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Go behind the scenes: Ursuline Academy photo shoot

September 19, 2019   //   Zehno

Ursuline Academy of New Orleans is known for its legacy of firsts.

It’s the first all-girls’ Catholic school in the nation, founded in 1727 by the Ursuline Sisters — almost 50 years before America. Its trailblazers include the first female pharmacist and first female photographer in the nation.

But its brand hadn’t kept up with communicating its girl power of today.

That’s when Ursuline partnered with Zehno on a branding project. Its new creative concept, “Blaze brighter,” encourages every girl to blaze her own trail, like generations of Ursuline women before. Today’s Ursuline girls become state senators, Fulbright scholars, inventors, local and national business owners, C-suite leaders and more.

To bring the creative concept to life, we started by creating flagship content. A casting call collected stories from all ages, and a multi-day video and photo shoot captured the unique ways Ursuline girls lead and learn.

Go behind the scenes with Zehno to see how we did it.

Define photography style

We chose three types of photography to show the ways Ursuline girls learn and articulate themselves:
• Team-based environmental scenes with girls collaborating on STEM and arts projects — from building robots and designing prosthetic boots to painting self-portraits and acting onstage.
• Still life photography of projects that show how girls take ownership of their ideas and express themselves.
• Black and white portraits depicting girls of all ages as fearless trailblazers.

See a few of our final images for each of these photography types.

Team-based environmental scenes


Ursuline Academy Art Hallway

Photo shoot day was the last day of school so all bulletin boards had been disassembled. For this Lower School shot, we reassembled an art scene in Ursuline’s new color palette.


Still life photography

HS Project

Ursuline specializes in project-based learning, so the use of still life photography suggests “hands-on” without having to use that education cliche. For a high school project, Ursuline students reengineered popular board games with easy-grip pieces and high-contrast graphics for nursing home residents. This shot puts the viewer in the scene, making you feel part of the team.

Ursuline Music Student

This overhead shot of a middleschooler composing her own music on a xylophone focuses on what the student is doing — not the student herself — and adds another dimension to the still life photos.

Ursuline Project

This still life puts the focus on one of the tools of learning: a robot that students build to tackle everyday challenges like picking up an apple or seeing around a corner.

Ursuline Project

We show projects across ages so that parents can envision what their child can accomplish throughout their time at Ursuline Academy. This student’s project brings Ursuline’s STEM + arts approach front and center: Her bucket list includes going to Hawaii, and becoming both an artist and a scientist.


Ursuline Project

Every girl learns to play musical instruments at Ursuline. It’s a core part of the student experience, not an elective hobby. So we propped this third grader with her violin. She’s mastering her bow technique for orchestra concerts, and her expression reflects her tenacity and captures the feeling of playing music at Ursuline.

Ursuline Project

This pre-k star is a bundle of energy, so we gave her hula hoops and let her play. Her unique personality shines through.

Ursuline Project

Who knew that safety goggles could look so cool? This middleschooler who wants to be a chemist exudes confidence and embodies what it means to be a fearless Ursuline girl.

Ursuline Project

We captured this National Merit Scholar who speaks three languages with one of her mixed-media artworks, showing off her individual accomplishment.


Our team worked together to create multiple assets — shooting stills and videos during the same shoot. Check out the spirited brand video in action on Ursuline’s new admissions microsite.

Plan props and logistics

After interviewing Ursuline’s students and learning about their projects and interests, we collected props that would bring their stories to life. 

One of the biggest challenges of the shoot was getting our hands on prop items. Because the shoot happened as the school year was winding down, many class projects were long gone. Other projects were more about ideas and concepts, rather than physical pieces we could photograph. So we dug in every nook and cranny of the school to find classroom artifacts — and even recreated a few — to illustrate the stories about learning.

We designated a prop room, where all found and created objects came together.

Students helped create the props. Early childhood students put the finishing touches on this sailing ship engineered by our team, just as they would build something in class with their teacher guiding them.

Projects stretch from ages 1-18, so we used a common color palette to unify them. And the finished still lifes illustrate the idea of how Ursuline girls learn. By spotlighting projects for every age group, parents gain a sense of the learning process beyond any one lesson.

Conceptualize layouts from the outset

We wanted to bring Ursuline’s key brand messages into our layouts and feature spots across various tools, so we planned shots to accommodate headlines.

This is a final shot of our “Blaze brighter” headline with props that the pre-K students helped build.


This planned layout for our “Flex your brain” brand message somehow survived a very windy day to capture the idea of students approaching STEM and arts subjects in their own ways. Important tip: If your school has a signature pattern, consider purchasing extra fabric for your shoot. We sourced ours a week before the shoot from a local vendor. (For this shot, the headline was added later).

Bring a historic school into modern day

How do you play off a colorful brand when your physical space is a historic building with dark wood tones and the official school uniforms are mostly gray?

We turned off all the lights, opened all the doors, unscrewed overhead halogens and only used natural lighting. The result is warm and cinematic. 

The lighting effect: Focus is less on the surroundings and more on the girls working together.


When used in storytelling, this shot connects a student’s interest in photography with Mother St. Croix, a trailblazing Ursuline sister and America’s first female photographer.


Need help telling your school’s brand story?

We’ve perfected photo shoots over the years through advanced planning, production and art direction. Get our white papers and tips on how to create a great photo plan, how to find the right photographer and negotiate your contract, and organize photo shoot day.

Learn more

Whether you’re considering a brand overhaul or managing a new brand after launch, Zehno can help shape how audiences view your institution. Read more about our services.


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