School playground photographs of kids in the shape of a bicycle, worm and cupcake.

Making of the School Photo

Update 2017-04: There is a new amazing photograph. Read about the making of the monarch butterfly school photo.

The Cupcake Boy School Photo

I think this is a beautiful picture even though it didn’t turn out as I imagined, because I didn’t correct enough for perspective, which makes the muffin top look too small. The photo was taken on St. Patrick’s Day when all the kids were wearing green. I asked everyone with a red coat to be part of the cherry. Below you can see my preparatory drawing using a satellite image of the playground and a cupcake illustration, which I then transferred to the school playground using chalk and a grid pattern. More about how the cupcake school photo was made.

School class photo for The Cupcake Boy with Amy Belle Elementary

We ❤ Worms School Photo

School class photo for Ruby the Red Worm

I’m very surprised this picture turned out so great! Another one of my personal favorites. And a giant framed photo will soon be hanging in the school office until the end of times. It was very difficult to illustrate the chalk drawing and make it straight while accounting for perspective. It took me about 3 hours, and I was flying around the playground backwards so much I think it gave me bronchitis. Below you can see a picture of the chalk outline from the point of view of the playground. It appears incomprehensible. And the next aerial view shows Mrs. Krzysik surveying the chalk drawing “We ❤ worms” and preparing to organize the students by grade and the color of their T-shirts. Due to the nature of kids, we had a limited amount of time to form the picture and capture a lot of smiling faces. Of course, when you want clouds, you get sun. And, I miscalculated the morning shadows since the sun was still in the southern hemisphere rather than due east, which created too much contrast and long shadows. We solved some of these problems by having the kids sit down. In the previous photo they were all standing. See more about how the worm photo was made.

School class photo for Ruby the Red Worm

School class photo for Ruby the Red Worm

Drawings for Ruby the Red Worm

Today I will be taking a school class photograph of the students in staff standing in this shape. It is an overambitious project, with a lot of variables. Above is my diagram of the school playground with the school at the bottom of the photograph. And below is my location scout made from the roof of the school. Notice that it took about 5 seconds for kids to scream: “Scott Stoll is on the roof.” I think they’re a lot like prairie dogs. I’ve been observing the weather, waiting for the snow to melt, hoping for a cloudy day to avoid the high contrast and shadows, and also hoping to schedule a time when the playground will be in the shadow. Among my challenges, will be:

  • Drawing a giant picture in chalk
  • Calculating the correct perspective and space for the students to comfortably fill the lines
  • Organizing the students into groups of red and blue shirts. Fortunately the teachers are great at this.
  • Accounting for all the unforeseen variables
  • And accomplishing this all before everyone goes stir crazy and breaks formation.

I seem to learn all these things the hard way. If life was easy, it wouldn’t be new.

Drawings for Ruby the Red Worm

Bicycle-shaped Kids School Photo

Poplar Creek Elementary School

I had no idea it was going to be this cool. From the ground it looked like organized chaos. ~ Principal Gennerman.

This is quite probably the best photograph that I ever took, which after taking pictures of world wonders, like the sphinx and the Parthenon, means a lot. Pictured here are the 507 illustrators of Falling Uphill at Poplar Creek Elementary School plus the staff. It took me an hour (plus planning) to illustrate the chalk outline of the bicycle (see below). I used a string and two bricks to help guide me. Luckily arranging the kids was no problem thanks to the principal and teachers. However, I still had to overcome some challenges like the partly cloudy sun and shadows. The kids constantly jumping up and down. Not falling off the roof while I took the picture, not too mention the change in perspective. Once on the roof I realized I had to move the seat up 8 feet. I found that funny, because when I was riding my real bike, I could tell if my seat was off by only 5 millimeters. And, surprisingly the image was too big for my camera, so not only did I have to tile the picture, but now I had to deal with the lens distortion and vignetting. Lastly, in the final composite, besides normal retouching, such as color correction and erasing the odd marks, I also deleted the cars in the parking lot. If only I could erase the cars in real life :) I’m still surprised this turned out so well. Thanks again to the students, staff and parents of Poplar Creek Elementary for helping to arrange this, especially Associate Principal Larry Lueck for the brilliant idea for this photo, Principal Jane Gennerman for her support and arranging the kids from small to big (falling uphill) along with Kate Krzysik and for her idea of having the kids illustrate the book.

Read even more about how the bicycle school photo was made.

Poplar Creek Elementary School chalk outline

Poplar Creek Elementary School lining up

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