Are you or one of your loved ones preparing to graduate from university or college this year? If so, congratulations! Graduation day is an exciting milestone in any student’s life, and is an event that you’ll want to remember forever. While the current COVID-19 pandemic may have put graduations plans on pause for now, it’s not all bad: The slight delay just means you have plenty of extra time to practice your photography settings and poses.

To help you nail your graduation day photos when the time comes, we’ve teamed up with the photography experts at Ted’s Cameras. From the best graduation photo poses to advice on how to perfect your lighting, discover their top 5 tips for taking creative graduation photos now.

1. Take a mix of posed and candid shots

We all know the iconic graduation shot: That moment when everyone tosses their hats in the air and beams from ear to ear. But some of the best graduation photos are actually snapped before and after the famous toss. Start taking photos early, and try to be discreet – candid photos snapped when your subject is relaxed and unaware that the camera is even on them are often the most natural.

As for where to take graduation photos, the only limitation is your imagination. Feel free to start shooting on the way to the ceremony venue, during the robe fitting, and while the graduate is walking onstage to collect their diploma. As a bonus, photos taken in motion will help show off the great outfit that’s no doubt beneath the robe.

After you’ve taken a few graduation family photos, take photos of the students milling with the crowd, greeting their fellow classmates, and chatting about what the future holds. During the ceremony, you can also photograph their reaction to their name – or their friends’ names – being called out. These small events are just as memorable, and those photos will help you to capture the overall atmosphere of the graduation.

Top Tip: For classy photos that will stand the test of time, avoid wearing distracting accessories and go for natural-looking makeup (if any).

2. Involve the graduate’s friends

Students spend a good chunk of their lives in class, and some of the friendships made at university are lifelong. So, pay close attention to the people the graduate is gravitating towards, and be sure to include them in your photos.

When they flip through those photos in a few years’ time, they’ll treasure those images with their friends as much as any of the others taken on the day. At some point, try to gather everyone from the graduate’s circle of friends for a group photo – another graduation tradition! Afterward, you can even send everyone in the photo their own copy of the image so they can display it in their own homes.

Top Tip: If you’re the person graduating, help your photographer out by pointing out your close friends ahead of time.

3.Think carefully about lighting

Lighting can make or break a photo. Lighting that’s too bright will give you harsh shadows, while lighting that’s too low will make your subjects blurry or hard to see. To make sure your graduation day photos are frame-worthy (or Instagram-worthy!), there are a few lighting pointers to keep in mind.

  • If you’re outdoors, use the sunshine to your advantage. Play around with positioning your subject with the sun as a backlight, and using your flash as fill to take portrait photos. This technique works especially well if you can find some shade to shoot from, and leaves you with bright, crisp photos. Plus, the bright background means you won’t need to worry about photo backdrop ideas for graduation.
  • If you’re indoors, turn up the ISO. The higher the number, the more sensitive your camera is to light. Since you’re working with indoor lighting conditions, you want to use faster shutter speeds and a higher ISO to minimise blurring and avoid ending up with “grainy” photos.

When you’re experimenting with lighting, your camera might struggle with colour casts. If this happens, try to adjust the white balance accordingly. By doing this, all the colours will look exactly how they’re supposed to.

Every digital camera has a list of white balance settings you can choose from. These are the key settings to know, and when to use them:

  • If you’re shooting outside in the sun – Daylight.
  • If you’re shooting outside in the shade – Shade.
  • If you’re shooting in low light or on an overcast day – Cloudy.
  • If you’re shooting indoors  – Tungsten or Fluorescent.

4. Pack a versatile lens

A group shot requires a wide field of view, while a tightly cropped shot of the graduate receiving their diploma requires a much narrower field of view. However, there’s a small problem: Unlike a regular photo shoot, you probably won’t have complete control over the scene at a graduation ceremony. For example, you might not be able to get up close to the graduates during the ceremony.

To get around this, you’ll want to come prepared and pack the right lenses. If you can only bring one lens, go for a wide or standard zoom lens. These lenses offer multiple focal lengths, so you don’t need to stress out about switching lenses and potentially missing the perfect shot. To zoom in or out, all you need to do is rotate the ring barrel.

For larger events, you might need to pack two options, or opt for a telephoto lens. Perfect for photographing faraway subjects, these lenses have a long magnification – usually 60mm to 135mm. They’re also great if you’re shooting from an elevated position, like the second or third tier of seats in a function hall.

5. Prepare for the hat toss

Last but not least, make sure you’re primed and ready for the moment everyone waits for: The hat toss! The toss is quick and a little tricky to capture, but these tips should help you to nail the graduation hat photo:

  • Get low and aim up. This isn’t just an interesting vantage point – it also gives you the best opportunity to snap more of the hats as they soar in the air.
  • Choose a faster shutter speed. Think 1/250 of a second or faster, and remember to bump up your ISO to match.
  • Use your camera’s continuous shooting function. Let your camera do most of the work, and hold down the shutter button from the beginning to the end of the hat toss.

Learn how to take good graduation photos

Graduation is undoubtedly a life-defining event for any student, and a huge milestone in their personal and professional journey. Even if the actual ceremony is still a few months away, these photography tips will help you get prepared to take the most memorable graduation photos when the time comes.

Searching for more photography advice and exercises to keep you busy in the meantime? Visit Ted’s Cameras blog today!

Written by Ted’s Cameras