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A Complete Guide to Taking Graduation Pictures

Cue Pomp and Circumstance (March No. 1), commonly known as “the graduation song,” by Sir Edward Elgar. Graduation photos are a great way to celebrate all that has been achieved in what many refer to as the “best years of our lives.” These last few moments before we walk (or virtually walk) across the stage with a diploma in hand are especially important in preparing for the big event. If you’re anything like me, then you have been ruminating over the locations, poses, and props you’ll be using in your photos. I’m here to share all the inspo for your individual graduation photos!

1. The classic champagne pop (and drinking it afterward — cheers!)

Here’s how to do the pop if you have never done it before: slowly wiggle the cork off the bottle, place your thumb over the opening and shake the bottle to make it fizz, then slowly move your thumb to the side so the bubbles escape the bottle into the air. Keep shaking for the dramatic effect. An extra tip: keep a towel on hand in case things get sticky! 

2. Throw your graduation cap in the air! 

Good news! There are many variations to this pose: (1) facing the camera and looking up at the cap, (2) your back turned to the camera with your leg popped up, and (3) tossing your cap towards the camera. You can choose your favorite or try them all. 

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3. Walk while holding your cap.

The key to this pose is having one foot in front of the other as if you are walking. The stole of gratitude drapes beautifully across the shoulder in shots with the back facing the camera. For front-facing poses, add more movement by playing with the graduation gown. You can also hold the cap in the air, by your side, or across your chest. The possibilities are endless!

4. Do an activity that has characterized your time in college.

If you’re an athlete, you might opt for an action shot or a pose with the equipment you use in your sport. If you’re an artist, it might be at the studio with your canvases or pottery. Whatever your hobbies are, capture them during this special moment in your life. UC Davis is among the top bicycle-friendly universities in the U.S., so I intend on capturing moments with the red bike that has endured many trips around campus with me. 

5. Pose in front of your favorite building or place on campus. 

Your photos celebrate your achievements and the past four years of your life. They should be unique to you! If you’ve spent a great amount of time at the library or on the quad, you might want to cement those memories with a photo or two there. Other places to think about: the coffee shop you frequented, a classroom or lecture hall, the place where you intern or volunteer, the stadium, and the theater. 

6. Let’s get up close and personal.

These can be portraits or closeups of memorabilia. This is especially great if you embroider your stole or decorate your grad cap. 

7. Pose where it all started! 

At UC Davis, this would be the UC Davis brick sign on the East Field. Since this sign is on the smaller side, you can choose to sit on top of it or stand right next to it. You might also consider capturing a shot in front of your freshman year dorm or the apartments you’ve lived in. 

8. Sitting at an angle with the legs crossed.

Sitting on some steps, at a fountain, on a bench, or anything of the sorts, all make for gorgeous photos. This pose also adds variety amongst all the standing ones!

9. With a famous statue or water fountain at your university. 

At UC Davis, there are five famous Eggheads on campus, each engaged in their activities with various expressions. One of my favorites is the Eye on Mrak (Fatal Laff) — the laughing emotion can brighten any picture. Honorable mention goes to the Bookhead, representative of all the time spent studying at the library. The UC Davis website details the Egghead Series and where to find them. 

10. Pose with your pets or use other celebratory props.

The pup that has spent countless hours with you studying. The Philz Coffee that marks your every morning. Your regal diploma cover. The 2021 tassel that you’ll be moving from the right to the left side of the graduation cap. Balloons — just make sure to have weights for each individual letter or number balloon. Homework to throw in the air. 

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Congratulations to the class of 2021 — we did it! Wishing you good luck on future endeavors and happy celebrations!   

Jacqueline Ling is fourth-year student at UC Davis, majoring in Biochemistry and Molecular Biology with a minor in Professional Writing. She is also a laboratory assistant for a DNA sequencing facility on campus, and hopes to enter a career in the sciences or journalism after graduation. In her spare time, she enjoys making Spotify playlists, taking photos with her friends, and trying new foods.
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