As spectacular and emotional a graduation ceremony can be, many students these days value the graduation photoshoot experience just as much – if not, more – than their ceremony. A photoshoot is an opportunity for a graduate to express their individualism, commemorate their achievements, relive their memories, and so much more.
We at CollegeWear, Inc., sat down with professional photographer and UC San Diego alum, Bréana Parks, and asked her about her experience with doing graduation photoshoots. She shares with us some of her advice for students who are looking to plan their own photoshoots, as well as her tips to other photographers who are conducting their own shoots.
Tell me your experience with photography. How did you get started with it and what are you doing today?
Bréana: I started in 2010 when I was a sophomore in high school, but didn’t get serious until my senior year/start of college. I started with sports photography and moved into portrait photography with a focus on identity, documentary-style, and social issues.
Currently, I’m working on pieces for UC San Diego’s gallery and The San Diego Tribune. I am also a publicist for a non-profit named Representative Collaborative, [and teaching artist. I teach kids] about storytelling through photography. Aside from work, I’m developing a new piece tackling the subject of the innocence of black children.
What is your experience with doing graduation photoshoots?
Bréana: I started my third year of college doing group shoots, both on and off campus. My senior year is when I got more clientele within my own [year], and took photos with the classic trademark college spots, at their workplaces, and other memorable locations to their clients.
What do you enjoy the most about graduation photoshoots? Least enjoy?
Bréana: I most enjoyed helping people who are not used to being in front of the camera feel more comfortable, since many don’t know how to position themselves or don’t feel they are the “modeling” type. I also like when people love their own photos and get excited about it.
As for what I least enjoyed, I personally don’t like when clients request the unedited versions of their photos as opposed to their edited ones, since I often pour a lot of time into making them nice.
As the Photographer / Tips For Graduates:
As a graduation photoshoot photographer, you often work with a wide range of students from different backgrounds and situations. What are some things people looking to hire a photographer should look for when doing so, such as pricing, accessibility, etc.?
Bréana: I would look at their pricing, hours, and how many photos they can provide and see how well it correlates to your needs. For example, I offer 1-2 hour sessions with 15 images, and I charge an additional $25 for every 2 more images. That information is useful for any student who knows what they want beforehand. You should also let your photographer know your own budget, as some may be willing to work around it.
Also, be sure to look at the photographer’s portfolio and previous work to get a feel of their style. And don’t be afraid to talk to them first to see if your personality aligns well with them, since that can be a big factor not many consider.
What are some fun, unique, or interesting ideas you have seen or recommended to clients for their photoshoot? Such as poses, accessories, angles, etc.
Bréana: Grad photoshoots can always be different, so it’s best to have a clear idea of what you want beforehand. I’ve seen friends do theirs in boba shops, in their dance uniforms, with old roommates, etc.
Bringing your own personality is important in these shoots, so you can look back fondly on them 10 years from now. They will be more memorable and significant if they were more fun to do.
My favorite clients are ones who are super creative, like one who recreated their favorite album covers, or don’t take their photos seriously, like one I had who did a bunch of “meme poses.”
Also, please learn how to pop a champagne bottle before you do it in your photoshoot, or else you will look weird.
What are some locations – both common and unconventional – you recommend as a photographer? This can be in terms of accessibility, crowd control, hidden gems, scenic spots, etc.
Bréana: Any college you go to there’s usually a “branded” area with the school logo, a statue to commemorate the school, and architecture that’s trademarked to your school (ex. Geisel Library [at UC San Diego]). Recreational gyms are also cool and provide great lighting too if you want an indoor shoot. Try to also find nice nature-y locations with foliage in the background.
If you want to do some really fun, try using a green screen for your photoshoot!
You’re a Bay area native, and also a UCSD alum. What are your favorite locations from both areas to take graduation photoshoots at?
San Diego: Liberty Station has really nice architecture!
Bay Area: If you’re able to, Chrissy Beach. There’s a walkway that overlooks the Bay Bridge that’s really nice. Just go there early to avoid crowds…
A popular form of graduation photoshoots are those taken in groups, be it a club or a group of friends. What are some common hurdles you or your clients faced when organizing such, and how you do recommend they best be done?
Bréana: Finding a time when everyone is available is the biggest challenge. Schedule with your group first and block out time before you talk to your photographer – ESPECIALLY remember to account for time it takes to travel to locations, getting makeup/outfits ready, etc. Also, if you are doing both individual and group shots in one photoshoot, schedule with the photographer which ones you should do first to get the most value.
Other than that, positioning people is important since you need to be aware of the light sources, so that one person isn’t shadowed more than the other. Also, be sure to know multiple people’s comfortability with good sides and bad sides, and accounting for height difference balancing.
What are some other tips you wished everyone knew about when they are getting their grad photos taken?
Bréana: Every photographer’s style is different, I’ve seen people with full on light diffusers and some with just a camera. Do your research to help find one that is best for you.
Also, if you use confetti, use biodegradable confetti and CLEAN UP afterwards. Please, do not use glitter – it is NOT good for the environment and not easy to clean up, especially in public spaces.
Have props ready to go beforehand. Let your photographer know if you have a change of clothes as well , since some photographers have rates for multiple outfits.
Tips for Other Photographers:
For photographers, both novice and advanced, what are some specific tips about graduation photoshoots you have to share, that may not apply in any other photoshoot setting?
Bréana: Don’t shoot at noon when the sun is super harsh, look for days where it is slightly cloudy where the light is slightly diffused and therefore looks softer and also easier to edit in post.
Be aware that most likely, every student doing a photoshoot wants a sunset photoshoot as well. Those can be tricky due to how time sensitive it can be and if there’s a lot of people around. Plan your time, poses, and locations accordingly to get the best value from the limited time.
What equipment have you found most helpful in graduation photoshoots?
Bréana: Tripods and reflectors are a given for helping you stabilize the shot and getting the preferred lighting. But you should ALWAYS pack some extra batteries as well!
Do you have any tips when it comes to post-production?
Bréana: Some photographers have proofing sites unless they choose for you. Allow people to have some control for choosing their photos, such as different edited versions for the same shot. Make sure you communicate with your clients on what their aesthetic is, as some may want high contrast, some want specific colors to be more present, and so forth.
Also, this should already be a given, but back up EVERYTHING!
With the current global pandemic still going on, there is a demand for photographers and clients to take extra precautions. What are some ways for photographers to organize safe photoshoots with their clients?
Bréana: My biggest suggestions would be to be tested for COVID before the photoshoot and ensure both parties are practicing all safety precautions when doing so.
During the shoots, masks should be kept on the entire time the camera is not taking photos. Equipment should be sanitized as well, so don’t forget to bring cleaning wipes and hand sanitizer. If you want to be extra safe, telephoto lenses can be used so you can zoom in from long distances to maintain adequate social distancing when the model’s mask is off.
Lastly, ask your client(s) if they are comfortable with you touching them to help readjust their body for certain poses/angles, moving their hair, etc.
Thank you for taking the time to talk with us about creating the best graduation photoshoot experience! Where can we find more from you?
Bréana: Thank you! You can find me on Instagram @iba_breanaparks_, and my website with all my work is at breanajanaeparks.com. You can also email firstname.lastname@example.org for any inquiries.
And if you wanna read any stories I’ve written they’re on representativecollaborative.com!
Special thanks to Bréana Janae for offering her time for this interview!