid photos usual end up consisting of unhappy, bored students sitting at a desk. Don’t be afraid to ask professors and students to pose, smile and engage with other students so you can take a few great shots. And, while not every academic program requires a photo since you can easily substitute shots between, for instance, Literature classes and Political Science classes, don’t fall in the habit of using a minimal suite for your programs. Even though an admissions team member may not see why a particular piece of lab equipment in a shot is grossly inappropriate for that major, a prospective student might – and that could cost you some of the trust you’re building.

Have specific majors and or programs you’d like to highlight? Get in the labs and take photos of students honing their skills and working with real equipment, and make sure to ask professors and students what it is they’re using. Saving that kind of information for captioning could be an eye-catching pull quote or element of a campaign. And, just like buildings, nothing is exciting about a machine laying fallow in the lab—get some hands on it, get some goggles on, and make sure that the flying sparks and bubbling solutions are attention grabbers.


You can never have enough photos of kids. Take photos of them in the dorms, around town, playing games, volunteering. Would you like to have student testimonials? Take photos of those students to be showcased in a major spread or used to highlight some great feature of your school. Photos of students and faculty as well as students and parents are always good to have and can be used to promote open houses and visit days.

Specialized Shots

Do you have a study abroad program? Ask students who have participated to send you some of their photos. Maybe you have unique traditions at your school? Capture those moments too! Students are receiving marketing materials from dozens of schools—make sure that they can find a way to relate to yours uniquely.

Important Tech Specs for your pictures

We find that schools get great results when hiring professional photographers to take well-posed, well-lit shots, and love using those kinds of pictures—but anyone with a decent camera and an understanding of how to tune that camera to take print-ready shots can contribute to your photo library to a point.

  • Resolution: An important consideration for your photos is usage. If you intend for a picture to only be featured on your facebook feed, a smaller image is OK. However, you can always make something big smaller, but you can’t increase the size of a photo without losing its quality. Standard print quality is 300 dpi. Make sure cameras and camera-phones are set to capture high-quality images for use in all outreach. Pro-Tip: If you’re not sure about ‘dpi’ and advanced settings, look at the file size of the pictures you’re taking when you put them on a computer. Anything lower than 200 kb is probably ‘lo-res’ and only good for screen. High quality images that will print well are typically above 800 kb.

  • Color: Just like you can’t make something small larger, you can’t make something shot in black and white or with a filter back to a standard color photo. We love Instagram. We love Photoshop. Just keep in mind that the ‘native’ file that you create – the original photo – sets the starting point for how it can be edited. A standard, unfiltered color photograph can be rendered black and white, it can be ‘filtered’ to look like Instagram, it can be blended with other photos… but those processes are typically called ‘destructive’, meaning you can’t revert back to the original unless another copy exists. If you have plans to use a photo in a specific way (e.g. black and white), submit the ‘native’ color photo with instructions, rather than capturing it as black and white. Native color photos leave designers and clients with the most options. Protip: Use presets on cameras, rather than custom settings, to avoid capturing unnatural photos.

  • Organization: When photos are uploaded to a computer, they frequently use hardware-assigned filenames. You are probably familiar with photos with names like IMG_40182.jpg. Not terribly descriptive, right? Since clear communication will allow for the best, most cost-effective relationship between a school and a design firm, clear photo titling can be your best friend. Best of all, you can ‘batch’ or automate renaming fairly easily (a search for “batch rename files” produced this result:–mac-46999). Not only will organizing your photos into subfolders by major, event, location, etc. and renaming the photos in those folders to be descriptive (biolab1.jpg, biolab2.jpg) save you time in the long run, it will streamline the proofing process every time those images are used. Protip: Contact sheets are, without a doubt, the most useful tool to have when editing pieces featuring large numbers of photographs. Contact sheets are documents that display thumbnails and filenames of photos contained in folders, and can be generated easily in tools like Adobe Photoshop or Bridge. They are the quickest way to reference and scan through a large photo library without waiting for your computer to generate thumbnails for large files. If you cannot produce a Contact sheet on your own, request that your design partner produce one for you that you both can share.

One of the clear benefits of working in the higher ed industry is the beauty of our workplaces—college campuses are amongst the most well-manicured, meticulously curated spaces in any community. Make your campus something that your prospects would want to look at every day—invest in your photographic future.


Take a photo every day. It doesn’t have to be art, it doesn’t have to be perfect. At the end of the month, select your favorite. By the end of the year, you’ll have 12 strong photos to promote heavily.

If you follow our photo spec guidelines above, you can use these photos across all of your outreach.