In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, many graduations have either gone virtual or have been postponed or canceled yet again this year.
Lots of students want graduation pictures but either don’t want to work in close proximity to a stranger or can’t afford professional pictures to commemorate this rare moment of achievement in their lives.
We’re here to help! We’ve written a comprehensive guide to getting amazing graduation pictures with nothing more than a cell phone camera, a couple of friends or family members, and some common household items for both indoor and outdoor settings.
To begin, we’re going to talk about setting up indoor shots and the best way to set up your lighting. Keep in mind, these techniques transfer over to outdoor pictures as well with a few differences that will be discussed below.
With portrait pictures you want a single light source, ideally facing them, but above them and to the left or right to cast a bit of a shadow across the subject’s face. If you’re using a lamp or other source that might seem too bright, try simply taping a piece of paper over it or throwing any thin white cloth over the source to dim the light a bit. When using an artificial light source, make sure the subject poses 4-5 feet away from it to displace and soften the light.
Another way to create a natural glow is to use a gold umbrella light diffuser. In addition to creating a gorgeous, diffused glow, these inexpensive tools also reduce shadows and can even add a soft focus effect to graduation photos.
Next, if you have a friend or relative who can lend a hand, have them hold a piece of printer paper on the opposite side of the subject’s face from the light source (just beyond what the camera sees). This will help to shine some light upon the face to get rid of hard shadows on the neck and jawline. This can also help give definition to the jawbone and cheeks, making you appear your best. Since you can review photos immediately, try playing with the paper to find the best angle- you can even play with more than one sheet or bending a sheet slightly to see how it affects the lighting on the happy graduate’s face.
Without the reflector, you will get a more emotional photo, but beauty shots will look better with one. It’s amazing how much light a piece of computer paper can reflect and make a huge impact on how a portrait comes out. If you have high-gloss or photo paper, these could cast even more light to balance out the portrait, but otherwise simply use the whitest, cheapest printer paper you have, and you’ll be surprised by what a difference it makes.
Next, if you’re planning on taking pictures outdoors, look at a satellite view of the location you plan on shooting and try to plan around the position of your light source- the sun! The “golden hour” that photographers love so much is an hour or two before sunset, so look for pretty places where the sun won’t be blocked when it’s not yet quite low on the horizon to the West. You ideally want the sun to be behind the subject, but obviously out of the photo itself.
Next, use those handy printer paper tricks we mentioned earlier, and combine these efforts with the flash on your cell phone to balance out the lighting and cast a glow on the face of the subject. Like we discussed above, playing with the light this way will help to remove hard shadows on the neck and jawbone, and using your flash will compensate for the sun back-lighting the subject.
This paragraph may seem like common sense to some, but it’s worth mentioning. Make sure your gown and graduation stole are ironed and wrinkle-free because it will definitely show up in photos. If you’re shooting outdoors and it’s windy, your grad stole may fly around instead of sitting flat for the shoot. We recommend simply taping coins to the back to weigh them down, or design a custom graduation stole with The Sash Company and ask us to sew optional weights in to prevent your grad stole from flying about.
Also, just a quick reminder from a previous blog post to choose your outfit properly! You can find that post here if you need a refresher!
Finally, let’s discuss the best way to pose your body for graduation photos. Although you’ll feel a little silly doing it, you want to bring your neck slightly forward and lift your chin up a little. Imagine the angle your neck is when you look at your phone- then lift the head up to face the camera. From a side-view, you will look strange, but from the front, you’ll come off as confident and more proportionate. Plus, this will continue to help in hiding a double chin and defining your neckline.
Since you’re using your own cell phone or digital camera (and not taking up an expensive photographer’s time), try playing around with different poses where your body’s concerned. Don’t be afraid to get creative! Some examples we really like:
In conclusion, the biggest factor in how your graduation pictures turn out is going to be your light source and how you manipulate it to work for you, and not against you. Don’t be afraid of using a diffuser and removing some light if it’s too harsh, and try different poses until you find one that comes out great in your photos. We want to wish a heartfelt congratulations to the 2021 graduating class, and we hope you get some beautiful photos to capture this memory!