The Ultimate Posing Guide for Fun and Authentic Graduation Portraits
A posing guide for classic, gorgeous graduation portraits — brought to you by a photographer who's taken a lot of 'em!
Graduation is nearing, you’ve got the gown and the tassels, but no idea where to start with graduation photos.
When you’re looking to get some flattering photos but don’t feel the most comfortable in front of a camera, this guide’s for you. Even if you feel like you’ve got it down when you’re in front of an iPhone, it’s easy to feel a bit intimidated and overwhelmed when it comes to professional photography.
That’s where I come in! It’s my job to come prepared with oodles of ideas. And boy do I have ‘em — I’m a veritable font of posing suggestions, accumulated from years of shooting.
So check out these iconic poses below with examples from past sessions and pose-specific tips to help you plan your shoot! And above all, congrats on your soon-to-be graduation.
Over the Shoulder (Stole or Gown Draped Over the Shoulder)
One of my all-time favorites because it's SO flattering on EVERYONE. Look back over your shoulder on whichever side you prefer and show off the lettering and design of your stole. If you've got two majors, this is a great way to illustrate that with both stoles draped over your shoulder instead of one (see top right image).
Another option: walk towards the camera with your gown over your shoulder (see bottom middle).
Lean Against Something
This one's pretty straightforward — lean against a railing, a wall, a school sign — just lean with it.
Back Turned from Camera (With Grad Cap On or Held Up)
This one's a really good option if you have a have a nicely decorated cap since it shows it off nicely. Face a sign or campus landmark and throw those hands up in excitement for your achievement!
Hold Out the Bottom of Your Stole
These next few poses all have to do with interacting with your outfit. Don't be afraid to make use of it!
Look down at your stole or at the camera and show that stole off. Hold out the bottom of one or both sides. Can be a good option if it's a tad windy and your stoles are flying everywhere.
Hold Out Your Tassels, Gown, Etc
A variation on the previous theme — if you feel like all you can think to do is stand and smile, interact with your grad gear somehow and you're already one step closer to a better pose.
Hold Up Your Grad Cap
Thought we were done with these kinds of poses? Think again lol.
This pose works best if you have a fun design on your cap — show that hard work off!
Seriously though, if you're ever racking your brain for what to do in front of the camera, just remember what your friendly neighborhood photographer Marie would say and interact with that outfit.
Tip Your Grad Cap
For a more masculine pose, tip your grad cap like it's a top hat. For a more feminine pose, do the same but look away and back.
Adjusting Your Stoles (As if it were a jacket)
This one's great for my masculine presenting friends. Hold onto your stoles like you would if you were adjusting the fit of a jacket.
Curtsy / Hold Out Your Dress
And now one for the feminine presenting folks! Self explanatory, but a fun option if you've got a cute dress on that you'd like to show off.
Hand in Pocket / Hand on Hip
Creating angles with your arms immediately elevates a basic standing pose. And for my nervous friends, it gives your hands something to do.
Hold Your Grad Cap Down at Your Side
This one's such a cute and easy pose. Turn to the side a tad, pop a leg, and hold your cap in your outside hand down by your side. Bonus points if you lift your leg back (see below middle).
One Hand Up / Both Hands Up
You're graduating!! Enjoy that energy (and relief) and throw a hand or two up!
Close Up of Your Tassel
Hold out the tassel from your grad cap and inconspicuously show off your nails if you got them done for the occasion.
Poses for Sitting
Laying on Your Belly
One of my favorites! It's a pose that is truly flattering on everyone. Kick your feet up behind you to up the whimsy. If you're wearing your stole, lay it out in front of you (bottom left).
Variations of Sitting
Kick a foot up on a tree (see top left), cross your ankles (see top right), or bring a blanket to lay on, legs folded behind you (see below right). — there are always ways to spice up a pretty basic pose like sitting. Just opt for whatever feels most comfortable to you.
Cross Legged Sitting — Feminine
Always a flattering one! Find a suitable place to sit and lean back on one of your hands. You could also lean forward and rest a hand on your knee.
Cross Legged Sitting — Masculine
The more masculine version of sitting with one leg crossed over the other! The key to posing more masculinely is choosing more "open" stances vs "closed" stances. If you're looking to channel a typically masculine vibe in your photos, embody a pose that feels bolder and takes up more space.
Leaning on Something While Sitting
If your campus has a gazebo with bench seats like Cal Poly Pomona's does, you could sit or kneel on the benches and drape your arms on the railing for a slightly casual yet classic look.
Interact with a Statue
YOU'RE GRADUATING!! Have some fun and hop on your college's mascot for a few photos if this is your vibe. These photos can become so beautifully unhinged. I love 'em.
Not often first to mind when we think of poses, but it proves cute — especially if you kneel and look down at your stole.
Laying with One Knee Up (Preferably on a slope or steps!)
Sitting with one leg bent and one straight is a great pose if your campus has a lot of low steps. And if you ever find yourself staring almost directly into the sun, you can block your eyes by covering your face with one hand for a nonchalant model look (see top middle).
It's almost giving "Paint me like one of your french girls" if you rest your head all the way back on your hand (see below middle).
Walking Towards the Camera
These always so effortlessly cool and nonchalant. My #1 tip for walking photos is to slightly cross your legs with every step — it fools the camera into a perfect shot with every step. Take it a little slower, cross each leg a tad, and end the walk when you're closest to the camera with a fun pose.
If you're shooting with a group, start on the same foot (it looks more coordinated) and hold your friends' hands.
Walking Away from the Camera
No need to cross your legs here, I find it's not really as necessary as when you're walking towards the camera. Hold your cap and throw your stole or gown over a shoulder for that perfect "walking into the sunset" image.
Throwing Your Grad Cap Up
A classic graduation pose! For the perfect cap throwing photo every time, turn yourself to the side slightly and use your inside hand (the hand farthest from the camera) to toss the cap up (that way you're not blocking your face with your arm). Don't jump, stay planted on the ground. The only movement should be your arm launching the cap. Keep your arm in place at the end of the throwing motion and continue to look up at the cap until it falls (this allows for a momentary freeze in your motion that better allows me to capture the action every time without fail). The best example of this is the below left image.
But if you prefer the below middle image, this can be achieved best via two images. Basically, one image where you throw the cap and one where you hold your arm as if you just threw it. I can then photoshop the cap from the first image into the second one.
Throwing Grad Cap at Camera
A fun variation on throwing your grad cap! Just toss the cap like you would a frisbee directly at the camera. About one in every three of these images turns out pretty perfectly like the below images.
Such a classic celebratory image. Popping champagne can be a tad dangerous — be sure to point the bottle away from the camera and others. That cork can really fly. I've seen it pop off about 10 feet in the air once. Jimmy the cork out a tad, no need to aggressively shake up the bottle until it pops. Then, give it some extra shake to activate the bubbly.
After the fizz has died, throw back a sip or take a knee (see below right). And hold that bottle up (see middle right)!
There are plenty of variations when using confetti: toss it up with one or both hands (see top right), place it in your palms and blow towards the camera (see top left), sprinkle it on your friends (see below right), or use a confetti popper from Party City (see top middle) and have a friend pop it off camera (see below left).
I have confetti options that I always carry for grad shoots that you can use.
I have so many sparklers. I always carry these (along with a lighter) for graduation portraits. They make for a great Harry Potter vibe (see below right). Pro tip: always light sparklers in the least windy area and never shoot them against a bright backlit background as they won't show up on camera.
Fountain Dipping / Splashing the Camera
Bring sandals or flip flops to your graduation portrait session if you plan to take a dip in a campus fountain. That way you won't have slippery heels. Plus, you can slip on the sandals for easy and efficient walking between locations if your campus is really large, like UCI's.
If you don't want to submerge your legs, sit on the edge and toss some water upwards (see below left). Or if you're at the end of your session and DO feel like getting soaked, be a little evil with your friends (see below right).
Got a particularly flowy, gorgeous dress on? Go for a twirl!
Perfect for those with some extra long locks and a sense of the dramatic. This pose is even better if you're backlit as your hair will glow from the sun.
Grab a bubble blower and have a friend blow bubbles off camera for some cute shots. Or blow some yourself if you plan to go solo.
Bring Your Canine Companion
I am in love. Bring your dog, cat, bird, etc for a few adorable shots. Bonus points if you get 'em a graduation outfit.
No promises I won't steal your pup if you do this.
Hand Signs (School Hand Signs, Sorority/Fraternity Hand Signs, Peace Signs)
Tri Delta? Alpha Gamma Delta? Throw up a hand sign for some fun photos — whatever feels most authentic to you and your college experience!
Miscellaneous Props / Locations
I love when people bring what speaks to them most! Always be yourself for the best photos :)
You could bring Mickey Mouse ears (see below left) if you're a Disney fan, a Mexican blanket if you're a first generation grad proud of their heritage (see top right), a mascot plush toy (see below right), etc.
If you've got a prop like these — or you're standing by your major's building, don't be afraid to reference it and point (see top left or bottom middle).
Planning on taking photos with your significant other? Here are some cute extra options: hop on their back for a piggyback ride, steal a kiss behind your grad cap, or give 'em a hug from behind.
Book your graduation portrait session today!
Now that you have a better idea of the best poses out there, are you ready to book your portrait session? Consider booking with Marie Tobias Photography! I have shot tons of portrait sessions, leading to knowledge and expertise beyond simply knowing how to direct others.
And I am a (relatively) recent alum myself, class of 2020 baby.
Click here to book your graduation portrait session today.
Click here for what to wear, what's included, and more (I even have props like confetti, sparklers, and color smoke bombs for some added excitement).