How to create the perfect graduation photo

Graduation Pose with hats against blue sky
(Image credit: Getty Images)

As graduation day looms you’ll be preparing to close one chapter of your life and start the next. Graduation is a milestone that you’ll remember forever – and you’re going to want to capture your time in a cap and gown to the fullest effect with brilliant photographs. 

Not only do graduation pictures help to capture the excitement of the day alongside the pride of your course mates and family members who’ve watched you grow over the years – but you can be sure that at least one of these photos will soon take pride of place on your mom's mantelpiece! 

Get your friends to take your photos or hire a professional photographer to do the job – just make sure there’s someone there to click away. If you're in the market for a new camera and don't know which model to pick, we have an excellent guide on the best cameras for beginners. And if you find that your graduation images don't come out quite as you hoped, we also have advice on the best photo editing software to use, so you can tweak them to your liking. 

Here are some tried-and-tested tips from the pros for making sure your graduation photos are first class…

1. Take along some props

First and foremost, remember to take your graduation gown and cap!

Merissa De Falcis, a Dallas based photographer and founder of Merissa De Falcis Photography, has been photographing graduates for almost 10 years. To add a special touch to high school photographs, she recommends bringing something related to a sport or art you were involved with, as well as your college flag, college t-shirt, graduation cap and gown, and of course, confetti! For a college grad photoshoot, bring all of the above, plus stoles, champagne and balloons to jazz things up.

If you have made a sign at home double check it includes all the details: your graduation year, degree and major. Your diploma certificate is nice to show off in photos too.

Some people like to use glitter or confetti cannons – just make sure it’s environmentally friendly and you’re allowed to let it off it in the chosen photoshoot location.

De Falcis encourages her clients to be creative, and bring along as many props as they want. “I love when grads want to bring unique props such as feather boas or smoke bombs. Another way to make it unique is to wear a really on-trend outfit that isn't the typical ‘grad’ look. 

The most popular shot, she adds, is the classic cap and gown one. “Everyone loves a good photo in their cap and gown for their grad announcement."

Young female graduate blowing confetti at camera

Incorporate props, glitter or confetti into your graduation shoot. (Image credit: Getty Images)

2. Pick the best backdrop and time of day

For high school photos, a mix of nature and urban landscapes in your hometown is perfect – think fields, parks, downtown or a skyline rooftop. 

“For highschoolers, choosing a unique location such as your private property, or making a trip out to a state or national park or beach for a different look is always a fun idea!” advises De Falcis.

For college photos, get in front of all the iconic spots on your college campus. The best graduation backdrops for photos on campus include stone arches, pillars, stairs, fountains and nature, says Sara Noei, a photographer based in Brisbane, Australia, who has been doing graduation photography for 5 years. 

Early morning and late afternoon – as the sun rises and as it sets – offer the most flattering light, but it’s not uncommon to have your shoot outside of these times. Try to avoid having photos taken around midday when the sun is at its peak as it can cast harsh shadows. 

Graduates jumping and lifting hats, against a backdrop of green leafy trees.

Green, leafy backdrops are great for highschool graduation photos. (Image credit: Getty Images)

3. Plan your outfit(s)

Take at least 2 or 3 outfits, ranging from casual to more fancy. “Stick to neutral colours for cap and gown shots. For other snaps you can have a pop of colour but avoid any busy patterns. Above all, always wear something you feel comfortable in and that feels ‘you’” says De Falcis.

If you’re about to enter the world of work, maybe have one smart outfit on hand so you can get a professional looking photo that will make your LinkedIn profile pop. Or use this as a chance to get some content for your social channels!

For ladies wearing high heels, bring along an extra pair of flats so you can walk comfortably between photo locations, and keep some tissues, powder or blotting paper handy to keep sweat or shine at bay.

Woman graduating with gown thrown over shoulder

Wear neutral colours for cap and gown shots. (Image credit: Getty Images)

4. Perfect your graduation pose

If you’ve hired a photographer, speak openly with them about what sort of style you’d like, and they’ll be able to guide your body language to achieve it.

Of course, make the most of your graduation cap – throw it in the air, hold it, and get close-ups of the cap/tassel – the options are endless. Noei explains that the most popular shots involve hat tossing and standing while holding certificates. “Make sure you jump high while throwing your hat for even better photos!” she says.

In terms of poses and movement, mix it up: do some sitting, standing, skipping, and using props – things like walking, laughing or jumping keep it natural and create candid moments that let your personality shine through. Remember, movement adds drama and beauty to photos, so don’t stand still for long!

De Falcis adds: “If you are a college grad, throw your hand signal in some shots!”

If you’re stuck for ideas, check out graduation and senior photos on Pinterest to get some inspiration.

Graduate posing against green, leafy backdrop

It's always good to get at least on snap of a formal graduation pose. (Image credit: Getty Images)

5. Bring along friends or family

“It's always nice to have one friend or family member come along, even if they are only there to help carry things rather than be in the actual photos. Just make sure you bring someone who lifts you up in a positive way to feel confident – not someone who will point out insecurities,” advises De Falcis.

If your friends and family are present, why not include them in the session – perhaps you’d like your BFFs or your course mates who supported you along the way, or even just a lovely family photo to remember the day. Nothing beats the classic shot of you and your classmates lined up throwing your hats in the air. It’s also a good idea to document your parents beaming proudly over your achievement. If you need further convincing, Noei adds: “A graduation photo shoot is definitely more fun with family and friends!”

Two young women in graduation gowns, smiling with arms around each other.

Make sure your take some graduation photos with your closest pals. (Image credit: Getty Images)

6. Think about how to display graduation photos

Once you've got all of those graduation photos snapped and saved, you'll need to print them. If you're very particular about print quality, you may want to go with one of the top-rated photo printing services – but you could also print them yourself using a good quality home printer. You can then put them in frames, stick them to walls, or display them (as below) by pinning them to pieces of twine.

Another great option is to collate them and put them in high quality, printed photobooks, which means you'll have a lovely memento to remember the day. And if you want to share them with friends and family, it's a great idea to turn your graduation snaps into photo cards that can be sent by post to your loved ones.

Graduation photo printed and pegged onto twine.

A popular graduation photo display option is to pin your snaps onto a piece of twine. (Image credit: Getty Images)
Kavi Shah

Kavi Shah is an experienced freelance writer and editor who covers various topics for Top Ten Reviews, including photography, education and languages.