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Graduations are a hugely significant moment in the life of the students who have worked hard and passed their exams to reach another coming of age milestone in the course of their life.
Graduation photographers work to capture the magic moments that make up this memorable day but because of the environment, atmosphere and number of people present, it can be a tough task.
You’re going to have to be aware of the lighting, overcome communication challenges and take powerful photos of the graduation that will stand the test of time. There’s many things that you need to know to get the best results and so we’ll cover the main points in this complete guide photographing graduations.
Don’t Rely on Your Smartphone – Use a High Quality Digital Camera.
It can be easy to think that you can rely on your Smartphone to shoot the graduation ceremony because it’s lightweight and easy to carry around with you. However, you won’t get the best results and although Smartphone technology has certainly improved it still doesn’t stand up to a good DSLR.
A professional camera is far more versatile and can operate well in any lighting conditions. You can also adjust the settings and have far more control over the images you capture.
What Type of Lens Should You Use For Graduation Photography?
If you’re working at a graduation you will ideally have more than one type of lens in your kit so you have the flexibility to adapt to the environment even as it changes throughout the ceremony.
- Wide Angle Lens: If you’re taking photos in a large venue, like a stadium or auditorium, then using a wide angle lens will allow you to get a good view of the entire scene. When you use a wide angle lens you’ll be able to photograph the entire stage during the ceremony, capture the atmosphere on the day and take big group photos of the students from much closer than other lenses would allow you to.
- Zoom Lens: A zoom lens lets you get close up shots from a greater distance – something which is extremely helpful at a graduation ceremony. Even if you’re towards the back of the venue you can still zoom in to take portraits and pick out individual students, while they accept their awards for example. A telephoto lens will give you the maximum focal length however you will have to work with a much shallower depth of field compared to a standard zoom lens. If you’re looking for an ideal all round zoom lens for graduations ceremonies that is versatile and able to handle almost any situation, then a 24-70mm f2.8 standard zoom lens is a fantastic choice.
Using a Large Aperture Will Help You Take Flattering Individual Portraits – Even in a Crowd.
If you’re looking for a creative technique to shoot some lovely portraits at the graduation ceremony then by using a large aperture you can pick out an individual in a crowd while blurring the background with a shallow depth of field. This will give you a clear shot of the person you are focusing on while blurring out the rest of the crowd which will give you a mild bokeh effect.
You can adjust the aperture settings on your camera and to achieve a shallow depth of field you should set it to f/1.8. A large aperture like f/1.8 will help you to single out a particular individual amongst a crowd for a natural portrait that doesn’t feel too cluttered.
However, during the graduation ceremony you’ll want to change the aperture settings. For most photos you’ll probably want to be using a smaller aperture so that you can take more atmospheric images that incorporate the full action, atmosphere and events of the day.
Always Take Spares!
When you’re working at a graduation ceremony – especially as a freelancer or on behalf of your clients – you should always take spare equipment. At the very least, you should have a spare all round camera with you as well as a spare zoom lens. You should also have extra memory cards and batteries with you in case you need to make a quick change during the event.
If you’re going to be on your feet for a long time during the day the easiest way to carry your spare equipment is in a rucksack on your back. This will leave your hands free to take photos while keeping your spares with you at all times for instant access.
Take Some Practice Shots Before the Event Begins.
If you have the opportunity you should try to take some photos of the venue before the ceremony begins. This will give you a chance to adjust the settings on your camera to suit the lighting that you’ll be working with.
You can also use these practise shots to find good angles to shoot from during the event. Remember, that during the ceremony the venue will be very busy and full of people so you’re going to have to find angles and places to shoot from that give you a good view of the action without getting in the way of proceedings.
If, for some reason, you can’t get into the venue ahead of time then as a last resort you can take a look at some photos of the venue online so you have a rough of what you’ll be working with.
Take Photos of the Students Outside the Venue or in Front of the University.
It’s a great portrait opportunity to take photos of students outside the front of their university. These shots will be highly memorable for the students themselves and will give the photoshoot of the graduation ceremony context.
As well as taking some portraits and group photos outside the venue you should also take a few photographs of the university buildings themselves. For these context setting shots you should be using a wide angle lens to get nice panoramic representations of the institution. To keep the background sharp and in focus you’ll need to be using a small aperture setting, such as f/22.
Catch the Unexpected Moments.
To capture those natural moments which are unexpected but often make the best photos you can use the Burst Mode on your camera. The Burst Mode is available on most good digital cameras and will allow you to hold down the trigger and take a quick succession of photos. You can use Burst Mode while the students are walking in groups, chatting in a crowd or, crucially, when they toss their caps into the air in celebration!
Use a Large ISO When Shooting Indoors.
Each graduation ceremony will have different lighting which in many cases will be less than ideal. However, as the photographer you have to be able to adapt to the circumstances regardless of the difficulties.
One of the best ways to deal with low lighting while shooting indoors is to set your ISO at 800 or 1600. The ISO setting regulates the sensitivity of the camera’s internal light sensor and so setting it higher will help you to compensate for inadequate lighting.
As you raise the ISO above 1600 you do risk ending up with grainy photos that have a lot of noise in them however if you need to you can remove this later in post production.
Take Photos of the Students with Their Friends and Family.
When a student graduates it’s not only a time for them to celebrate but it’s also an opportunity to thank their friends and family who helped to support them. For students, one of the most memorable photos they can have of their graduation ceremony is a portrait with their friends, family or significant others.
As a photographer you can set up these shots either before or after the ceremony although it’s usually easier to do so afterwards when things have settled down and people aren’t rushing to get to their seats.
Unless the weather is very bad it’s always going to be better to take the portraits outside in the natural light; possibly with the university or graduation venue in the background.
Try Not To Disrupt the Ceremony!
It may sound obvious, but you really don’t want to disrupt the proceedings by making a lot of noise or moving around. This is especially important in smaller ceremonies that are more intimate.
As you’re taking photos the sound of the shutter clicking open and shut can be quite distracting for people attending the graduation. You can get around this by using the Quiet Mode on your DSLR.
Always Remember to Photograph the Students Throwing their Hats in the Air.
It’s a classic graduation photograph that you can’t forget to take – the students throwing their hats in the air! You can direct the students to stand in a specific way for the photo so that they are standing in a line or a circle.
To make sure that you capture the moment you should use the Burst Mode on your camera so that you can go through the multiple pictures and choose the best one. If you want to ensure that you get the perfect shot you can also ask the students to throw their hats up in the air a couple of times!
Although this might feel a bit staged you’ll end up with better results and when the photos are delivered to your clients they won’t remember that the picture was staged!
Presentation is Key – So How Should You Present Your Photos To Your Clients?
After the excitement of the graduation ceremony is over and you’ve taken all the photos you still need to present and deliver your work to your clients. If you’ve made previous arrangements then you need to fulfill those agreements however you should be prepared to deliver photographs in multiple formats.
You should be able to present your photos in both digital and physical formats. You can send the photos to your clients digitally – either online or on a memory stick. However, you should also offer physical prints that are mounted, unmounted or in book format.
If you are going to be delivering physical photographs then it may well be worth making an arrangement with a local print shop so that you can make some savings while having a reliable business partner who can handle that aspect of your work. This will free up your time and ensure that you don’t need to worry about that side of things.
Photographing Graduations is a Reliable, Albeit Seasonal, Source of Income.
Graduation season only comes around once, or maybe twice, in the year and so you need to be prepared to handle the events in advance. You’ll need to advertise your services ahead of time so that you can secure the work but once you have you can rely on an excellent annual windfall!
It’s an extremely satisfying photoshoot to take photos at graduations ceremonies where you can help the students to create lifelong memories. You’ll also have to learn how to work in busy events in an unobtrusive way while capturing the key moments of the day.
Have you taken photographs of graduation ceremonies?
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