When it comes to life’s big moments, graduating from university is up there with being born and getting married.
And while you can’t really take a bad photo of a newborn baby, and you usually trust your wedding memories to a professional, taking photos at convocation sometimes becomes an afterthought: part of a hectic and confusing day with a thousand people converging on a two-hour ceremony, then streaming out en masse.
So from our photography team to whomever’s entrusted with capturing your graduation moment, here are a few tips — just in time for the Halifax ceremonies — to make the most of the day.
Before the ceremony
There are plenty of good photo opportunities before the ceremony even begins. The graduand has to be at the Cohn almost an hour early to get a robe and hood, and then find their place in line. Take this time to gather some shots of the building, the stage, the signs, the flowers for sale — anything that will add some context to the rest of the photos.
During the ceremony
Dalhousie has a very informal photography policy at convocation. Attendees will be invited to applaud and cheer as their loved ones cross the stage, as well as move to the front to take photos. Graduands will cross the stage from the right, and the degrees will be conferred by the chancellor at centre stage.
It’s a tricky shot: there aren't really any great angles to shoot from. There is a professional service that offers this shot, but you need to sign up before the ceremony.
After meeting the chancellor, the graduate proceeds left off the stage where President Richard Florizone will present the actual parchment and is happy to pose for a quick photo. You’ll only get one chance, though: the next graduate won’t be far behind.
After the ceremony
Following the ceremony, there’s a reception in the lobby of the Arts Centre. It gets crowded, so photos here aren’t ideal, however you may want to take advantage of a unique Dalhousie themed photo background provided by the Office of Advancement. After enjoying a snack, consider moving outside onto University Avenue, as all along the street there are great photo locations.
The university sign at Robie Street: A very popular spot for taking photos, this large sign at the intersection of University and Robie is a great location for group shots or individuals. Using a telephoto (zoom) lens will help isolate the sign from the busy background, but you’ll have to take the photo from across the street. Alternately, using a wide-angle lens, close up, will add some grandeur to the sign. Depending on the time of day, take the photos with the sun behind you.
The boulevard on University Avenue: Pretty much anywhere along University Avenue where there are trees for shade is a good spot to take photos. Right in front of the Arts Centre you’ll find the sculpture “Marine Venus”: this often misinterpreted artwork offers a unique photo setting that only Dal graduates can truly appreciate. There are also some red swings hanging from trees that are part of a public art exhibition that make a great photo op.
The Killam Library: Grab a coffee and a muffin and do some fun shots posing on the colourful chairs near the Killam Library. Another option is to head into the library atrium and get a shot standing in line for a sandwich or pretending to return a big pile of library books. The hood and gown can make for some fun, goofy action shots in the library itself too; why not check your email in full academic regalia?
The middle of the Studley Quad: There are some great photo locations to be found here, including the bench near the sundial. The well-kept flower beds also make great photo backgrounds — have your subject sit on the grass well in front of the flowers, then move back using a telephoto lens to blur the flowers out.
The MacDonald Building and the steps of the University Club: Two of the oldest buildings at Dalhousie, they are great locations for more traditional graduation photos. Use the steps and pillars creatively to add a sense of tradition and accomplishment.
The Hicks tower from South Street Gate: Don’t let the construction around the Hicks get you down. There is great photographic angle of the iconic clock tower near the tennis courts just off the South Street exit from the university.
Other ideas and tips
The campus is very large. Find a spot that is unique to the graduate’s experience and take formal or fun shots there.
Be familiar with your camera settings. For example, you’ll need a flash inside the Cohn. You’ll need to know how to compensate for backlighting outside. Learn how to make use of the camera’s creative controls to enhance your photos. Many of today’s cameras have either specific scene settings, or will allow you to adjust features like aperture, white balance, and exposure compensation manually.
Explore interesting angles by getting low or high for a new perspective. For example, sitting on the ground and shooting up at the graduate with the blue sky behind looks fantastic. Throw in a fist pump or big smile and you’ve got a frame-worthy photo.
Bring some props. Some of the best photos include props like balloons, teddy bears, sunglasses, Class of 2016 hats, or anything else you can think of. Props also help lighten the mood and make even the most self-conscious photo subject act like a Hollywood star.
Invoke emotion. It's a happy time and your photos should represent that feeling. Don’t let the busyness of the day overwhelm. Stay positive, have fun and enjoy every moment that you’re capturing.
Nick Pearce is a photographer with Dalhousie Creative Services. This will be his 11th year shooting Dalhousie convocation.
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