Order Your Cap and Gown
First thing's first, probably even before reaching out to me for photos — order your graduation regalia! Each regalia set will differ depending on your graduation date, school, and degree.
What's normally worn:
High school: Cap, gown, and tassel
Undergraduate: Cap, gown, university insignia or year tassel, stole of gratitude, honor cords
Masters: Cap, gown with long sleeves, tassel, academic hood
Doctorate: tudor bonnet or academic tam (round or hexagonal velvet hat with tassel), gown with velvet panel
Where to get your regalia:
This varies from school to school, to make sure to double check on your authorized retailers. Colors and materials will vary depending on where you order from (so skip the tempting half-price Amazon listing) you could stick out like a sore thumb come commencement — Yikes!
Here are some shop resources for the universities I work with most frequently:
Arizona State University
University of Arizona
Grand Canyon University
Your graduation year should be available by the middle of the first month of your final semester (ex - January for a May graduation). Typically regalia arrives in the mail 2-3 weeks after ordering.
Many campus bookstores will sell regalia packages in person, so definitely call ahead and ask how soon these are available for pickup — this may help you forgo the wait of online ordering depending on the time of year.
I also highly recommend browsing through Facebook marketplace if you live in the same area as your school — former graduates may be looking to offload their regalia at a discounted price.
Book Your Session Early
As your final semester of school approaches, it's time to start thinking about your graduation photos! Start reaching out about 4 months before you're looking to take photos — even if you're not 100% sure of your schedule, I'll be able to let you know my availability and we can work together to find a mutual date once it's set.
The best times for graduation photos on-campus are well outside of graduation week. I highly recommend doing your session as early in the semester as possible. Usually May grads are able to secure their regalia by the end of February if ordered immediately, with the first sessions taking place that week or the first week of March (often spring break in Arizona).
Graduation week and the week prior, especially at major universities, can be extremely crowded with fellow graduates doing exactly what you are! I've waited up to 30 minutes for some of the major landmarks like the stairs on Old Main at ASU or the fountain at U of A.
May graduation will always draw more crowds than December, but it's still best to book early to ensure the most seamless experience.
Choose a Location
The most popular choice for grad sessions is usually your home base — on campus! But if you're an online student or don't feel particularly connected to your campus, don't let this limit your session options.
The grad pictured above is from the Midwest (like me!), so wanted to have photos that reminded her more of home. I took her to Venue at the Grove in south Phoenix to spend some time among the pecan trees.
I've taken grads out to the desert, walked with them around downtown Phoenix and even visited their workplace! Even if we are on campus, I always love to customize part of the session to you specifically through a photo in front of your college building, a few photos in front of the library where you spent all of your time studying, or at your on-campus office job.
Don't be afraid to think outside the box!
Select an Outfit
To the point — wear something you love and are excited about! Many grads like to stick to a classic neutral white or black for their grad outfit which always pops regardless of your regalia colors (and definitely won't clash), but I've seen every color under the sun!
I recommend staying away from colors that are too close to your regalia — I love to create variety in your session by layering different elements of your ensemble, so see what color looks best under both the stole/hood alone as well as your gown. For example, if your gown is black, wearing a solid black outfit underneath takes away all dimension — we won't know where the gown ends and you begin!
Also remember there are no rules for your session! You can sport what you're wearing to your ceremony or choose a completely different outfit. If you prefer casual clothes, opt for nice jeans and a t-shirt instead of feeling uncomfortable all dressed up.
This can also be a great time to get some professional, LinkedIn-worthy headshots done, so sometimes my grads will bring a blazer to throw over the top of their dress or choose a collared shirt that can pull double duty.
The thing that will make or break what clothing you choose is how it's presented — ironed clothes look the best. I won't be removing your wrinkles in post-production! Make sure to take your gown and stole out of the bag and hang it up as soon as you receive it! Try to steam your items if you can — never apply direct heat. If you're using an iron, place a fabric barrier between the iron and your gown such as a plain t-shirt or sheet.
I'm not sure if it's helpful or just opens a whole different can of worms, but it's all truly up to you!
Bonus: Bring a Prop
I'm all about my grads customizing their sessions uniquely to them. The grad above completed the Starbucks scholarship program, so we took a few photos outside the Tempe campus location and she brought this cute Arizona-themed cup along too!
I've had grads include the following:
— their diploma folder
— a grad cap they decorated themselves
— their dog!
— their aunt's nursing cape and their stethoscope
— a framed photo of a family member at their graduation
— a textbook from their favorite class
— a bottle of champagne to pop
— their ID badge from an internship
Just remember, whatever you bring we'll have to carry with us, so it's usually a good idea to keep it small. I also limit my grads to one prop (two if it's really small) per session aside from regular regalia so we can focus more on the experience and not fiddle too much with all of the extras.
While I do allow a champagne pop, I now limit the location to places that won't affect campus grounds or other students taking photos — I never want to make any walkways or staircases messy and make work for the grounds crew.
Items I don't allow: confetti of any kind (yes, even biodegradable - it still leaves an immediate mess!), balloons, food, and any other items not regularly allowed on campus
If there's nothing extra you'd like to bring to your session, no worries — you are more than enough!