Los Angeles Graduation Portrait Photographer

11 Top Tips to Prepare for Your Graduation Portrait Session


Hi! Stanley here –

I got my start in professional photography by shooting graduation portraits for college graduates and their families. Over the years, I’ve had the privilege of photographing over a thousand graduating seniors, documenting their amazing accomplishments and endeavors, preserving them for the many years to come. In doing so, I’ve accumulated a wealth of experience regarding planning a highly successful shoot, something that I would love to share with all of you! 

I’ve previously kept this guide exclusively for my clients, but I’ve decided to release it publicly in hopes that it may serve as a practical resource for everyone to enjoy. Of course, clients will still be able to enjoy exclusive planning assistance during our 1:1 consultations!

These tips are based on my own experience, and are tailored towards how I conduct my sessions, but I think there might be certain things that may or may not be universally applicable.

If you haven’t yet done so and would like to book a session, click here for a link to my main graduation portrait page where you can request a quote. 

Happy planning!

Tips and suggestions regarding outfits, props, and preparation

1 – Light colored outfits work best for a classic look

For a timeless and classic look, outfits with light colors and tones tend to work well, as they will never go out of fashion. Graduation is a positive and celebratory occasion, so I’d aim for bright and uplifting colors to match!

One reason to go for light colors and tones is to contrast your graduation sash and apparel. Your graduation sash and robes will typically be much darker or feature intense colors – it helps to have a lighter base to contrast and highlight the school colors that you might also be wearing on top.

2 – Bold and intense colors work best when highly intentional

For more of a high-contrast or editorial look, feel free to go bold. Definitely make sure the outfit complements the location, setting, and other elements you may want to include, such as a graduation sash or certain props.

Consider having this as your second outfit! If you are scheduled for a daytime session, you can also consider extending part of it into the night for some ultra-dramatic night portraits.

Pictured is an example of an ao dai, traditional Vietnamese dress.

3 – Avoid busy patterns for your outfits.

In a photograph, there should always be a main subject. For the majority of our photos, the main subject shouldn’t be your outfit, it should be you. I would avoid busy patterns or crazy colors so they don’t unnecessarily draw the viewer’s attention away. The outfit you choose should complement the overall look and mood of our session, and should be timeless to remain in fashion for a lifetime.

If you have a specific patterned outfit you would like to wear, consider having it as a secondary outfit, or book a separate mini session for it.

4 – Bring your collegiate apparel for a quick additional look.

Bringing a school sweatshirt brings an easy additional look to your graduation portrait session. It provides a more casual, but equally relevant look that can also show off your school spirit.

A great thing about this look is that you don’t necessarily have to do a whole outfit change when you can simply toss it on. Of course, you can still do an outfit change, time permitting, to create a more complete look.

5 – Wearing high heels? Bring a pair of flip-flops to save your feet!

If you will be wearing high heels, don’t forget to bring an additional pair of comfortable walking shoes or flip flops (most compact) for when we walk from location to location. Most colleges or session locations will feature different iconic spots that may involve a bit of a walk.

6 – Keep all graduation apparel (and the rest of your outfit) wrinkle-free!

Depending on who provides your graduation apparel, you may need to do a bit of steaming to eliminate any wrinkles that might have been present on your outfit. This especially applies if you just got your outfit – do not wait until the night before the shoot to take your sash or robe out from the package. It is highly likely that they will have prominent fold lines from having been in the packaging for so long.

7 – Bring along a few props for some added fun!

I would highly recommend bringing a few interactive props as they can certainly add quite a bit of fun and variety to the session. Some props that I highly recommend include: bubbles, custom balloons, confetti poppers (biodegradable), and a bottle of champagne!

I have written an in-depth guide to some of the best props you can bring to your graduation portrait session here!

8 – Rest and self-care are super important!

One thing that I believe should be emphasized far more in preparing for a photo shoot (and in life in general) would be self care. It is important to get plenty of rest beforehand to feel refreshed the day of, keep hydrated and eat well to give your skin a healthy glow. I would also avoid planning anything stressful (final exams, job interviews) right before, as you may not have enough time to rest, or might feel distracted during the session.

9 – Have a specific idea or look in mind? Put together a mood board!

Feel free to have a look throughout my previous sessions on my blog, instagram, or Pinterest for ideas others have done in the past! You can also fill out my questionnaire prior to the session with any special ideas you might have, and we’ll refer to that during our shoot.

10 – Professional hair and makeup services are highly recommended.

Since are already investing so much time and energy into a portrait session, I would suggest going the extra mile and getting professional hair and makeup done. I have a few referrals I can make for hair and makeup artists I’ve worked with in the past for any clients who are interested!

11 – Lastly, be sure to arrive early to your shoot and give yourself plenty of time to prepare!

It’s best to give yourself plenty of buffer room to take it easy and keep a relaxed pace before your shoot – after all, you wouldn’t want to be rushing to your shoot because there was unexpected traffic, or if you couldn’t find parking. Be sure to arrive early, especially if you are not too familiar with the shoot location!

I hope these tips can help make your shoot an even better one! If you have an awesome tip not mentioned that you would like to share, feel free to leave that in the comments below!

If you haven’t yet booked your portrait session and are looking for a professional photographer who is highly experienced in photographing graduation portraits at schools around California, consider booking with Stanley Wu Photography!

We offer not just our photographic capabilities, but also an entire experience dedicated towards making your portrait session a celebration to last a lifetime. Contact for more information!

Copyright © Stanley Wu Photography

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