Ultimate Guide to graduation portraits Must-know tips: Poses, background and lightning


Graduation portraits

Graduation portraits are the perfect mementos for students to celebrate getting their well-earned degree. We all have the traditional idea of what graduation portrait photography looks like – a graduate posing formally with their diploma in hand, in front of a backdrop. These formal graduation portraits have their place, but, when you hire a personal graduation portrait photographer, you can have your custom graduation photoshoot where you can take unique graduation portraits that are authentic to you. 

Having your graduation photoshoot is great for so many reasons – if your graduation was delayed due to Covid, you can still celebrate by having a photoshoot; you can get high-quality professional photos of yourself with your best friends and family, you can update your home décor with your new grad portraits, and you can be the star of social media with your stylish new photos. 

But how do you style and stage graduation portraits to make them look great? To give you some fresh graduation portrait inspiration, in this post we will cover the following graduation portrait ideas:

    • Graduation portrait poses
    • Graduation portrait background
    • Graduation portrait lighting
    • Graduation portrait attire


Graduation photo hints


Graduation portrait poses

In addition to the traditional poses, we have inspirational ideas that will set you apart from everyone else with these fun and unique ideas.

    • Looking back at the camera: Position yourself so that you’re walking into the distance, and then look back and smile at the camera.
    • Sitting on steps/bench: Sitting on a bench or a set of steps makes for a great picture. Everyone can see how cool, calm and collected you are now that you’ve graduated.
    • Show off your diploma: Show off your achievement by holding your dissertation/diploma/certificate in front of the camera. You can either pose normally or hold it out and ask the photographer to focus on the prop with you slightly out of focus, emphasising your accomplishment.
    • Throwing the cap: This one’s a classic. No graduation is complete without a photo of the graduate tossing their cap in the air!
    • Throwing papers into the air: Show everyone that you’re well and truly done with final exams by throwing your papers into the air.
    • Holding balloons: If you’re the kind of grad who loves to celebrate, you have to pose with balloons to mark this momentous occasion.
    • Throwing confetti: Throwing confetti in your photo is the perfect way to add some excitement and colour to your graduation photos.
    • Jumping for joy: You made it through your degree, and you should be proud! Show everyone how happy you are by jumping for joy in your photos.
    • Posing with friends: Symmetry can look unusual in group photos, so when you’re posing with multiple people try to stagger everyone. This may seem counterintuitive, but it makes for a more harmonious image.

Graduation photo tips


Graduation portrait background

The location of your photo will greatly impact the quality of your graduation portrait. While a traditional graduation portrait background will be in front of a plain, dark background, it is possible to liven up your portrait, while still maintaining the air of academia. 

 Luckily, universities are full of beautiful settings which can serve as the backdrop of your portraits. 

    • In front of your university sign: Most universities have an entrance sign or plaque with the university’s name on it. Be sure to get a photo in front of it before you say goodbye for the last time.
    • Under an arch: A lot of universities have beautiful architecture, complete with an ornate arch. This is the perfect setting to take a regal photo under.
    • Outside a building: Many universities look attractive from the exterior, making it the perfect backdrop for your portrait, as well as showing off your university pride.
    • Inside a building: Not all universities have particularly aesthetically pleasing interiors, but if your uni has a lovely lecture hall, library, picture gallery, or chapel this would make the perfect setting for a portrait.
    • On the roof: Some university buildings have rooftops or upper-tier balconies which are accessible to students. This would make an excellent setting for a portrait as it will oversee the campus in the background.
    • Scenic areas: Many universities have scenic areas dotted around campus. If there are any picturesque natural spots, take advantage of this as your portrait will look great.
    • Sports grounds: If you were involved in sports at university, incorporate this into your photoshoot by taking a photoshoot where you used to play.
    • Halls of residence: Show your journey from your first year to graduation, by having a portrait outside your halls of residence. 

Graduation portrait lighting

To capture the perfect graduation portrait you will need good lighting. Typically, photoshoots using natural lighting look best during golden hour as the golden light is warm and soft during the sunrise and sunset. However, we understand this isn’t always possible to accommodate. If you can avoid shooting at midday, this is preferable, as when the sun is directly overhead this creates harsh lighting.

Ideally, the weather should be partly cloudy, as the light won’t be harsh and unflattering. If it is a very bright, sunny day you can find shade to take the photo under. If sunlight is too bright and harsh, you can take your photo indoors next to a window, which will help to filter the light. Bear in mind, however, that a professional portrait photographer will be used to shooting in different lighting conditions and will be skilled in adapting to the circumstances.

Alternatively, you can shoot indoors with studio lights to gain some control over the lighting conditions.


Graduation photo shots


Graduation portrait attire

Most people will think of the formal graduation attire, complete with the cap and gown. If your graduation photoshoot isn’t on the day of your graduation ceremony, there is more flexibility with how you want to dress. 

Feel free to mix up the traditional cap and gown attire with whatever you feel most comfortable in. If you have a more unconventional style, incorporate this into your look as it will help you feel more confident. If your idea of dressing confidently is getting dressed to the nines, that’s great too! As it’s your graduation portrait, you can dictate how you dress. 



If you require a graduation photographer, book with Splento. Splento provides you with reliable, on-demand photographers. Not to mention, booking a graduation photographer with Splento is affordable, which is beneficial for graduates on a budget. Chat to a member of the Splento team today to see how we can help achieve your dream graduation photoshoot. 

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