How To Take Pictures at a Graduation Ceremony

Mom and daughter at graduation

Congratulations - you or your child finally graduated! Or maybe it's a close friend who is the graduate. No matter who is graduating, you will want to take pictures of this important occasion. But it isn't as simple as bringing your camera and snapping a picture when your loved one is receiving her diploma. Follow these simple steps and you'll have great pictures by which to remember the day!

  1. Learn where the ceremony will be held. Will it be held in an inside auditorium or an outdoor stadium? Will it be indoors and well-lit? Will it be dimly light?  Will it be outside? If you are going to be way up in the stands in a stadium, or for some other reason far away from your graduate, consider a zoom lens. However, depending how far away you are, you may just end up with grainy pictures, especially if you are using a digital camera.
  2. Find out if flash bulbs are allowed. Some venues or schools may not allow flash bulbs during the ceremony. If they don't, you will want to try to get into the best lighting possible during the ceremony, and take a ton of pictures before and after the ceremony. And remember, the flash doesn't really matter if your subject is not up close - the light has to actually reflect on the person for it to make a difference.
  3. Find out if you can get up and walk to various spots during the ceremony in order to get different shots. The powers that be at graduation may not want people milling around. However, if you can move around, consider what shots you would like. Apart from the obvious shots (aka the graduate getting his/her diploma), a great shot to consider is when the graduate is walking back from the platform or off the stage. A lot of places don't mind if people congregate a bit on that side of the stage, so you may be able to get a close-up shot of the graduate with her diploma. Ostensibly, from this angle, you may be able to get a shot of the "tassle-turn" to the other side of the mortar. Also see if you can sneak up and take a picture of the graduate while she is seated during the ceremony.
  4. Look online to see if the venue has a website. You may be able to ascertain the photographic variables of the site, as well as get some ideas for great shots. You may be able to tell where a good spot to sit would be, as well as good angles. If there are graduation pictures available, you may get some ideas for shots you want to capture that you haven't thought of.
  5. Find out if you have a choice of seating. If you do, there are a few considerations. First, try to get an aisle seat with a clear view of the stage or podium. You may be able to get photos during the ceremony right from your seat. You will need to get there pretty early in order to get an aisle seat - apart from aisle seats being the most comfortable, most people will be vying for the seats with the good view! If you can't get aisle seats, see if you can get seats closer to the back - you won't have as much detail, but people won't mind as much if you stand up every once in awhile to take a picture.
  6. Have more than one cameraman in your party if possible. You can't be everywhere at once - especially if you are the one graduating. Have a friend or family member stationed where the graduates will be entering, one close to the stage/podium, and wherever else you would like pictures from. And if you are the graduate, but want pictures of your friends, give your family a list of their names, as well as their majors, if your school announces by major. Don't expect your family to know divisions such as what school a major falls into off the top of their heads.
  7. Consider your camera. A momentous occasion like this may be time to consider a camera upgrade. If you have a standard digital camera, realize it may not be capable of shooting in bad lighting, of taking pictures of the graduate in motion, that the flash might over/under expose, the focus will be off, the zoom may not be sufficient, etc. Consider either a better digital camera or a good film camera - and learn to use it. Doesn't matter if you have all the features and attachments in the world if you don't know how to use them. You might also consider a digital video camera. You can probably take stills from a digital video and make them into regular prints on your computer.
  8. Take pictures of other "epic moments" of the day. A graduate looking in the mirror putting on her cap can be a great shot. If by any chance you can't get other important shots of the day, this one will be a treasured shot.

Graduation ceremony pictures are great, and obviously you want pictures of the actual event, but also be sure to catch the moments before and after the ceremony. Your graduate will want pictures with friends, with you, and with the rest of your party. Relaxed and happy post-graduation pictures will be as treasured as the more formal, serious shots taken at the ceremony. If you follow these steps, you'll have great pictures of a memorable day!


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