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12 essential back-to-school photo-ops you won't want to miss

Back-to-school photos don't have to all happen on the first day. Here's how to capture the moments you'll never forget.
/ Source: TODAY

As the new school year begins, a few things are guaranteed: Kindergarten moms' tears, the need for morning coffee to deal with the rush and the arrival of the parental paparazzi brandishing smartphones.

To fully capture the triumphant return to school, you'll need more than just the photo of smiling kids on the front steps (though you get bonus points if they're holding a cute sign).

Think about how a talented photographer captures a wedding: Along with those posed shots, you'll usually find a fun mix of candids, detail shots (close-up images of items like clothing and decor) and key moments.

Does this already feel like a stressful assignment akin to Common Core math? Just remember, even if your children have been in class since early August, back-to-school photos don't have to all happen on the first day—they can be taken gradually during the first month. Read on for tips about documenting like a pro.

Don't do it on the first day (we won't tell).

If your kid (or you!) is super-psyched about the first-day outfit, give it its own photo shoot during a weekend.

No one has to know you made your kids re-wear their first-day outfits on a Saturday to capture them looking relaxed and happy. Set up time to take photos when no one has to worry about spilling breakfast on themselves or making the bus in time.

RELATED: Hilarious photo proves there are 2 types of kids on the first day of school

Kid optional, clothing a must.

You can also lay out or hang up the outfit so the focus shifts to the details.

Picture the gear.

If you arrange them carefully, backpacks and other school supplies become fun photo fodder.

Child with water bottle

RELATED: It's a snap! 9 tips for taking great back-to-school photos

Start a fun photo tradition (the giant T-shirt!)

Buy an adult T-shirt in size large that says your child's graduation year, and take an annual photo of him as he grows into it. You can either make your own or buy one (Etsy has several options that can be customized, including this one).

RELATED: 11 photos of kids who are ready to rock kindergarten

Didn't get to make a sign? Come up with a clever way to mark the year.

These Scrabble tiles say it all.

Or make an easy last-minute sign.

If you're really running short on time, chalk on the ground always looks charming—and you've also captured this year's sneakers.

Or try one of our adorable, free signs!

It's never been easier to be the parent with the sign. Download our our adorable, free back-to-school signs here. (Did we mention free?)

DIY back to school signs - Hello My Name Is
Samantha Okazaki / TODAY

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Make it a point to capture their commute.

Especially when they have giant backpacks and look psyched to get on the bus.

Girl outside with backpack

Sometimes the pictures practically take themselves, like when the bus is pulling up in the distance.

Of course, if you drive them, a mom selfie is the obvious choice.

RELATED: Mom's funny back-to-school photos represent how we all feel

Seek out a solid backdrop.

This will shift the focus away from first-day chaos and onto your cutie. Talk about picture-perfect posterity: This wall even includes a "kindergarten" sign.

Classy brick wall plus adorable pose equals must-have shot.

RELATED: Back-to-school photos can be awesome — or awkward.

Don't forget about all the photo-ops that await in your child's classroom.

The threshold is pretty significant, if you think about it.

Then there's the wall with everyone's name and the sweet saying.

This photo also serves a practical purpose—you'll get inspiration for new books to read at home.

It's worth getting there slightly early if you can ask the new teacher to pose with your little one.

And of course, be sure to snap a shot of the new student doing table work.

Back to school photo
Lexi Dwyer

RELATED: 9 fun and original ideas for awesome back-to-school pics

Reunions with friends can be seriously sweet.

Especially when the kids haven't seen each other in a while.

When all else fails, you can't go wrong with silly.