Resources for Graduation Event Professionals

An overview of ceremony portraits taken at commencement

A ceremony portrait is a posed photograph taken of each graduate during commencement. Typically, these images are taken as graduates approach or depart the stage.

Photographer Location

Under most circumstances, the ideal location for a ceremony portrait photographer is approximately six feet (1.8 meters) away from the graduate. Depending on the background and circumstances unique to the ceremony, the photographer may determine that a slightly shorter or longer distance would create a better photograph. Six feet, however, is a general rule-of-thumb.

Background for Ceremony Portraits

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Backdrops for ceremony portraits can be quite diverse. Ceremonies with plenty of ambient light, floor space, and a favorable flow of graduates may be able to use the ceremony itself as the background for portrait images. This is particularly true for outdoor commencements.

Professional portrait backdrops are also common for this pose when the background is unappealing. For example, if the most suitable location at commencement for ceremony portraits is in front of an unattractive cinder-block wall, then a professional portrait backdrop should be used.

Some schools have custom backdrops created for their ceremony portraits. This is a great option for many commencements, but there are three important items to consider:

  1. Shiny fabric should be should avoided so the camera’s flash does not reflect.
  2. Ideally, backdrops should be at least six feet wide. As graduates pose for their pictures, many are not standing perfectly on their mark, which means the photographer has to adjust left or right to center the graduate in the camera’s frame. As such, the backdrop needs to provide some “wiggle room.” Six feet is adequate for this purpose.
  3. If your school or university has rules or guidelines pertaining to the proper use of logos or other trademarks, make sure those are followed carefully. If there are any restrictions placed on the use of your school’s logo or trademarks for commercial photography purposes, those issues are best ironed out before months before your ceremony. 

A fourth and final background option for ceremony portraits is green screen backdrops. For a majority of ceremonies, however, green screens are not an appropriate choice. Click here to learn why.


Well-executed ceremony portraits are a team effort. In addition to the photographer(s), assistants are critical to help graduates look their best and keep the ceremony on pace. When done correctly, the photographer(s) and assistants are in sync with one another and to the casual observer, the operation appears to be tightly orchestrated.

At least one assistant is needed at the front of the line to direct graduates to their mark.   This staff member is vital to the ceremony flow, since he or she is responsible for quickly moving the next graduate into position as soon as the previous graduate has finished. Additional assistants may be needed towards the start of the line to help straighten tassels, keep graduates in sequence, answer questions, etc. Departure assistants may also be needed to help direct graduates from their ceremony portrait to their next destination.


Despite some misconceptions, ceremony portraits should never slow down the pace of your ceremony. A competent photography team should easily be able to photograph graduates just as fast as they are being recognized on stage.

Diploma Glare

If diploma covers are received on stage, and the ceremony portraits can be taken after crossing the stage, graduates can hold their diplomas chest-high so they are in the photograph.

The exception to this, however, is when diploma covers have a high shine, which reflects the camera’s flash. Schools with ceremony portraits taken with diploma covers are encouraged to inquire about low-shine options from their diploma vendor.

GradImages Clients

If you are a GradImages’ client with questions about ceremony portraits at your commencement, please contact your field or account manager. We are happy to work through any issues or logistical concerns in order to provide your graduates with the best possible images.

Topics: Commencement Photography GradImages