Tips for Taking Great Graduation Pictures

Capture everything on this memorable day

Graduate celebrating with loved ones

Getty Images/Alyson Aliano

Graduation is a special time in our lives, whether you’re graduating or a relative is graduating. Either way, it’s a huge milestone that you’ll want to remember. It can be disappointing when your graduation photos don't turn out well because you'll not be able to recreate this moment. Learning how to take graduation pictures properly is a must before the big day.

Graduation is a rare opportunity to catch possibly a once-in-a-lifetime moment, just like the first day of school was. The following graduation photography tips can help your photos receive an A+ grade!

Be Prepared for All Shooting Conditions

Make sure your camera is in good working order, your memory cards are clear, packed and ready, and your batteries are charged.

As you're preparing your equipment for shooting great graduation photos, keep in mind exactly what kind of shooting conditions you'll encounter. If it's an outdoor graduation, you probably won't need the flash unit, for example, but you will need to think about the position of the sun. Try to compose the frame so the sun is to the side, not directly behind you (the shooter) or the graduate. This will avoid forcing the graduate to squint and avoid harsh shadows in the photos. Or make use of the sun in an artistic way, as shown in the photo here. For an indoor graduation ceremony, you may want to find a camera that performs well in low light conditions. If you're going to be seated far from the graduation stage, consider a camera with a long zoom lens.

Position Yourself Well

Some ceremonies will allow parents and other guests to sit near the graduates, perhaps allowing you to capture spontaneous photos during the ceremony. Others may march the graduates on the edge of the seating area or through a middle aisle. Try to get close to the stage, either by getting a seat close or asking the school where you can take pictures. They may not let you get right next to the stage, but it never hurts to ask. Or figure out if you can leave your seat to move closer to the action. Understand where the graduates will be during particular portions of the ceremony, and pick a seat in a location where you can shoot some cool photos. You may want to arrive extremely early to sit in the desired location.

Prepare for the Types of Photos You Want to Shoot

It pays to think ahead about what types of photos you want to create, both during and after the ceremony. You may want a two-person photo with only the graduate and a special relative, friend, teacher, or coach. Or you may want to record some group photos with the graduate and his or her friends from choir, band, football, or the math club. Because the scene after graduation can be crazy with people running everywhere, you need to plan ahead to ensure you know which people you need in which photos, so you can track the location of everyone properly.

Spontaneous Photos

Not all photos have to be staged and planned in advance. Candid shots are sometimes the best photos you’ll ever capture. Think of all the touching and special moments that precede and follow a graduation ceremony: hugging family members, dressing in the graduation robes, and chatting with friends. Capture all the smiles, hugs, and tears that you can, when you can. It will all be over before you know it.

Join in the Fun

Don’t forget to include yourself. Ask a friend or family member to take a few pictures of you with the graduate. It's so easy to get obsessed with taking pictures that you forget none will feature you. You could arrange to split up time behind the camera between yourself and another person.