Tips for Taking Flattering Pictures of Your Graduate

March 18, 2021  •  Leave a Comment

Ahhh!!! The long-awaited graduation day! There is a very good chance that the day could become hectic. Getting everyone where they need to be when they need to be there in the proper attire is no easy feat. Nonetheless, it is so important that we remember the significance of this day. It is one of the days that we dream about when we hold our babies in our arms. We think about all of the challenges and accomplishments that have accumulated from kindergarten through high school. We marvel at the growth and maturity that has taken place in our graduates. We are both anxious and excited about the next steps they are ready to take. It is truly bittersweet. 

Louisville High School 2018 Graduation I have had the privilege of living this day twice as a mother of two talented and accomplished daughters. Both occasions procured many tears and the events seemed to flash before me with incomplete comprehension. When emotion combines with chaos, it is the pictures to which we cling. So, I hope that you will take lots of pictures and that you will use some of my tips to help your graduate look his or her best in these pictures.

My daughter Abby, Class of 2013

My daughter Victoria, Class of 2018

Taking Group Pictures

So many people will be bursting with pride for your graduate and capturing those loved ones in pictures with them will prove to be priceless in the future. When taking those group shots, think about layering your subjects with the graduate in the middle. Be sure to connect everyone where it looks appropriate. Vary heights and clothing patterns or colors to create interest and balance. Go for expression. The more people you have in the shot, the more "clicks" you will want to take in the hopes that one has everyone with their eyes open and a joyful smile. It isn't necessary to include legs and feet if coming in closer will allow you to appreciate those expressions more. Try to choose a background that isn't very busy but helps your subjects to stand out. Avoid backlighting if you don't have flash to compensate. Also, avoid direct sunlight as it will cast harsh shadows on the face and cause everyone to squint.

Madison's Kent Graduation 2020-5738Madison's Kent Graduation 2020-5738


Tips for Making the Gown More Flattering

The traditional cap and gown worn at graduation dates back to 12th century Europe, and have been iconic symbols of this special day. Let's be real... it is not the most flattering ensemble. Our graduates want to look their best on graduation day and that huge gown isn't exactly helpful. Even the most idealistic body type looks like the broad side of a barn in that robe. I have some strategies to help capture your graduate in pictures with the robe that they will actually love.


Leave the Gown Open

One easy tip is to simply unzip the gown and let it hang open. Doing so creates a vertical line from top to bottom and breaks up the solid expanse of material that appears larger than it is. When you can see the form of the body in that opening, the brain fills in the information that can't be seen behind the robe. The perception is one much closer to what the graduate really looks like.


Capture a Side View

Since the gown hangs straight down, a side view is much slimmer than from the front when the body is a flat plane facing the camera. Separating the feet can help to create a flattering silhouette.


Madison's Kent Graduation 2020-5907Madison's Kent Graduation 2020-5907

Twist, Bend, and Block

This tip may sound like a game, but these little tweaks can help a lot. Giving some shape to the body can help it to appear as a real body under that robe. Using something like the well-earned diploma to hold can break up the expanse of the robe. Make sure that the hands can be seen and are not covered by the robe. It can be unsettling to see the big sleeves with no hands peaking out. It reassures the mind that they are connected to the body under all of that material.



Hold the Robe Over the Shoulder

A great strategy for including the robe, but minimizing it, is to take it off and hold it over the shoulder. Now, we can see the cute outfit and that the graduate actually has a waist. I like taking the shot with the robe hanging off the far shoulder so that I see more of my graduate. 



Eliminate the Robe

Some graduates have additional regalia that identifies their accomplishments or positions held. Just featuring those items without the cap or gown can emphasize their significance and not overpower the graduate like the cap and gown tend to do.


Tips for Portraits with the Cap

Like the gown, the mortarboard is not the easiest thing to wear. It is cumbersome and does nothing to complement a hair style. It is, however, a place to connect that coveted tassel. 

Hold the Cap

One easy solution is to hold the cap rather than wear it. That gives the hands something to do. It is still part of the image but not interfering with the ability of the graduate to move and show expressions more freely.

Madison's Kent Graduation 2020-5962Madison's Kent Graduation 2020-5962

Position the Head so the Cap can Flatter the Face

For the pictures with the cap on, there are some subtle adjustments that can be made to create a more flattering look. It is all about the angles. First, think about the angle of the mortarboard. Be sure that you can see some of the under surface of the mortarboard. Those angles will actually help the shape of the face.

Secondly, be sure that the face is not tilted up too much. It is our tendency to lift our chin when we pose for pictures. That presents an angle to the camera that creates problems that aren't even there. A lifted chin causes our eyes to drop and the eyelids get lower making our eyes appear smaller than they really are. A high face angle makes our nostrils more visible and causes our neck to flow into our jawline with no definition. Instead, think about a long neck, push the face a little forward, and drop the chin a touch. This will open the eyes, minimize the nose, and create a nice jaw line. Madison above has mastered this!


Commemorate the Occasion with a Studio Portrait or Portrait Session

Another option is to capture the moment with a professional studio portrait or with a cap and gown session. The studio portrait can include variations of the regalia and utilize a variety of backdrops. A cap and gown session would be very similar to the senior portrait session but incorporate the cap and gown. These sessions are a great time to showcase the college sweatshirt or other apparel to proclaim their future plans. 

Whatever approach is taken or not taken with capturing pictures on graduation day, just be sure to enjoy every moment. Celebrate your graduate and surround yourselves with family and friends (in a Covid-friendly manner). Capture the posed and unposed pictures so that you get the whole sense of the day. And... don't forget to hop into a few pictures, yourself. You will really cherish those one day.

Congratulations Graduates!

Love and Smiles,









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