Help! I Have To Shoot My First Indoor Graduation May 15 2015, 0 Comments

A few timely tips on photographing indoor graduations

Summer is around the corner and along with warmer weather, barbecues and pool parties come graduations. If you have a friend or family member ready to graduate who happens to know about your interest in photography, you may be asked to shoot the ceremony. Before packing, here are a few things to consider.

  1. Bring Lenses With Small F-Stop Numbers

Photography is all about light. The smaller the number after the f on the lens, the more light the lens can allow onto the camera sensor. Lenses with small f-stop numbers are known as “fast lenses” or as lenses with a wide maximum aperture. For a shoot like this, you need fast lenses. With more light hitting the sensor, your camera can focus more accurately and you can increase your shutter speed, freezing motion as your grad summersaults across the stage post-diploma.  We recommend a lens that’s at least f/4, but f/2.8 (or even f/1.4) would be better.

Image shot at f/4 on a well-lit stage. Photo by divzi media. 

What about zooms versus fixed focal lengths? Great question. Zooms will give you more flexibility in composition without having to move closer or further away from your subject, but fixed focal length lenses (also known as primes) allow the most light in thanks to their small f-stop numbers.

Pro Tip: Be prepared for both wide and close up shots and pack the necessary lenses to get both. 

  1. Shoot Manual

As a sign of solidarity with your graduate, it’s time for you to graduate from the green “auto” box and take a crash course in manual exposure.

There are a lot of things to consider when you’re taking a picture, and choosing your shutter speed, aperture, and white balance might seem a little overwhelming.

Let’s break down a few things about accurate exposure. Controlling the amount of light in a photograph (the exposure) depends on ratios involving the amount of light hitting the sensor, how long that light is on the sensor, and how sensitive that sensor is to light.

Choose your shutter speed and your f-stop first. You need to pick a speed that will freeze motion from your location, probably somewhere around 1/200th if you’re not using flash.  We recommend using an aperture (f-stop) of somewhere between 2.8 to 4.0 depending on how much depth of field you desire.  Smaller numbers are much harder to use accurately since your focus must be precise given such a shallow depth of field.  Assess the risks involved and decide what works best for you.

Changing your white balance (WB) tells the camera what objects should be represented as white in the final image. If you leave your WB on auto, you may end up with very orange pictures.

If you’re indoors, it’s very likely there will be tungsten lighting (the emoji-like icon in your white balance settings that looks like a light bulb). Occasionally, there may be fluorescent lights (the rectangle exploding with squiggly lines). Refer to your camera’s manual for more information on these and other white balance settings.

Pro Tip: Practice ahead of time in a dark, indoor space with the camera you plan to use at the ceremony. This way, you can get a better idea of what to expect from various settings. Nobody likes surprises.

Image shot with White Balance set to "Tungsten". Photo by divzi media.   

  1. Shoot RAW

Shooting RAW gives you the most flexibility with your final images. If a shot doesn’t turn out how you imagined it would, you always have the option of changing (or fixing) it later. If you shoot .jpg files, it’s much harder to make those changes.

RAW editing software should come free with your camera. Read the software manual to see how to make basic adjustments and save your files so you can print, upload or send your picture to others.

Pro Tip: Since RAW Files take up to 4-5x more space than .jpg files, make sure you have a large enough memory card in your camera. A 16GB, 32GB, or 64GB card is best. Also, make sure you have enough hard drive space on your computer to store the files after the shoot!

  1. Get There Early To Pick Your Seat And Practice

Get there early to get a seat with a good view of the graduate, preferably close to the stage. Take time to walk around, find the best vantage points, take a few practice shots, and tweak camera settings before the ceremony begins. Sometimes seating is assigned and you’re far from the stage, but many schools also expect that parents will be leaving their seats and making a dash for the stage once their  graduate begins walking.

Pro Tip: Regardless of the official policy, the phrase, “Sorry, I didn’t know” has saved many a photographer.

Even if you’re not close to the stage, you can still get some interesting shots of your graduate or other speakers. Tip: tell them ahead of time where you'll be sitting so they can look at you! Photo by divzi media.

  1. Pack A Flash

Indoor flash can be tricky. Even if your camera has a built-in flash, it likely won’t be much help when you’re inside a dark, cavernous venue. For an event like this, it’s time to pack one of the big boys – an external flash.

Lighting with flash can be very complex, but don’t be scared Once you decide whether or not to use flash, just try one of two tricks to see if these can help get more light onto your grad.  First, if ceilings are low, point the flash head straight up and use it to bounce light off the ceiling onto your grad. If this doesn’t work, try using a diffuser. A diffuser is a cheap piece of plastic (around $10) that softens the light coming from your flash minimizes harsh shadows. In dark venues, any extra light can help.

Pro Tip: If using an external flash, set your camera to Auto (Green square) to ensure optimal exposure.

  1. Don’t Stress

Many times, schools hire professional photographers to take pictures of the graduates as they accept diplomas and walk off stage. It’s very unlikely you’re going to have the same access as these professionals. That’s ok! Sit back, relax and take the best shots you can. You’ll always be able to get a few shots after the ceremony. Don’t get so wrapped up in shooting that you forget to enjoy the moment. Congratulations on this momentous occasion, and, please, try to enjoy it. 

Recommended lenses for graduation photography:

Try the Canon 24-105mm or Nikon 18-200mm if you won’t be more than 30 feet away and will also be taking some photos outdoors after the ceremony.

Use the Canon 70-200mm f/2.8 or Nikon 70-200mm f/2.8 if you’ll be in a large stadium or somewhere where you won’t be able to get close to your graduate.

Go with the Canon 135mm f/2 or Nikon 105mm f/2 if you want a lighter-weight fast prime to capture your graduate walking across the stage.

And finally, use the Canon 16-35mm f/2.8 or Nikon 14-24mm f/2.8 if you want to get a wide angle shot of the entire venue during the ceremony.


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