I'm going to take a break from weaving through contradictory photo advice and do a quick photo walk-through. I haven't done one in months, and I have one that has personal motivations. This is done in Lightroom only, and you can do the same for your graduates. Last month, my wife finished her master's degree. Every graduate has their story and hers is very personal. We won't go into it here because it isn't photography related. Let me just assure you she worked hard for it, and it was a huge deal for our entire family.
We went off to the Patriot Center at George Mason University, a big arena where the GMU Patriots have their basketball games. Graduation ceremony photos are always hard because of the distance and the crowds. I had my 70-200, with a 1.7 teleconverter. There was no room for my tripod, so I was going to have to hand hold the camera. I bumped up the ISO to 2,500 to get a faster shutter speed. As she left the stage, diploma in hand, and started back to her seat, the grandkids yelled out, and she turned to wave to them. Snap.
This is the RAW image. Even with the lens racked out to 340mm, you can see how small she is in the photo. The white balance is off. Time to get to work.
I always set a manual white balance. An automatic white balance (determined by the camera) will change slightly every time you push the shutter. The varying intensity of the lights and angles cause small changes in the starting point on the RAW files. By manually setting a consistent white balance, my starting point is wrong here, but it is consistent throughout the entire set of photos.. I only have to fix one photo, and Lightroom will synchronize all the others to the same white balance. I usually adjust this first, and then, add a little more exposure and some vibrance and clarity. You can see it already looks much better.
This is much nicer, but I still have too many distractions: her fellow graduate; the water bottle; and the edge of the stands. I can continue to crop into the scene, but, when I eliminate the stands and the graduate, the best crop cuts the corner of her cap and her elbow. That isn't what I want.
The simple solution is to turn the portrait perspective to landscape. Don't let your original perspective trap you into a bad crop. We covered this in the composition blog a few weeks ago. Photos of people do not have to be shot in the portrait perspective.
The final shot has what I was looking for. The distractions are gone. The subject is sharp. There are leading lines and repeating patterns. And she has a happy, genuine smile for the grandkids and my camera. (And you know she liked it or it wouldn't be on the blog!)
Congrats to our family's newest graduate - all your hard work paid off. It was a fun day, and we had a great party.