Graduations are a lucrative photography market that requires planning and precise execution. Many schools have winter ceremonies. These graduations are a great opportunity to get your feet wet shooting in this market. Here are some of our best practices that could be used when booking and preparing for graduation shoots in part 1 of our 2-part graduation series.
The Basics of Graduations Typically graduation ceremonies are shot by several photographers simultaneously in different locations around the ceremony. Handshake photos and 1-2 additional positions yield the best results. Implementing green screen can open new opportunities including unique school-specific backgrounds and allow you to build a virtual group of the graduating class. Speed is essential in the successful execution of a graduation as some ceremonies process across the stage as quickly as 1 student every 2 seconds. Marketing these photographs is typically done online as well as with paper proofing. Advertising your services before, during, and after a graduation ceremony will increase traffic to your website and lead to higher percentages of participation from your graduates and their families.
Before the Shoot It is imperative to have effective communication with the contact at the school. Visit with the decision makers at least 2 months prior to the commencement date. This will help maximize your opportunities at the graduation as well as establish a partnership and relationship with the contact. Discussing what shots you will be taking, the position of these shots, venue details, and flow will determine how smoothly the photography will run during the ceremony.
The handshake photograph is a staple of the graduation market. The formal handshake pose is best for the following reasons: You get a better exposure, head size is the same for the graduate and the presenter, tassels are less of a problem, and you can see the face of the presenter. The formal handshake is composed of both the presenter and the graduate facing the camera as they shake hands or hand off the diploma. Alternatively, you can photograph this
using a traditional handshake which is shot over the shoulder of the presenter, capturing the graduate’s face. The photographer should discuss this detail with the school contact before the graduation as it is difficult to get these changes made the day of the graduation.
Discuss additional photography opportunities with the school before the graduation. Talk to the contact ahead of time about any additional locations that you would like to photograph during the graduation such as a green screen location, a flag shot, or a close up with the graduates in the background. This is also a good time to discuss taking PR photographs for the school of their speakers, processional, and overview. Try taking family and friends or buddy pictures before and after the ceremony. All of these images will yield higher sales numbers.
Promotion of photography services is the key to successful results at a graduation. Pre-promotion includes sending the school posters or flyers, making audio announcements, collecting email and street addresses, advertising on the school’s website, and being included in the graduation program. Collecting emails and addresses can be done directly on your website. Always ask the school to advertise your services on their website and make periodic announcements to their graduates about how to find their images after the graduation.
Send grad cards to the school two weeks prior to the graduation for use during the graduation. Explain that these should be strung or placed in order of the students graduating. If the cards are kept in order, it will save time when doing
the post production. We also suggest making a box for each letter of the email address to force graduates to print legibly.
Pre-Production Get your online event ready including any offer graphics, upload any background images that are needed for green screen and get your emails ready. Setup a location that will be used for post production. Check all of the computers that will be used to ensure that they have all of the software that will be needed to do production. Make a chart or graph that will allow you to track post-production and see where the team is at a glance.
Staffing Do not underestimate the amount of staff that you need to do a thorough job. There will be a need for one photographer at every position that will be photographed, photographer assistants to help the graduates into position and keep the line moving smoothly with no delays, information collection staff to obtain email addresses from the audience members, friends and family photographers which can sometimes be the same photographers from your ceremony, and a lead photographer at every venue.
Train the entire staff well before the event date. Use role playing to train each member of the staff to do his/her specific job. Teach the photographers how to troubleshoot the equipment along with how to take a great picture. Setting sheets or diagrams should be included in training as well as in the equipment that is sent to the event. Details of the graduation must be written out for the staff that will be photographing the event. Include key points for successful execution and point of potential pain with the school or contact that they will be interacting with. Any points of negotiation with the school should be included in these notes.
Post production staff will need to be hired and trained before the graduation takes place. To determine the number of post production staff that will be needed, you can assume the following: 1 hour of labor/30 graduates (this includes uploading images, data entry, spotting, enabling the event online, proof mailing, and checking the event) so, a 300 person grad will equal 10 labor hours.
This time will then be divided by the number of staff members that you plan to have working on each graduation to determine the total time it should take to get the event online. If you have the 300 person graduation mentioned above, with 10 labor hours, and have 2 people working on it, the entire production process should take 5 hours. Make a spreadsheet of all of your graduations and plan the production staffing using this simple formula: # of students divided by 30 divided by # of production staff= total amount of production time (or students/30/production staff= time).
Additional Photography Opportunities Don’t settle for just shooting the handshake pose at a graduation. Talk to the school and advisors to find additional opportunities to photograph the graduates and their guests. Buddy shots can be taken of the graduates and their friends in the holding room before the graduation. Friends and family pictures are a great opportunity for additional sales. These are typically taken after the ceremony is over either at a banquet or outside the venue in which the graduation was held. Take PR photographs during the graduation of the processional, band, speakers, valedictorian, alma matter, vocalist, and anything significant that happens during the ceremony. Post these online for purchase and deliver them to the school as an added value. Overviews are taken of the entire graduating class and offered for purchase.
Equipment Nikon D3000’s or other suitable SLR’s are recommended for graduations. This is a great camera for grads. Set it at medium resolution (5MP) and use an 1870mm lens. SunPak 544s are used for lighting along with a hobby battery. 2GB SD Memory cards are recommended as well. SanDisk, Lexar, Transcend, and Kingston are the recommended brands of memory cards.
Digital audio recorders are recommended with the equipment. Two per ceremony allow for any errors or technical issues that may occur. As a backup to the audio recording, a video recording is also used. This will allow your post-production team to see the face of the graduate as they pass the reader and makes spotting a difficult graduation much easier.
A 5×7 green screen is used in the venue to take the green screen pictures that will be rendered with the school background or used for a virtual group. Don’t forget a stand and super clamp to affix the green screen background to.
Include tape, rubber bands, envelopes, markers, and something to mark the spot that the graduate is to stop for their photograph with the equipment.
Include enough extra grad cards to cover the number of graduates in case the contact does not have the cards that were sent ahead of time.
Graduations require a LOT of attention to detail, but can be extremely profitable. If you are currently shooting jobs for any middle schools, high schools or colleges (including vocational or technical schools) then graduations are a natural progression in your business.
For additional information on how to shoot graduations and on the highly- specialized tools CCS has to offer for the graduation market, please contact a customer development representative.
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