Tips for Photographing Portraits on a Busy College Campus

Tips for Photographing Portraits on a Busy College Campus

I recently made a trip to the campus of Arizona State University in Tempe, Arizona to photograph college graduation portraits. It was my first time on the ASU campus and my first time shooting college graduation photos. Here’s what I learned.

Everyone Is a Photographer

Whether it was with a cellphone, a point and shoot, or a DSLR, within the first several minutes on campus I must have walked by a dozen different groups of people taking pictures. At first, I thought to myself, great, it’s going to be impossible to get a shot of my client without someone photobombing it or awkwardly looking at the camera, but that thought soon faded and I began to embrace the busy and energetic vibe that was present.

Don't Be a Bump on a Log

I quickly realized that if I wanted to make the most of the rather large and diverse campus and all of its unique features, my subject and I would need to hoof it and do some exploring. Since I was new to the campus, I relied heavily on my subject to lead the way and show me around.

I knew that trying to carry a bunch of gear with me was only going to slow me down, so keeping that in mind, for this set I made the decision to leave my strobes and light stands along with the rest of my equipment I had brought with me in my truck and carry only a single Nikon D810, a Nikon 24-70 mm and a Nikon 70-200 mm.

Expect the Unexpected

Upon arriving at the first location, we were greeted by a group of students we didn't expect to be there, setting up some sort of exhibit in the space that we had intended to shoot in. Since the students were still in the early stages of setting up whatever it was that they were doing, we didn’t interfere and it was easy enough to shoot around them and capture a few images at the location.

My subject for the afternoon happened to be the reigning Miss Tempe Arizona. Her easy going personality made improvising a breeze.

Think Quick or Get in Line

One prominent feature on the ASU campus is a building known as Old Main. It was there that we ended up shooting towards the end of the session, however what we found when we got there was unexpected. There was a line of at least 30 people waiting at the foot of the steps leading to the entrance of the historic building. My client and I stood there and observed the individuals in the line for long enough to realize they were all waiting for their turn to sit on the steps and have their photo taken by whomever they had with them to do the picture taking. The idea of waiting in line and losing a good part of the golden hour for a shot that hundreds of other students will also have seemed crazy to me, so we made the choice to continue exploring the campus around Old Main. This decision proved to be a wise one and we were able to capture dozens of other images that are far more original than what we may have captured after waiting in that line.


If you’re photographing portraits on a busy college campus for the first time, just keep in mind that you won’t be the only one there and that you may need to change your plans according to what else is happening on campus. You can browse hashtags on social media or do Google image searches for inspiration, but I strongly suggest having an open mind when shooting at locations that are so often photographed by others. Perhaps you’ll create a set of images that stands out above the rest.

Dusty Wooddell's picture

Dusty Wooddell is a professional photographer based in the Southwestern United States. Self-proclaimed thinker, opportunity seeker, picky eater, observer of things.

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A! S! U!

In that top photo... what is she holding to her ear?

Babel fish?

Hair. I suppose it would have made more sense alongside the rest of the sequence >.<

College photographer here: if you're going to do a shoot on campus not through the college, it's always appreciated to see if you can contact one of the college photographers, that way you aren't accidentally shooting where we have a shoot booked already. Some universities also have policies regrading conducting business on campus property, so that may be something you want to look into.

Another college photographer here: Clay Wegrzynowicz makes an important note. Most universities have policies governing filming and photography. Make sure to check with the institution's public affairs or communications office to obtain a permit before making photos on campus. This will make your day much more pleasant than the embarrassment of being questioned and escorted off campus by police.

I just took some picture of our girls at the UofA and when we got there no one was at one of the traditional places that everyone uses and I found myself yelling "go go go, no ones there!" Its hard being a dad.

I've seen doing a review on this article, and I've got some things to say. I myself am a photographer, and let me just say, my college years were the best for my career. On a busy campus, you can create outstanding shots, that's for sure! Some people say that you should never go to college if you want to be a successful photographer but to me, college was the best source of inspiration!