Welcome to graduation season (and that means lots of graduation photos)! Graduations are celebrations like no other—the ceremonial rituals, the regalia, thousands of friends and family packed into a stadium, and the entire graduating class coming together on one day to celebrate their huge accomplishment and be sent off to their next step in their careers.
High on the list with weddings and gender reveals, this milestone is undoubtedly an occasion to be documented and remembered. For a graduate, graduation day goes down in the scrapbook as one of the most significant moments of their life.
Whether it’s grade school, trade school, or college, graduation day is the culmination of all the time, dedication, heart, and soul students poured into their academic journey.
At a graduation celebration, cameras are sure to be flashing throughout the event. But the graduate and their family will want high-quality photos to look back on and even display in their home. As you prepare to celebrate the graduate’s send-off, use these tips to take wall-worthy photos that commemorate the momentous occasion.
1. Nail down the logistical details of the graduation photos
There’s no question that graduation photos are a big deal. With a milestone so significant, these photos become life-long memorabilia of the years spent earning the diploma or degree. Because of this, it’s incredibly important that you ace the logistics of snapping photos.
First, plan a convenient time frame. It sounds exciting to do a professional shoot on graduation day. However, the day will likely be so chaotic that another item on the schedule could cause stress and chaos. Ideally, you’ll want to schedule the photoshoot a week or two before graduation day. That way, the graduate and family can post and share the pictures on or after graduation day.
Next, use a quality camera. A DSLR will pack the highest quality photos. Even an older DSLR camera with a reliable f/1.8 50 mm lens will capture excellent portraits. A digital or point-and-shoot camera can work as well.
A smartphone, if used correctly, can offer quality photos for printing, as well. Be sure to take advantage of the camera app settings that ensure the highest quality graduation photos. If you’re using new equipment, be sure to familiarize yourself with it prior to the graduation shoot. Especially if you’re shooting on graduation day itself, you won’t want to miss a precious moment.
Once you have this down, you’re ready to start thinking about the creative details.
2. Get the scenery right
The background of graduation photos can help set the scene and memorialize the location where the graduate put in the blood, sweat, and tears to earn their degree.
Do some research on the best location to snap photos. School campuses can be very large—you won’t want to waste time or energy wandering aimlessly looking for the right spot. Ask the expert (the graduate) to think of a few locations they’d like to take pictures. What are some places on campus that are meaningful to them?
If the photos aren’t on campus, search for a background that will not pull any attention away from the graduation. Forests, fields, and finely manicured buildings make for good, simple scenery. Also, don’t be afraid to pull inspiration from creative graduation photos that others have taken and shared on social media and in your social circles.
Finally, know your location and light source. Graduation photos are often shot primarily outdoors, whether it’s on-campus or at another scenic location. Get familiar with your locale in real life or via the internet. And know what time the sun sets; golden hour offers great portrait lighting that’s warm and glittery, with opportunities for artistic lens flares.
3. Add a personal touch to the graduation photos
There is no such thing as a singular path to graduation; every academic journey varies from person to person. Great graduation photos tell a story of triumph, perseverance, and individual passions and obstacles. Showcase the graduate’s unique journey by adding personal touches to some of their photos.
Ask the graduate to bring along some school pride: alumni gear, sports team memorabilia, sorority or fraternity symbols, and extracurricular club logos. And if they decorated their cap for graduation day, don’t miss the opportunity to capture that.
Reach further into the category of personal development and consider the passion projects that helped the graduate enjoy the ride. Incorporate musical instruments, sports gear, and other hobby items if it feels right to the graduate.
Another good way to send the graduate off into their future career is to infuse some items that show off their chosen vocation. Add a stethoscope, hard hat, or teacher’s apple.
Showcase family as part of the journey in creative ways, as well. For example, take an old childhood photo of the graduate and have them recreate the photo to show how quickly the years fly by. If furry friends helped them cope with the stress of school, bring Fido in for a photo or two.
4. Capture the personality of the graduate
While it’s important to take a handful of classic, iconic graduation photos, step outside of that box and get creative. Graduation photos can feel formal and even forced. As the photographer, it’s your job to help them feel comfortable enough to show their true personality.
Experiment with different poses. For example, try some photos seated, walking toward or away from the camera, or even with a hair flip. The key is to create movement and angles that make the photos feel more interesting and natural. As the photographer, you should move around, too. Take a burst of photos while moving around the graduate to find their best angle. Crouch down and capture the “hero shot” of them looking at or past the camera from above.
Another must: Capture the candids. You can try making them laugh to get a big, genuine smile. Also, ask them to move around to make their body language feel more natural. When you take the pressure off, the candid photos will come out beautiful and show the true authenticity of the graduate.
Ask the graduate to hold their cap. This can be done with or without the full gown and regalia on. Have them hold it over their head, throw it up high like they will on graduation day, or hold it out toward you.
Switch up the outfit. Take photos with the full cap and gown regalia, of course. But also try a mix of items. For example, take some with only the cap and their meticulously chosen outfit. Take others with the gown on and the cap in hand. For photos that obviously show the school campus, you can forgo all of the regalia and focus on the graduate’s outfit and smile. In a display set such as a Fracture Storyboard, the photos without regalia will add nice diversity to the photos.
5. Tip your cap to the future to come, and to those who supported the journey
In a nod to the future, gift the graduate a professional headshot that they can use for the job applications and career opportunities to come. Specifically, this shot should be without any of the graduation regalia—just their fancy outfit, a soft smile, and a neutral background.
Graduation is a big moment for the family as well. They get to witness and celebrate the moment that their student becomes a graduate. It is a special occasion where family members near and far turn out in droves to celebrate and recognize the time, dedication, and passion it takes to earn a degree of any kind.
Include these “together memories” by sneaking in a few full-fam photos when it’s possible. This is easiest on graduation day or if the graduation photoshoot is near home. Be sure to ask the graduate if they want this. Then, have them give the family a heads up to be present and ready for their moment. (If you’re included in this moment, remember to bring a tripod!)
You don’t need to spend too much time on these extra shots, but they are a thoughtful addition to a celebratory photoshoot. Acknowledge the people who supported the graduate along the way and, in your own way, contribute support to their future career.
6. Choose the best shots to share and display in your home
With so many creative photos that tell the unique story of the graduate, you will have plenty of wall-worthy graduation photos to show off this huge accomplishment. Some photos work best as a keepsake or in a scrapbook, but there are a certain few that will make a brag-worthy display.
Choose photos where the graduate looks happy, confident, and heroic. In fact, they should be the center of attention in the photo, and the occasion should be clear. Look for photos that also show a little bit of personality. And share the love with any family group photos you may have captured—they make for meaningful decor.
Take it the extra mile and include a series of photos that tell a story in a Photo Wall, tastefully printed and designed for you. Use the personality photos and even older photos that contribute to the story, like a new mom pregnant in class and then at graduation with her child.
With Fracture glass prints, memories become conversation pieces that add a touch of you to your home.