Someone in your life has an upcoming graduation. Maybe your little one is wrapping up his preschool years. Or your not-little-anymore one is graduating from high school. Regardless, you'd like to photograph the graduation and you'd love to sit back, celebrate the moment and maybe even dab away some tears. It's possible to do it all—and to get some great photos in the process—but you need to plan your strategy.
Make a Plan
- Before the graduation ceremony starts, ask yourself what photos you want to get, so you're mentally prepared to try to catch them. But be realistic, taking into account the type of venue and the type of graduation it is. Know that diploma hand-off photos are tough to take. (Nine times out of 10, something goes wrong: Somebody blinks, the tassel swings in front of the graduate's face or you just can't capture it at the right angle. Just realistically set your expectations and don't be too disappointed if you can't get that particular shot perfect.
Get a Good Close-Up
- So many life events get by without what may be the most important photo of the day: a good close-up. Make sure you spend some time on the graduation day alone with the graduate taking photos. This doesn't have to happen at the ceremony itself. If they've got the cap and gown in advance, you can take it before you go to the event. Pay attention to lighting: Try to take the photo near a large window or door, with natural light shining in from the side.
More Graduation Photo-Taking Tips:
- If it's high noon on a sunny spring day, take portraits in the shade to prevent squinting and ugly shadows from the graduation cap. So pick a tall tree and take your pics under it.
- A portrait of the graduate with a significant teacher or professor can be a treasure.
- Dark graduation gowns can throw an auto-exposure camera off. The secret is to expose for the face. It might be a good time to break out the instruction manual and relearn how to put your camera on manual exposure.
- While you're reading that manual, learn how to adjust the ISO. When you're indoors, crank up the ISO and (if there's a decent amount of light) shoot without the flash. Remember: If you stand in the back of the auditorium and shoot with a flash, the only thing you're lighting is the bald spot of the guy in front of you.
- Step back and shoot an overall view of the venue—either the interior of the auditorium or the exterior of the building. It might seem a little boring now, but years from now, when you haven't been there in a while, it can really bring back memories of the day.
- If you're using a digital camera, bring an extra battery, or charge yours the night before. There's always a parent who realizes he has a dead battery moments before the graduation ceremony starts.
- Travel light. You won't regret it if all of your camera gear fits into a purse or suit pocket. Graduation days can be long, with a lot of moving around, and it's easy to leave something behind or to feel weighed down by lots of extra stuff.