7 Tips for a Great College Graduation Photo Session


“It takes courage to grow up and become who you really are.”

—E. E. Cummings

Living in a college town these past 19 years, I’ve certainly become accustomed to graduation seasons. Each May, August, and December it’s not uncommon to see graduation caps dotting the sidewalks of Purdue University. Students huddle to take selfies with friends at the Engineering Fountain and pose with their families under Purdue’s iconic arches. You’ll almost always see groups of caps and gowns snapping pics around the clock tower, the Hovde stairs, or the union.  

Now with my own camera in hand, I helped celebrate a Purdue grad this past October. Kirsten was graduating in Mechanical Engineering, and she and her family wanted to capture this special moment. I met Kirsten and her parents at the Neil Armstrong statue, and from that moment on, they felt like people I had known a long time. Just kind and comfortable! Have you ever felt that?   

We toured Purdue’s campus and photographed Kirsten in some of her favorite spots. She especially wanted a photo in front of the clock tower, the whole clock tower. I kept moving back further and further and getting lower and lower – until some unfortunate hydrangeas caught me. Oops! Anything to get the shot, and we did! We had a really good time, and Kirsten did an amazing job. As I was editing her images, the tightness of their familial trio stood out to me. Her parents were so proud, and I know, as Kirsten moves on to her new job, she will do great things and have amazing support. 

If you are graduating soon, here are 7 tips to consider for your graduation photography session: 

Find the Right Photographer

Kirsten’s family did their research by contacting Kirsten’s landlord and getting photographer recommendations. The landlord was from West Lafayette and generously got suggestions from friends and neighbors. Then they looked over websites and contacted a couple choices to see who fit. Thankfully, they chose me!

Book Early

Graduation season can be hectic. You and your family have a lot on your mind – school, exams, travel, a job hunt. Find a photographer that suits your style and budget and book it in advance so you can focus on other things. Also, you don’t want your favorite photographer’s spots to fill up!

Choose Spots that Matter

Make a list of the places on campus that matter the most to you. Choose some iconic spots, but also choose some that are more personal. Maybe you had a special outside study spot; maybe you like a certain garden. Let your photographer know your list before the session, so that she can be prepared and give you the best session possible. 

Wear Something under Your Gown

Ha! You know what I mean! Make sure that you choose something you want to be photographed in under your gown. It’s always nice to get a variety of shots with your gown on, your gown unzipped, and then just your outfit underneath.  And don’t forget your shoes! They will be photographed, too, so make sure they are picture-ready. Let your photographer know about your outfit choice before you arrive, also. 

Think about the Details

I can’t stress enough how important it is to think about some details. Try to steam your gown and make sure to iron any sashes you will put over your gown. Tackle the hair fly-aways with a little gel or hairspray. Choose seamless undergarments for invisible lines. Rest before your shoot. Eat a little bit before your shoot. These things matter for timeless photos! 

Include the People You Love

For grad photos, I want the people I’m photographing to be surrounded by those they love. If you want your parents to jump in a few photos with you, make sure you ask the photographer, and then plan out the number of shots you want and at which locations. It’s always special to have those who have supported you show you some love in a few photos! 

Have Fun

What can be more important than having fun? Feeling relaxed and using this special time to celebrate and smile should give you joy – not stress. So take a deep breath, smile, and have a great session! 

I hope these 7 tips help you, and Kirsten, I wish you all the best this next year as you “grow up and become who you really are!”  

Jen Ritchie

I'm a nature photographer who loves capturing beautiful landscapes and wildlife from our yearly trips out West and parks here closer to home.

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