Here are some tips for capturing great graduation photos.
1. Camera Choice. The larger the image sensor, the better the quality of images, especially in a dark auditorium or gymnasium. A digital SLR with a fast zoom lens (f/2.8) is best, followed by a prosumer digital SLR with a normal speed lens. Stabilization is a plus. Camera phones and inexpensive point and shoot cameras will usually disappoint in this situation.
2. High ISO. The tradeoff in a dark room is quality vs shutter speed. If you keep the ISO low, you risk camera blur or subject blur from the low shutter speed. So sacrifice a bit of crispness in the image for a sharper image taken at a higher shutter speed. Set the ISO at 800 or higher.
3. Stability. Even if your camera body or lens has some kind of motion compensation (VC, IS, anti-shake, etc.), you should still keep the camera stable as you shoot. A monopod or at least the back of the seat in front of you is far better than holding the camera in front of you with both hands.
4. Telephoto or Close. If you can only shoot from your seat, you’ll want to use telephoto, but that will only amplify the shake risk with the long lens. Better to scoot down front if allowed and shoot close to the stage. If not, zoom in as much as you can.
5. Turn off the dang flash. It’s annoying and will not make a bit of difference more than 20 feet away if you have a point and shoot camera. Learn how to disable it, and the camera will often compensate with better exposure parameters.
6. White Balance. If you can choose white balance, try a couple of test shots with indoor lighting settings such as tungsten or florescent. Often they will be better and more consistent than the “Auto” setting.
7. Pre-focus before the moment. A few seconds before your student approaches for their diploma, pre-focus on the official presenting the document and hold. Hold the shutter button halfway down, and then press it fully when they approach and receive their diploma.
8. Candids after. The student will be much more relaxed and happy after the ceremony is done. Use that time to get some group photos with their colleagues, siblings and friends.
9. Share! Make sure to post some images online, using Facebook, Flikr or your favorite image-sharing site.