An animation of 4 aerial photographs of school kids standing in interesting shapes: bicycle, worm, cupcake and butterfly.
An animation of 4 aerial photographs of school kids standing in interesting shapes: bicycle, worm, cupcake and butterfly.

How the School Photo is made

Monarch butterfly made of people school photo

Update 2017-04: There is a new amazing photograph. Read about the making of the monarch butterfly school photo. It is a short and sweet overview of how the photograph is made.

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.

A satellite view of my giant cupcake.
The Cupcake Boy school photo preparation. I used a satellite photo from Google Maps to estimate the size and placement. Then I overlay a grid and picture of a cupcake. When I get to the school, the first thing I do is pace out the grid.

We ❤ Worms School Photo

A satellite view of my message. It could read "We ♥ worms" or "We heart worms" or "We love worms."
Here is the final retouched picture for Ruby the Red Worm’s Dirty Job. My camera wasn’t big enough, so I need to splice to pictures together. I think it adds to the effect.

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. I was in bed with bronchitis for a week after this effort in the freezing weather.

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.

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

Preparation of photograph

First I had to do a location scout. Luckily I found a good spot on the roof overlooking the playground. Now we just had to wait for the snow to melt.

Making of the school photograph "We love worms."
This is a quick picture that I did during my location scout. It’s made from the roof of the school. Notice the snow. It took about 5 seconds for kids to scream, “Scott Stoll is on the roof,” and then jump around waving. I think they’re a lot like prairie dogs.

Next, I went home and planned the picture. I downloaded a satellite photo from Google Maps of the actual school and playground. Then I overlayed my drawing. It looks good so far. But now I need to try and adjust for perspective and calculate the space for the students to comfortably fill the lines.

A satellite view of my message. It could read "We ♥ worms" or "We heart worms" or "We love worms."
Here I am preparing for the school photograph. I used a satellite photo of the actual school playground from Google Maps to estimate the size and placement. Then I overlay a grid and picture of the worm and words. “We ♥ worms.” When I get to the school, the first thing I do is pace out the grid.

After 3-hours of back-breaking work, the chalk outline is done. But, I’m worried because it is barely visible.

A picture of the school playground with giant chalk outline that is barely visible.
It took me about 3 hours to make the chalk outline on the playground. I’m worried that it is almost invisible. How will the students line up correctly?

Next will begin lining up students into groups of red and blue shirts. Fortunately, the teachers are great at this. We also try to get the older kids outside first because they have the most patience. We have to get everyone in position before they go stir crazy and break formation or refuse to smile. And, we need to leave extra time for unforeseen variables.

A teacher alone on the playground gets ready to line up the students. The words are invisible from the roof.
This 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. My job is to help fill in the gaps, but the words are barely visible.

Bicycle-shaped Kids School Photo

Over 500 children and teachers standing on the playground in the shape of giant bicycle.
After seeing the world wonders and taking thousands of photographs, this is my favorite photograph that I made when I returned home.

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

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.

Bicycle shaped kids school photo chalk outline
Bicycle shaped kids school photo chalk outline
Looking down at kids being guided into position on top of the chalk outline of a bicycle. It looks helter-skelter.
The students at Poplar Creek Elementary begin to line up on the chalk outline of a bicycle. Photo by Scott. He’s standing on the roof of the gymnasium with the custodian. This was one of the highlights of Scott’s life.
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