Class Photos

Many schools have a tradition of arranging the incoming first year class into a number, logo or other design for a group photo. Here are six examples of this type of class photo with details on the tradition and logistics behind each:

Trevor Jones, Ohio Northern University


The large ONU has been happening on campus since 2013. My first was in 2015. My coworker Ken Colwell was responsible for determining the size and shape, "I had to do a lot of research on how much room a human being takes up," said Colwell, associate director of web design.

Our grounds crew is responsible for painting the letters in the grass based on Colwell's measurements.

We made a decision the day of the photo if rain was going to force us indoors. I wanted it outside because we are building a new engineering building that I was desperate to get in the background.

I'm in an articulated arm truck with a camera and a bullhorn yelling down at Colwell as he files people into letters.


Tim Schoon, University of Iowa


We do the “Block I” every year with all the incoming students on the football field. This is the 6th or 7th year we’ve done it I think. Nothing too crazy as far as logistics. I shoot from the network broadcast booth on the top floor of the press box. I try to get as many variations as I can, tight, medium, panorama, etc, but there’s only so much you can do. This year I had everyone turn on their cell phone flashlights, but the lights don’t show up all that well under the stadium lights. Maybe next year I’ll try to get them to turn the stadium lights off for a minute and we can do a “glowing Block I.” I’ve also suggested that we should change the letter every year. During a four year cycle, we could spell out I O W A, but that idea has never really gone anywhere.

If everyone showed up, there would be about 4,800 incoming students on the field. Attendance is “mandatory,” so it’s probably close to that.

We do a whole program on the field where new students are taught some of the traditions like fight song, I-O-W-A chant, etc. Then there’s a short movie afterwards about some other traditions, so they’re on the field for quite a while. From when the outline of the I is made and students start to fill it to when they go sit down to watch the movie is about 15 minutes. They held the formation longer this year than some years which was nice. I tried doing a Gigapan one year, and the left half the picture was fine, the right half was everyone walking away.

I also shot a timelapse which you can see here.

This year, we had the students turn around and wave to the patients in the Children’s Hospital which overlooks the stadium. This was a tradition that started at the first football game last year where at the end of the first quarter, everybody in the stadium waves to the kids in the hospital.


Matt Cashore, University of Notre Dame


(2017 left, 2018 right)

This was our second year doing this type of photo.

The marching band takes care of the design and senior band members mark out the perimeter of the shape as students fill in. The residence halls are a big part of the undergraduate experience at Notre Dame and the students wear a specific-colored t-shirt given to them by their dorms.

The photo is shot from the TV camera booth with the band director on the PA giving instruction. Our Commencement ceremonies are in the stadium, so gathering as a class on the football field for a first year orientation photo will be a bookend to their gathering as graduates four years later.


Both class photos so far have been made into large prints and displayed in one of Notre Dame's student centers.

You can see a time lapse of the 2018 group photo here. These have had strong demand for print sales also. The plan is to do a different shape each year to make each class photo unique, but they haven't told me what next year's will be...


Lyndsie Schlink, Illinois State University


Illinois State has been doing spirit photos for four years now. I take the photos from the roof of our press box. The event is sponsored by our Dean of Students Office and they hand out free red ISU branded t-shirts to the first 1,300 students. The Big Red Marching Machine outlines the letters and the students fill in as they arrive until the letters are all filled up. We have a member of our athletics staff on top of the press box with me who is talking via radio to organizers on the ground letting them know where we need students added or moved to balance out the letters. The entire process takes less than thirty minutes.


Mark Cornelison, University of Kentucky


I think this is the 6th year for me shooting this. I can’t take all the credit for them deciding to do it in the shape of the state. In previous years it has been in the shape of a Power K, as it’s called. The event is called BigBlueU, and many coaches from various teams come talk and get the kids fired up about upcoming seasons. Cheerleaders, and dance team, etc.

Our freshman class is listed as 5102, but I am sure not all of them showed up to this event! The band does a quick formation to let the kids inside. No string or boundaries, just the band. I went up and shot from the photo deck.  Short progression of lights on, lights off, ribbon light on, and all lights off. Took about 15 minutes give or take.  The exit was not as controlled as it should have been and was like a cattle call out the gate!

In case of rain we would have moved inside which would have killed the photo so we got lucky there.  This year they ran through the progression of lighting pretty fast, faster than I would have liked. One of the field guys said he thought it would look good with just the cell phone lights! Ha! Part of the point is for the kids to have their first class photo, but it did make a cool shot.  I slowed the shutter on some of it to burn in the little light there was.

(Check out a video of the making of the photo here. The “lights out” happens at 1:00 and is particularly good!)


Kelly Dunn, The University of Southern Mississippi


It was my first time to do a large group spellout or anything outside of a square (which really did not turn out to be a square). This group is freshmen and transfers new to campus who participate in GEWW (Golden Eagle Welcome Week). A rough estimate of participants is about 2000.

The band director did create a computer-generated shape of the letters for us to follow but they were not available to assist in the process of organizing. We were on our own for that. We used nylon rope to layout out the boundaries of the letters. We had GEWW leaders that helped "outline" with the rope and direct the students. We shot it from the very top of the stadium. The letters stretched from the 10yd-10yd. From start to finish it took about 1.5 hours to lay out the rope in design shape (which was done prior to students arriving), have students fill in letters, and exit field. 

One thing that seemed to help was doing a run through with the GEWW leaders prior to shooting day so that they knew what would be going on and where to stand. The idea was that their group would fill in the letters near where their leader was standing.

The only horror story is that we are located in South Mississippi and this was done at noon, in August, on a turf field. Temperatures were about 95 degrees and 60% humidity and on turf it was hotter than that. Luckily no one passed out on us!


“What did the pirate say on his eightieth birthday? Aye matey.” Blog stories/ideas welcome any time, email editor Matt Cashore at