Photo Tips for Graduation - iVillage Beauty

You've worked hard, studied, written papers and have finally accomplished your goal -- graduation! On your special day, you want to capture the moment and preserve it for a lifetime. So to help you look great, we got the scoop from professional photographer Wayne Cartwright. Wayne has been a photojournalist for 9 years, with 18 years experience as a fashion, wedding and portrait photographer. Using his tips below, you'll look fantastic on this day and every day someone pulls out these treasured photos.

First, remember the most flattering look is to simply accentuate your best features in a natural way. You want the look of "yourself" captured at this moment in your life. To help, keep in mind these considerations:

  • Unless your school offers color options for gowns, you'll be forced to wear a color that may not complement your skin tone.
  • You'll be facing a situation that is hot, crowded and will last for several hours, so you want to feel comfortable and look fresh whenever possible.
  • There will be a lot of different photo situations. Keep in mind that in addition to your friends' candid shots and your family's posed portraits, there will also be the school's professional portrait photographer positioned near the stage, your school's newspaper photographer and even local or regional professional photojournalists there to cover the event. Your lovely face could appear in a variety of places!

But don't worry! Check out these pro tips for a picture-perfect graduation day:



Your graduation gown will be the single most dominant feature of most photos, especially full- length shots. Consider your skin tone vs. your gown's color for the best balanced makeup. If you have a lighter skin tone, your main concern is not to be washed out in photos. Go for a natural tone, with a slightly darker foundation. Try lipstick with either a touch of shiny frost or glossy color to make your lips stand out. Avoid too-dark lip colors like reds and browns that will make your lips look unnatural. You want some emphasis without having colors that are too contrasting. Opt out of colors that could compete with your gown.

If you have a darker skin tone, try to add some light contrast to your facial tones by using a little blush and a slightly lighter foundation color. This will increase the tonal quality and make your face pop instead of wash out in your photos. Darker lip colors should look fine, as long as they complement your tones rather than contrast.

If you have the option for a collar on your gown, considering using it. Those rounded peter pan collars can add dimension to the look. But keep in mind that the collar will be the closest item to your face, so adjust your makeup coloring accordingly. This is especially important in close-ups and portrait shots. Since most collars tend to be white, follow the rules for having lighter colors around your face.



Your cap should be slightly tilted to one side. Avoid wearing it cocked in an extreme manner, either on the side or back/forward. But a slight tilt to the side creates a diagonal line across the forehead and makes anyone's face look slimmer. Don't push the cap too far back on your head or move it around once in place. This can pull your hair and create messy, shaggy strands of hair to detract from your overall look.

Of course, you'll need bobby pins to keep your cap steady during the whole filing in, sitting, walking, standing process of the graduation ceremony. Consider not only your natural hair color, but your cap color when selecting the bobby pin color. If you have a light cap and blonde hair, lighter golden tones will look nice. If your cap is darker and you're a brunette or deeper shade, your choice is easy; go for the brown or black pins. But if your hair color and cap color are very contrasting, give yourself some options. Purchase two batches of pins that blend well both with your hair and your cap and try them both out beforehand. Depending on your hairstyle and the angle you wear your gown, choose whichever color (matching your hair or matching your cap) creates the most natural look. Don't forget to pack extra bobby pins, too, for the day of graduation. Invariably some will get lost or a buddy will need some, too.



Make sure the tassel is pulled over enough to the side so that it doesn't block your eyes. Even if you can see through the tassel, keep in mind that from the photographer's view, your eyes will still be blocked and your face will be cluttered rather than accentuated by the tassel. Too close to your face, and the tassel will photographically cut your face in half. Make sure you read over your school's instructions for proper pre- and post-graduation tassel positions. You'll want to get a before and after graduation shot!


Short to Medium-Length Hair

Have some hair peeking out to soften the edges of the cap, especially to frame your face head on. You may want your hair either below the cap line (with bangs showing) or opt for a smooth, pulled back look. Either is fine, but be aware that strands will work out during the course of this long day, so spritz with a fine mist of holding spray and check for stray pieces before pictures are taken. If you dogo for a smooth, neat forehead look, try pulling some pieces around your ears (and shoulders, if you hair is long enough)


Long Hair

Longer hair has more options. There are dozens of styles to try: buns, braids, curls either natural or for-the-day. One great look is to pull your hair's length around to drape one shoulder. This is an especially lovely look if you have long, flowing hair and a heavier build since the lines of the hair will lengthen your overall look.



To minimize glare, make sure your photographer is either slighter taller than you are or can stand on a step, chair or anything to increase his height. Don't tilt your head up as this will increase the possibility of glare. An easy option is just to take your glasses off just for photos.



The best defense is to avoid any extreme contrasts in makeup coloring. Don't confuse evening looks with "special occasion". Now is not the time to try out the smoky eye, dramatic liners or deep, dark lip colors. Like for weddings, you want a natural, soft glowing look that will keep the focus on you and the special occasion rather what shade of lipstick you're wearing. A natural, low maintenance look will best suit all the photo possibilities. (You might want to take your gown to your favorite cosmetics counter for help selecting a shade that compliments you and your gown.)

Even if you don't normally have oily skin, remember that you'll end up in confined areas clustered with other people. If your gown is acetate, that means it won't breath and will trap in body heat not only for you, but everyone else standing in line. Prepare to be hot and sweaty for several hours before and during graduation.

The key elements is for everything to be light and airy -- from what you wear under your gown, your shoes to your makeup and hair. Be comfortable and you'll feel good and look better. Consider ditching your regular foundation, especially if it's a heavier consistency and try out (several weeks ahead of time, not the day of graduation) something more sheer and light like tinted moisturizer, foundation stick applied only in certain areas or only a light layer of powder. Go for a natural sheer look, with matte tones. If you have very oily skin or tend to sweat, consider packing facial wipes and after the ceremony is over, take a few minutes to cleanse your face with these handy wipes and start over. This won't be a huge deal, especially if you pare down your makeup routine to just the essentials. You'll have a fresh, dewy look ready for post-grad photos.


How to Stand

Visual communication psychology dictates that since the camera is converting your 3D body to a flattened 2D image, it can add 5-10 lbs to your face and shoulders. The first step is to avoid standing with your feet side by side, with knees touching. Take a tip from professional models: they know to de-emphasize this by standing at an angle from the camera. So practice this slimming stance before the big day: with the camera at 12 o'clock position, turn your entire body to either 1 o'clock or 11 o'clock. Your shoulders and knees should be pointed at one of these angles, away from the camera. Now turn your face to look straight on at the camera. Try this several times so that you can naturally walk into this stance for a natural, but flattering, effect. Look through your favorite fashion magazine for runway shots for more ideas on lengthening stances to try.


Makeup Bag

Here are some must-have considerations for your graduation day makeup bag:

  • Loose powder with brush (be careful not to spill, though, especially on a darker gown)
  • Facial wipe cloths
  • Small comb
  • Mini hair spray to put in your pocket
  • Small pressed powder compact -- translucent color
  • Bobby pins
  • Lip balm
  • Candy or breath mint (you may want that sugar boost!)

A good idea is to buddy up -- don't be afraid to be candid with your classmates and let them know when something is out of place, makeup's too shiny or anything else. You'd appreciate the favor and they will too. Check each other before you go out into the auditorium. Remember that you're making memories and, just like you helped each other through that tough math class, you should ehlp each other cross this final ceremony.

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