Resources for Graduation Event Professionals

Avoid background distractions in commencement handshake photographs

As a commencement coordinator, you know that stage layout at your ceremony is normally planned well in advance. In fact, at most institutions, how elements are arranged on the ceremony stage rarely changes from year to year. As such, there is more than enough time to consider one important element of stage layout that is often ignored: the background behind your graduates’ handshake photographs.

Distraction in background of commencement handshake photograph Click here for a larger view of this photograph. (The image has been cropped and the school name on the diploma has been intentionally blurred.) This image has many of the elements that make a great handshake photograph. The lighting and color are good. Although there was no room for the photographer to stand on stage, the framing of the image is still attractive. Best of all, the school administrator actually turns and poses for the camera with each graduate, which is always a family favorite.

The problem, however, is the background.   With a sound board, large electronics case, and numerous wires, what is otherwise a great handshake photograph becomes less-than-desirable because of the background. Once the photographer is on-location and realizes the problem, there is generally not enough time to coordinate a solution. Therefore, commencement coordinators are encouraged to take a proactive lead to help avoid unattractive backgrounds for their graduates’ handshake photographs.  The good news is that just a few simple tips will help.

Consider where the photographer stands while taking handshake photographs at your ceremony, and what the camera sees when capturing images of each graduates.

For this pose, the farther away background objects are positioned, the better.

The camera will be focused on the graduate. The more distance there is between the graduate and the background objects, the more out-of-focus the background objects will be, which makes them less distracting in the picture.

Faces in the background are not desirable.

Whether it’s the next graduate in line, or other school administrators on stage handing out diplomas, it is generally not good to have those individuals in the background of any handshake photograph. The graduate and school administrator are ready for that photograph, but the people in the background are not paying attention to the photographer. As such, the candid look on their faces can often be unflattering. (Spectators in the background are usually far enough away to be out-of-focus, so they are normally not a factor.)

Avoid a completely black background.

Large, black drapes behind the ceremony stage can drown out the graduate in his/her handshake photograph, particularly when wearing darker colored gowns. Additionally, it’s simply not inspiring. The background should been seen but not be a distraction. A row of flags, flowers, balloons, or other décor in front of the drapes will help.

If you are a GradImages client with questions or concerns about the background for your school’s handshake photographs, please talk with your account manager or regional manager. We would be happy to provide you with sample handshake images from your last event so you can visualize how handshake photographs taken at your ceremony currently look. Additionally, we would be glad to make suggestions about what improvements, if any, could be made to your ceremony’s background.

Topics: Commencement Preparations Best Practices Commencement Photography