Saturday, June 11, 2011

Photographing a graduation

For our family, the last 4 days were all about graduations. Tis the season for graduations and my daughter joined the throngs of kids who graduated from middle school and are heading to high school. Her school had a 45 minute ceremony on Thursday afternoon at 4pm. The sun was out (which has not been a normal occurrence this summer) and it was pretty warm. All this direct sunlight made it tough to take pictures of the kids during this outdoor ceremony.

The sun was to our backs and the poor kids had to look into the direct sunlight for the hour.

I took this picture of my daughter using a 70-200mm lens with a 1.4x adapter, giving me a 300mm equivalent on the Canon 5D Mark II. Not the greatest of shots, but the best that could be had, given the tough environment.

I had the advantage of using a good camera and knowing how to control the light (as much as I could). Most of the people who attended did not have this luxury. As a matter of fact, as you can see, many of them were using their cell phones to take pictures and video. So I decided to write this blog to help others take good pictures of their loved ones during this special day.

First tip: Take a lot of photos to ensure that you get great expressions. If you have enough memory in your camera (and I was armed with a Lexar 32GB 600x Professional CF card), take a lot of images to capture your subject at their best. There was numerous kids who had the self confidence and composure to stand up and sing in front of everyone. I took at least 15 pictures of this young girl so that I could get that perfect expression on her face. 

Tip 2: Make sure to capture the key moments. Just like a wedding has the exchange of the rings and the first kiss, the graduation has the handover of the diploma. This is a moment that you do not want to miss.

Tip 3: Make sure to take pictures of your child with their favorite teachers (and principles). Most of us have the one or two teachers who not only inspired us, but also made our school time more enjoyable. Make sure to document that in your family history.

Tip 4: Look for those un-posed moments. After the graduation ceremony, I saw everyone posing their children with their friends and family. Sure, you want to get some posed images, but don't forget to take pictures of your child and their friends showing "real" emotion. You will not get these same reactions in a posed shot!

Tip 5: This might be the most important tip for your posed shots - know where your light is coming from and use it to your advantage. Most novice picture takers do not think about the lighting situation and often take pictures in the worst possible environments. If you really want a nice keepsake, take the time to move your subjects or yourself to use the sunlight to your advantage. In the shot above, our friends asked me to shoot this picture of father and daughter. I took the image quickly and then asked them if they would turn around so that the sun would be at their backs and not directly in their faces.

This second shot was taken about 10 seconds after the first shot. You will notice how much nicer this shot is! In the first shot, both father and daughter have raccoon eyes (with deep shadows) and they are squinting due to the blinding light coming directly into their eyes. I moved behind them, they turned around, I framed the shot...and voila... Not only do I have nice lighting on their faces, but I also have beautiful hair light coming from the sunlight behind them. So much better!

Tip 6: Make sure to get a family picture. Since I am the family photographer, it is rare for me to be in the pictures. But, I really wanted to have a picture of the family to remember this day. Luckily my daughter's photography teacher was talking with us (she actually became teacher's assistant - making dad very proud) and I asked him if he would take my camera and grab some images of the four of us.
Thanks Mr. Lozano!
Tip 7: Make sure to take lots of pictures of your child and their classmates. This will likely be the last time that they are all together in the same school, and it is a nice way to remember the tight-knit group.

Tip 8: Be proud of the accomplishments of your child. I am!