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Proud pup mom, type A creative, lover of the outdoors, Top Chef fan girl, and wedding and portrait photographer. Welcome to the blog!
HI, I'M RACHEL!
Grad season is nearly upon us! So today, I’m sharing graduation photo tips that will help you prepare for your upcoming grad portrait session.
This blog post is long overdue! But I’m choosing to look at it like this: I’ve waited until after I’ve photographed dozens (more than a hundred, actually) graduates to really get to know what will be helpful when preparing for your grad portraits. I’ve observed and gotten the chance to understand what works and what doesn’t work. And I’ve distilled those things into these seven tips!
It’s worth mentioning that these graduation photo tips are for solo grad sessions. I have another post coming next week with tips for group graduation photos! So, if you’re having group grad photos taken – these tips still apply – but wait for next week for extra specific tips related to group sessions only.
OK, let’s dig in to my graduation photo tips!
This had to go at the top of the list of graduation photo tips! Yes, the main point of your photos is to commemorate your graduation. But coming in a close second, is that these photos are for celebration! You’ve accomplished something big and put in a lot of work. And now it’s time to celebrate! Let your graduation portraits be a part of your overall celebration. Let it be light hearted and enjoyable! Bring a celebratory mood to your session and let’s have some fun!
Bring (and Wear) All of Your Graduation Outfit Pieces
Your graduation regalia comes with a lot of pieces, and they are all signify different things. Each piece (gown, stole, cord, hood, cap/tam) is indicative of something: what level of degree you’re getting, what you studied, your honors, your service hours, and whether you’ve officially graduated or not. It all means something so you’ll want to bring each piece to showcase the totality of your accomplishments in your photos.
Some graduates choose to not wear their cap or tam in their photos. I will never force you to wear a piece of your regalia. And if you choose not to wear it, we can still feature it in your photos so you have a complete look. But I want to make a case for why you should wear the cap/tam!
Wearing the cap/tam with your gown, stole, cords, and/or hood is the complete look and really screams – graduate! I bet your parents will love those photos of you really looking the part. If you wear the cap/tam, we can use the tassel to signify that you’ve graduated by moving it to the left side. A lot of people worry that it will mess up their hair. We can be careful about that! Others don’t like they way they look. And I get that – they’re not super fashionable! And at the same time, it’s a big piece of the graduate look and I am an advocate for wearing it in at least some of your photos.
Decide If You Want to Bring Props
Props relate back to my first tip about having fun. They do add an extra element of fun to your photos, as well as to your enjoyment of the session. Some props I like are streamers, champagne, and balloons. And then I really like unique props that have some meaning to you – like an instrument you play, or your fav coffee from the near-campus coffee shop, or customized Champagne labels. I love when people decorate their caps! Get creative with it!
Props can also be stressful. It’s a lot to coordinate, carry, maintain, clean up after. So it’s up to you to decide what types of props will add to your fun without taking away from it at the same time. Ask yourself what you can handle and what you feel like dealing with. For timing reasons, my suggestion is to limit it to two props at the most. Like streamers (or balloons) and Champagne.
A note on props: a lot of props are messy and I am not aligned with littering or making messes in nature. Especially public areas that other people are using. You’ll see some photos of people throwing confetti in my older blog posts. That was before I realized how I’m not cool with making messes like that. (One group brought a vacuum and cleaned up after themselves, but that doesn’t always work and isn’t always practical.) Long story short: no confetti. Sorry to be such a bummer. If you want to bring the streamers that stay attached to the base, that’s a better idea with a similar effect.
Bring Someone to Assist
You’ll be bringing your multiple pieces of regalia, some of which can be heavy (the graduate level degrees’ gowns are heavier). You’ll have your own belongings, probably in a bag – coat, shoes, brush, lipstick, etc. Maybe you decided to bring a prop or two. Also, you’ll be switching between looks a lot. We’ll be doing photos of you in your outfit; your outfit + your stole/hood; the full regalia. That’s three different looks, and we do all three in each location we stop at. That’s a lot of switching around! It’s super helpful when the graduate has a friend or family member there to help them carry things, and helps them switch looks between shots.
My biggest suggestion with regards to this is to have a chat with your helper before the session. Let them know they don’t need to give you any instruction or make any suggestions. That you fully trust your photographer and want to make the most of your session by listening to your photographer’s instruction and advice. I typically suggest that no one is around for portraits because onlookers tend to butt in and create pressure for my clients. But in this case, it is beneficial to have someone help carry things. And you can mitigate any awkward interactions by having this chat with them beforehand.
Include Pets and Family
This is totally up to your discretion. Some people like to include their dog(s) in their graduation photos. Being an adoring pup mom myself, I totally understand! And I want you to include them if that’s something that’s important to you. My fav was when my client brought a mini graduation cap for her dog to wear. It’s one of my fav pics of all time!
And family. This is a big moment for them too! If you would like to include family in your graduation photos I recommend having them join us at the end of the session. That way you have plenty of one on one time with me to practice, get warmed up to the camera, learn all the poses, and get all of the photos you want. You can do all of that without the pressure of anyone watching you. Family will come in at the end for a round of group photos and then we’ll call it a day!
Prepare Your Outfit for Headshots
No matter what the length of your grad sesh (one hour, 90 minute, two hour), my recommendation is to stick with one outfit. As I mentioned above, we’ll be doing three to four different looks with your regalia so there isn’t time to change outfits. What I suggest is that you plan your outfit with the idea that you’ll be getting headshots in that outfit. Wear something you wouldn’t mind showcasing on your LinkedIn profile. You can always bring a blazer or cardigan to put on for a more professional look, if you want.
I’m including this tip because of all the reasons listed in this post. ‘Nuff said.
Did this post get you excited to book your own graduation photos, headshots, or branding session?! If yes, send me a note and we can chat about what you have in mind: contact me
Hi – I’m Rachel! A wedding, engagements, and headshots photographer in Washington, D.C., Maryland, and northern Virginia. I love helping individuals and couples feel comfortable and confident in front of the camera. If you’re a dog owner, that’s a plus! I’m currently booking 2023 portrait sessions, micro-weddings, and elopements, as well as 2023-2024 weddings.
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Rachel is a wedding and portrait photographer
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