It’s that time of year again – time for graduation portraits. Looking good at graduation is always a bit tricky because you have to wear the quintessential robe and cap. Quite frankly, this is not always the most attractive look. So in today’s blog post, I will share my top graduation portrait photo tips to help you rise to the top of your class, even while wearing the most unattractive of robes.
Let me start off by introducing you to Bailey, who will be graduating this year from St. John’s University. She is one smart cookie, who is planning to become a pastry chef. She will be graduating from St. John’s with a degree in business, so you know Bailey will be fully prepared to make some dough – both literally and figuratively. (OK, I promise that’s it for the bakery puns.)
My photo shoot last week with Bailey took place on campus. We met at the main entrance to St. John’s University – gate number one – and worked our way across the property. I had asked Bailey ahead of time for a list of her favorite spots on campus and incorporated all of these locations into my shot list. Here are my top graduation portrait photo tips from my time with Bailey.
Graduation Portrait Photo Tips – What to Wear
Coordinate your outfit with your robe. Make sure that the outfit you wear underneath your robe doesn’t clash with the color of your robe. In Bailey’s case, her dress was the perfect contrast to her red robe. You will take most of your photos with the rope open, so plan for your outfit underneath to be on display. In addition to selecting a solid, coordinating color for your outfit, I would also recommend downsizing your accessories so that these do not clash with any robe accoutrements such as tassels or sashes.
Make sure your graduation robe is wrinkle free. Wrinkles are very difficult to get out in post processing. Most graduation robes seem to be made from flammable polyester and don’t wrinkle that much, but just keep this in mind and give your robe a thorough steaming before the photo shoot.
Graduation Portrait Photo Tips – Grooming Tips
Prepare yourself for ‘hat head.’ Everyone hates the graduation cap because of what it does to your hair. You are going to be taking photos with the cap on and off all throughout the session, so just come prepared. I always bring a mirror with me, but you should also bring whatever tools you need to jack up your hair.
Keep the cap in the frame. By the way, I know everyone hates the cap, but it does kind of complete the outfit, and it is the one item of clothing that most identifies you as a graduate. So even if you do not want to wear it, at least be holding the the cap somewhere in the picture.
Take a look at your nails. You will be holding your cap or diploma or sashes in at least a few photos, so take a second look at your nails. Take care of any ragged cuticles and chipped polish ahead of your portrait session.
Graduation Portrait Photo Tips – Posing Tips
Typical graduation portrait poses. Here are some starting poses for a graduation portrait session. Note these are just starting points, and you should always feel free to make a portrait your own with your own moves (dab on!).
- ‘Normal’ portrait: body turned at a three-quarter angle to the camera. Put your weight on your front foot and lean into the lens. Leaning into the lens – or projecting yourself towards the camera – is how you prevent a double chin.
- Walking down the sidewalk, both looking into the camera and away
- Showing off the sashes
- Throwing your cap in the air
- Playing with a cap or adjusting the cap on your head
- Ladies, pop a leg up
- Looking back over your shoulder with the sash showing backwards
- Walking away, and looking into the camera (or not looking into the camera) and having your robe and sash, held on your shoulder
- Anything with champagne (or bubbly apple juice if you are not of age)
- Blowing confetti into the camera (remember to not pollute the grounds with confetti and pick up every piece!!!!)
What are you do with your hands? Well, you can always put your hands on your hips. For gentlemen, if you do have pockets in your pants, you can simply keep your robe open and slip a hand in your pocket. Ladies, you can do a form-fitting hand at the waist and along your side. You can also highlight your sashes. And then there is the CEO pose with arms crossed. For this pose, just make sure you don’t look mad or defensive in your posture. The idea is that you are projecting power, so keep your back upright and your fingers out when you cross your arms.
Don’t throw your cap up too far. If you throw the cap up in the air too far, it goes out of frame. Save the long throws for the Olympics and just give that cap a gentle toss so it is about arms-length above your head.
Graduation Portrait Photo Tips – Location Options
Where to take your graduate portraits. A graduate portrait session is basically like a walk down memory lane. Campus is a great place to take photos, and while I was there with Bailey, they were about three other photo shoots going on at the same time. I always recommend choosing places of interest that mean the most to you as a student. In Bailey‘s case, we chose the Tobin business school, Spirit Rock, the DeAngelo Center, Great Lawn, main gate, and her dorm.
Other creative graduate portrait location options. Your graduate portrait session might also include going inside your dorm room for a few documentary-style shots of what life was like for a college student. If you can gain access, try a few photos inside a classroom, inside the library, or even make a visit to the local cafeteria.
Feel free to include friends. You had a great time on campus making friends, so feel free to make it a group portrait session. You can even include professors if they have time and are so inclined.
Lastly, wear comfortable shoes! You are going to be walking all over campus during your portrait session, so make sure that you are wearing comfortable shoes. At the very least, bring comfortable shoes with you that you can easily slip in and out of.
Bailey will be moving to Manhattan to go to culinary school for a year before tackling more graduate training. I wish Bailey, and all of our 2023 grads, the very best. I know you all have a bright future ahead of you.
Enjoy the images, and I’ll have more photo adventures for you next week!
Interested in viewing more of my graduate portraits? Check out photos from a senior portrait session in Central Park.
Looking to schedule your own graduate portrait session? Drop me a line, and let’s chat about your photography needs.
If you would like to view more images from my portrait portfolio, then please visit my website – KellyWilliamsPhotographer.com