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The Sash Company Blog

Where we share all things sash & stole!

The Sash Company Blog

Where we share all things sash & stole!

How To Take Beautiful Graduation Photos On A Budget

Grad Blog

In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, many graduations have either gone virtual or have been postponed or cancelled, and 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 taking amazing graduation pictures with nothing more than a cell phone camera, a couple friends or family members, and some common household items for both indoor and outdoor settings.

     1)     Lighting is Key

Indoor Graduation Photo Portrait Lighting

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 be 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.

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 up on the face to get rid of hard shadows on the neck and jaw line. This could also help to hide any extra chins you acquired over this Coronavirus lockdown, giving definition to the jawbone and cheeks. 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 it. 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.

Outdoor Graduation Photo Portrait Lighting

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.

     2)     Dress to Impress

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 get the optional weights sewn in to prevent this.

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!

     3)     Strike the Right Pose

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’ve found that we really like include:

  • Holding up your diploma in both hands either near your body and a little off-center, or holding it out from your body with confident pride
  • Sitting in a park or somewhere on campus that’s important to you, with one leg stretched out a little further than the other, hands either on your lap or holding your diploma (Don’t slouch!)
  • Leaning back against a wall of your favorite building on campus, arms casually holding your diploma near your hips
  • Striking a power-pose with one hand on your hips and one by your side
  • Confidently holding the front rim of your graduation cap with forefinger and thumb, as though tipping your hat to the world for acknowledging your success (Make sure your hand is a bit to the side and that you use our lighting techniques to avoid a shadow over the face)


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 2020 graduating class, and we hope you get some beautiful photos to capture this memory!


3 fun ways to CUSTOMIZE your Graduation Stole!

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