To all you high school and college grads out there, we got our senior year’s cut short. It absolutely stinks, but it’s the price we have to pay to help heal the world. That being said, you should still commemorate your high school or college experience with graduation pictures. If you’re nervous about going out and taking a few photos or want to save some money on hiring a photographer, I’m here to help. Outside of blogging, I have a small photography business where I shoot headshots, engagement photos and graduation pictures. I’ve learned a few things throughout the years and today I’m sharing my tips and tricks with you so you can take your grad photos at home.
When it comes to a location, the best choice would be on your school’s campus. Since that might not be at your disposal right now, try to go with a simple background like white columns or a green, natural background. I don’t overthink background, as long as it’s simple enough to where you will be the focal point of the photo. budding trees, flowers, or architecture is always a great choice. I try to avoid cliche or cheesy locations because those can sometimes date your photos. You want to look back on these photos 20 years from now and not regret the decision you made when taking them.
I don’t love using props in my photos unless it’s your graduation cap, gown, or stoles and cords. Many college graduates like to use champagne in photos too, which I always think is fun, but just make sure to get some without alcohol as well! For high school students, I don’t use any props. I wouldn’t use sports equipment, signs, or chalkboards with phrases written on them. A simple cap and gown will properly communicate your graduation status. If you want to use sports equipment, get dressed up in your uniform and take photos on the court, field, or track.
What to Wear:
Keep things simple. A white dress is always a great idea – especially if you’re taking photos with a group of friends. If you’re not keen on white, try a solid color. The only time to experiment with prints or patterns on an outfit is if your cap and gown are white or black. I always suggest solids though because prints can date a photo. In 20 years, are you going to look back and regret wearing a geometric printed dress?
If you want to have a little fun, try a pop of color in your shoes. This year, I’m wearing a white dress and leopard print espadrilles wedges for graduation. It’s my way of showing my personality without totally dating the picture. Keep jewelry simple, you don’t want that overpowering your cords, tassels and cap! Also, don’t feel like you need to wear the cap in every photo. Let’s be honest, it’s a funny looking hat! Try some photos with cap, gown and decor, then maybe just cap and decor, then decor only, try things without the cap and just the decor and gown…play with it! Options are always a good idea!
I shoot all of my photos on a Canon EOS T5 DSLR camera. I’ve had this camera for years now and it’s taken thousands of photos for me. If you’re interested in investing in a great camera for a reasonable price, this is a great choice! If you don’t have a DSLR camera at your disposal, no worries! iPhones nowadays take amazing photos! Just pay attention to the angles and poses you snap on your phone. Portrait mode is a great setting for those close up options too!
With my DSLR, I use a 32GB memory card so I don’t run out of room when snapping photos. Always take more photos than you need. Seriously snap hundreds, weed through them, and pick out the 15 you like best.
I try to get a plethora of poses and angles. The best rule of thumb to remember is that parents and students want different photos for different reasons. A mother probably doesn’t want a picture of her child popping champagne framed on her wall, but the student wants that shot for Instagram. A mother would love a beautiful close up shot of her child though to frame or to use in a graduation announcement. These photos are for the grad, but also for the parents of the grad. Make sure to get those coveted photos for mom and dad too!
When I edit graduation photos, I tend to stick to white and bright photos. This editing style really allows for all skin tones to pop, and if you wear a white dress, it also allows for the cap, gown and any earned stoles and cords to pop as well. I edit all of my graduation pictures on Adobe Lightroom, which sadly costs a monthly fee. Students however can use a free trial for a month before they’re billed. Take advantage of that opportunity while you’re technically still a student. That being said, the Adobe Lightroom app is free! You can’t edit as many details on your phone as the desktop software can, but it does a pretty great job of adjusting colors and temperatures with no cost to you.
When I edit photos, I create a Lightroom present with my “base filter” which includes basic brightness, black and white adjustments, contrast, warmth, and sharpening adjustments. That saves a lot of time and treats each photo quickly. I then go in on each photo and tweak photos based off of shadows, skin tone, and the background. Remember, daylight and time of day can drastically change each photos.
Here is a before and after of a photo with adjustments on exposure, contrast, brightness, white and black, warmth, vibrance and a few key colors (orange, yellow and purple). Adjustments are simple just moving a toggle either in the positive or negative direction! Just experiment with it until you fine an adjustment you like!