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5 Tips for Planning Your Graduation Photo Session

Updated: Apr 9, 2022

Congratulations! The hard work has finally paid off and it’s time to take a moment, breathe, and look back on the journey that has brought you to college graduation--and create photos that will help you celebrate the moment!

Think about all that you have accomplished to get to where you are right now. Graduating from college has been your goal–your dream!–and you’ve made it. You’ve put in the hours. You’ve made the sacrifices. Maybe it’s taken you longer than expected or you’ve had to juggle work and school. There might even have been times when you’ve wanted to quit. But, thanks to the support of loved ones on your journey, you’ve stuck with it and it’s time to give yourself a huge pat on the back.

This is YOUR moment and it’s time to create the photos that will help you celebrate it.

Here are 5 keys to getting a great graduation photoshoot:

Tip #1 - Tell YOUR story!

Tell YOUR story. Diplomas might all look the same but your road to earning that diploma has been unique and your graduation session should be just as special. Your graduation session needs to tell the story of YOU. This is probably the first time you’ve had any kind of portrait session since high school and you’ve come a long way since then. Who are you now? Are you serious or playful? Studious or social? What excites you about your major and career plans? Who is that person who is ready to go out and take on the world?

Telling that story means paying attention to details and carefully planning your session. Everything from wardrobe to location to important people can be part of telling that story. When you talk to your photographer, don’t hold back. Let them get to know you so they can help you put together all the details.

Tip #2 - Dress for the part

A big part of telling your story is in your choice of wardrobe and props for your shoot. You will probably want your graduation gown, stoles, and other regalia in some of the photos, so make sure you know when you will be able to purchase these. You need to pick them up in plenty of time to modify them according to your personality and interests. Many grads like to decorate their cap to reflect their major or an interest. Some colleges offer a variety of add-ons with fabrics and textiles that connect students to their individual heritage.

What goes on under the robe should also say something about you. Most grads opt for a dressy look to match the importance of the occasion. For women this means a dress (solids are best!) and for men a shirt and tie. These look great under an open gown and add an extra touch of class in photos without the gown. Some students prefer a more casual look that matches their personality. College gear is also appropriate for the occasion. Depending on the length of your shoot, you might have time for a few different looks–the formal look that parents want to see in your photos and something more personal and individual for you.

Props are a great way of showing the graduation mood and revealing your personality. Balloons, books, biodegradable confetti, a champagne bottle, bubbles, and sparklers can all add a little flare to your photos. Keep in mind that some locations have restrictions on items such as confetti and alcohol, so you will want to check before making your plans.

Another nice touch is including an old photo–maybe of your first day of kindergarten–to hold during your session to tell the story of how far you’ve come on your educational journey.

Tip #3 - Choose a location

Your college campus is the natural choice for your session and it offers many possibilities. Some students opt for the popular, best-known spots on campus, but you might also want to think about the campus locations that have the most meaning to you. This could include the building where you took most of the classes for your major or the court where you played a sport. You might choose a campus location that only has meaning for you–such as the spot where you met someone special.

You might also think of including a location in the city or town where you went to college. What are the places where you’ve been hanging out for the past few years? Where did you go to get away from life on campus? If you moved to Southern California to attend college, there are no doubt locations that took on meaning for you in your home away from home. If you are moving away from the area after graduation, what are the special places and the memories there that you will want to take with you?

Tip #4 - Show some gratitude

Even though your graduation shoot is about you, friends and family have also been an important part of this journey. What does your accomplishment mean to your family? Who are the people who made sacrifices so that you could make it to this point? Who supported you along the way and helped you reach this milestone? Who has been your inspiration?

There are many ways to honor these people in your session. Maybe these people could be included in your session. This could mean booking a group session with a few close friends, your sorority or fraternity house, or just including your parents in a photo or two. If your family is far away, you can even include a photo of them in some of your shots. Even if they are not present at the shoot, you could surprise your family with a tribute in your session and offer them a print that can become a lasting memory.

Tip #5 - Find the right photographer

Your graduation story is something very personal and you want to find the photographer who can help you tell it. Here are some things to think about as you make this important decision:

Look at their photos

Review the photographer’s website and social media accounts. Do you like what you see? Do their photos grab your attention? Does their style match your personality? Will they be able to tell your story?

Talk to them

A successful session takes some conversation and planning. You want a photographer who is willing to work with you on creating the session you deserve. There are plenty of photographers who will take your booking but you want to find somebody who listens to what you want and creates an experience that will help you get it.

Your conversation with your photographer also lets you know whether they are a good fit. Do they make you feel comfortable and relaxed? Many grads are concerned about posing. Is this something your photographer will help you with?

Know what you’re getting

Be clear about what exactly the photographer is providing. Do they offer planning conversations? Do they just show up and take your pictures and send you some digitals? Do they offer prints and other products that you can share with family?

Make sure you know how long the shoot will last and how many different looks and locations they are offering. Graduation mini-sessions are often offered at reduced prices, but that usually only allows for one location on campus and may not give you the full opportunity to let your personality shine. If you want to include others, make sure you know the photographer’s policies. Usually including others for a few photos is not a problem, but if the session is really for multiple people, other pricing factors might be involved.

Know your budget comfort zone

Even though your first question is probably about price it is not always the most important part of your decision. Yes, you need to stay within your budget comfort zone, but you also want to end up with an experience and photographs that reflect who you are and what you have accomplished. You can find a photographer in any price range but you will be rewarded when you choose a photographer who can help you realize your story–even if it means paying a little bit more.

Time to celebrate!

You’ve come a long way and you have much to be proud of. Choosing to celebrate this moment in photos will pay rewards for years to come. Talk about it with your friends and family and start the conversation with a photographer whose work catches your attention. And one final word of advice . . .

Book your session early! You want to ensure that you are able to access all prime locations before they get too crowded. And the sooner your book, the sooner you will have your beautiful photos.

Scott Edwards Photography offers personalized photo sessions throughout Southern California. Click on the link below and let’s start talking about your session.

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