Class of 2020: A “Group” Photo in a Pandemic

In a pandemic, nothing is guaranteed. And during uncertain times, having something as simple as a class photo can really resonate with a student when many schools continue their curriculums online. Photographer Thomas McMorris set out a few months ago to take group portraits for the Class of 2020 graduates at Salem Washington Academy in Salem, New York, and at Granville Central School in Granville, New York. The question for McMorris became: How could he take these shots while group gatherings were being restricted (and still are)?

Class of 2020 graduate gets photographed by McMorris,to be added to group photo later on.
All Photos © Thomas McMorris

McMorris, a retired Salem Washington Academy teacher, is also a longtime school photographer—having captured graduating seniors in their caps and gowns for the last 40 years. “For decades, it has been a tradition at Salem Central School that graduating classes take a photo together on the school grounds,” says McMorris. “Obviously, though, in the midst of a pandemic, this graduating class wasn’t able to get together in person to take their photo.” Not a problem for McMorris, though, who came up with an easy, and safe, solution in the end.

Class of 2020 school grounds at Salem Washington Academy

Using social distancing and a green-screen, McMorris photographed Salem’s 39 graduates, individually, in their caps and gowns. Using Photoshop, he then superimposed the photos onto an exterior shot of the school and empty risers (above). He followed a similar scenario for neighboring school Granville’s graduating class (see those images in the gallery at top).

All the pieces slowly come together for "Group" photo using Photoshop
"Group" photo at Salem Washington ACademy

To take the photos, McMorris used a Canon T7i, Promaster Professional Studio lights and some Pocket Wizards.

“The background used was a muslin chromakey green screen on a portable background frame (as shown below in the Granville shoot),” says McMorris. “I took the individual pictures in one day.  The students had their temperatures taken upon arrival, and were asked if they had been exposed to anyone who was sick before they could come into the room. I used a face mask when necessary and kept about 15 feet from the students when taking the pictures.”

Thomas McMorris photographs a graduating student
A green screen was used for each individual image.

The photographer sold each school an 8 x 10 for each student in the class at the regular rate and did not charge extra for putting the pictures together. “The students and their parents were beyond thrilled to receive their photos,” says McMorris, whose story was featured on Good Morning America as well as on a local TV news station.

When asked by NEWS10 ABC’s Anya Tucker what McMorris hopes these students carry with them when they look back at the photo 15 or 20 years from now, he responded quickly:

“Well, I think they are going to have a lot of emotions about it because they missed out on a lot of things during the school year. But they can also hold up this picture and say, ‘This was special.’”

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