Whether you are taking pictures of high school, college, or kindergarten graduation here's a terrific shot list to get you started along with some handy tips to help you nail each shot. Good luck!
The Standard Shot
First, nail the basic shot showcasing the cap, gown, and all the graduation swag. The key is to find a setting with a background that is NOT distracting. 🚫 Avoid lots of colors and lots of the people so the focus is on the graduate!
Bonus points if it is not in front of your garage. 🤡
Everyone takes the far away shots. But how about some close ups too? Bonus points ⭐️ for having your tassel charm facing the camera.
3. The devil 😈 is in the details! If you've never used an iron before, this is your sign that it's time to learn how to do this. Because the gowns and the sashes come pre-wrinkled for you. (Often, quite a bit.) So smooth everything out so your pictures won't have distracting wrinkle grid lines.
The jump shot is tricky.
First, if you are wearing heels decide if this is even worth attempting: if there's a chance you might not stick the landing, don't do this! Nobody wants to be on crutches at graduation!
Second, you can give this a shot while wearing your cap & gown. But check your camera to make sure you got it. Often the front of the gown pops up and obscures your face.
➡️ Pro Tip: If that happens, just take the gown off and do the jump with your cap.
The Glitter Blow
A glitter blow is super fun!
Now I'll let you in on a little secret: I don't use real glitter. It's an environmental nightmare. So this is all done in post.
But if you are going to do this please lay down a sheet or old blanket on the ground in front of you so it's easy to clean up afterwards.
➡️ Pro Tip: what you want to buy is metallic confetti, in the largest chunks possible. That will photograph the best.
The Cap Toss
The cap toss is a classic. There are two versions.
1. Throw the cap like a frisbee.
➡️ Pro Tip: Aim to hit your photographer in the chest.
For Photographers: Be careful if you are asking a senior to do this who happens to be a competative discus thrower! Maybe ask them to go gentle, or else you may find yourself startled and having your senior say, "Wait, was I not supposed to actually hit you?!?" 😜
2. Throw the cap straight into the air.
➡️ Pro Tip: have the flat part of the mortar board face the camera, and give it a very small toss, again, frisbee style but this time up instead of out.
Signs! Sometimes colleges send out these super cute signs when you get admitted. SAVE THESE! They often have your school's slogan on them and are great to include in your graduation pictures.
Pennants! If you didn't pick one up from the college bookstore when you went to tour, you can get one online. You're probably going to want to decorate your dorm room with one of these anyways, so get it early and get a shot with it!
College Tee/Sweatshirt! Same as with the pennant. You are going to get a LOT of use out of this, so get it early.
➡️Pro Tip: there will be several different design options to pick from: get one that has large, bold lettering in the center (or the mascot!). This shows up better in pictures than text that is small and/or off to the side.
I hope this helps you shoot a wonderful graduation portrait! And in case you were curious about the photoshoots featured in this post: I offer cap & gown shoots to all of my existing senior portrait clients.
I am a teen, tween, and high school senior portrait photographer in the SF east bay area.