Capture Every Graduation Moment

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I’ll admit it — I failed my child. There, I said it. I goofed. I’m a professional photographer of 20 years, and there I was on graduation day, my one and only daughter walking across the stage, and I was not prepared, camera at the ready. So while I got a couple shots of her in her graduation gown after the fact, those photos don’t really tell the story of the day — a day I know was important to her and that she wanted to remember.

Here’s the thing — I just didn’t plan out the day properly. Now I’m here to help make sure you don’t make that same mistake. Take a look at my graduation day shot list — the list I wish I’d had on my daughter’s big day — and go in ready to capture all those important graduation-day moments.

The trick is to think like a director of a movie, getting not just the standard cap and gown shot, but also the other elements on graduation day that can give your story color and interest.


Here’s what to look for:

  • Set the scene. Every great movie begins with an establishing shot, giving you a sense of where the action is taking place. For your child’s graduation story, that means a photo of the school or graduation venue or a wide shot of the ceremony, if you can manage it.
  • Spotlight on the star.  Most parents take a photo of their child on graduation day in their cap and gown, and it’s certainly an important shot. But it’s often the candid shots that capture your child’s feelings best. Try to photograph them getting ready or putting their cap on, and make sure to take at least one that shows the excitement or emotion of the day (think the jumping-while-holding-their-cap shot or the throwing-their-cap-up-in-the-air shot).
  • Remember your b-roll. In a movie, b-roll is shots of details that help tell a story. Did your grad decorate their cap or put a note inside? Make sure to get a good shot of that, and the tassel and diploma, too. You can add depth to your story by recording the details of the decor at the event or the party celebration afterwards (like the cake or party favors that have personal meaning to the new grad).

  • Best supporting actors. No one gets a diploma alone! Show your grad in their robes, smiling with family members (including you!) or celebrating with teachers, friends, and classmates.
  • The big moment. Capturing the moment your child actually graduates can be tricky. Often, schools hire a professional photographer to take photos of each student walking up and accepting their diplomas, which can let you relax if you miss your moment. But if that’s not an option, or you if you want to take a photo yourself, here’s what to do.
    • On a cell phone — Take a burst of photos, so you’ll have a better chance of getting the shot you want. You can do this on an iPhone and some Android phones by holding down the shutter button in your camera app. Not sure about burst photography? Switch your camera to video mode a catch a video clip of the big moment instead.
    • On a DSLR camera — If you can, change to manual or shutter priority mode, then set your shutter speed to 1/250 of a second to capture the action. Slower than that, and your images may be blurry. You should also set you camera to take a burst of images, since it can be hard to get the timing right when things are in motion.

Once you’ve captured all those movie-ready moments, there are lots of ways to share your child’s graduation story with others. Print out your photos and put together a scrapbook or photo album, or create an actual mini-movie using a video slideshow program, like Animoto. But however you decide to tell that story, your child will be grateful to have their graduation memories preserved in a way they can return to for years to come.


About the Author
Beth Forester is an educator, artist, wife, and mother who loves to photograph people.

Beth discovered her love for photography when her daughter, Katherine, was born. Katherine became her muse and, as she captured the beautiful expressions and precious moments of this tiny new person in her life, Beth realized that photography was the best medium to remember the important people and the once-in-a-lifetime moments that occur in our lives each and every day.

Inspired by her own story, Beth opened a professional portrait studio, Forester Photography. For 20 years she has photographed thousands of families, assisting them in preserving their memories through the photographic medium.

Always a passionate photo evangelist, Beth has recently joined the team at Animoto, where she is helping people to capture, preserve, and share their own memories through video.

Beth’s photos can be found at: http://www.foresterphoto.com/index.html

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