Friday, May 10, 2019

Tips for photographing graduate portraits and a graduation ceremony

It is that time of year when a lot of kids are graduating from high school and college. Our daughter, Ali, worked really hard and just graduated with a BBA degree from the University of Portland. Go Ali!!

Being a photographer, I was excited to document this momentous occasion for Ali and her friends. Also, because her graduation was early in May, it gives me a chance to share my best photography tips with all of you, not only of the graduation ceremony, but also for portraits before and after the big event.

So...for all of you about to head to a graduation, my hope is that this will help you capture great photos of your own.

Here are my top 12 tips for taking portraits before the graduation ceremony:


1. Find a good location on the campus that shows the school name or marquee buildings (preferably with even light)


2. Do formal poses, but also let them have some fun!


3. Do individual and group shots (individuals at f/4 and groups at f/8)



4. If you can, choose a time in the morning or late afternoon for best light. If not, search for a neutral area (like this doorway).



5. If the kids have decorated their caps, make sure to have them turn around to get some fun shots of this.



6. Shoot for a variety of looks. I did group shots and individual portraits for each of the girls at multiple locations.


7. Use an on-camera flash (I used my Canon 600EX-RT flash in TTL mode, turned down to -1 in power) to add just a little bit of fill light to your subjects. I did this for almost every photo in this blog post.



8. Take photos of the kids with their caps and gowns, but also without them. Here, we decided to get a portrait of Gabi with her stethoscope, since she graduated nursing school.


9. If you have to shoot in direct sunlight, have your subjects turn their backs to the sun and use your flash to add light to them.



10. If you are taking portraits with a bright background, you will need to set your camera correctly. This photo (above) was taken with the camera in manual mode (ISO 160, f/13, 1/200). Here is how I came up with those settings. I knew I needed a shutter speed less than 1/250 sec (for the flash to sync correctly). I set the ISO to a low number, and then adjusted the aperture to get myself a proper exposure (using the meter in camera) with a shutter speed around 1/200 sec.


This is the same image taken without the flash turned on. I then powered up my Canon 600EX-RT flash to full power, got close to the group, and fired the camera. This photo was captured with just the one flash lighting the group. As you can see, I also brightened the image in Photoshop to bring out the building and grass.


11. Get creative! The girls wanted to get a photo of themselves in front of the bell tower, but the lighting was not good. But I looked up and thought it would be fun to do a group shot with them huddled above me. I was laying on the ground, looking up at them, and used my flash with a MagMod MagSphere diffuser to spread the light onto all of them.


12. Show off their accomplishments. In this case, Gabi and Katie had just graduated from nursing school and wanted to change into their scrubs. After doing some formal shots, I suggested that they have a little fun with the stethoscope.

And now for some tips on taking photos during the actual ceremony.


1. If you can sneak down (without being intrusive or in others way), try and get a portrait of your graduate amongst their peers.


2. Before the ceremony starts, check out the lighting in the room (if it is indoors) to see what ISO you will need to get a decent photo. In my case, I used my Canon 5D Mark IV with the Canon 70-200 2.8 lens. The room was moderately lit, and in order to get a reasonable shutter speed (between 1/150 and 1/250 sec) I determined that I needed to set my ISO to 3200 and shoot at f/2.8. I chose not to use flash, since I did not want to disturb the others.


3. Track your subject. I set my focus mode to IO Servo so that the camera would track my daughter's movement and keep her in focus as she walked.


Using all those settings really paid off. The wide depth of field (using f/2.8) helped to separate Ali as she walked off the stage, the IO Servo focus mode helped keep her in focus as she moved, and the shutter speed was just enough to freeze her in action as she made this classic "Ali expression".


After the ceremony, we met our daughter outside. I wanted to get a photo of her with her diploma (which was not inside yet). I moved her to a shady spot and grabbed this image. I used an aperture of f/5 to get both her and the diploma holder in focus but blur all the people behind her.

I hope this helps you get great photos of your graduate during this important time of year!

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1 comment:

Jeff said...

These are very creative photographs that capture the mood and fun of the day; great job! Congratulations to you and your family as well!