Pomp, Circumstance, and the Photographic Graduation Challenge

My #1 son walks to his seat accompanied by “Pomp and Circumstance.”

As the venerable “Pomp and Circumstance” starts filling the huge cavern known as Houston’s Toyota Center, I feel myself starting to get misty-eyed. Afraid that the awful ugly cry is on my personal horizon, I quietly admonish myself. “Grow a pair!” I think; now isn’t the time to make it hard to focus on taking photos.

#1 stands out for having four years of perfect attendance.

Last Friday was a date that I really hadn’t thought about over the past 18 years . . . until my #1 son and I started looking at colleges his junior year. High school graduation just doesn’t seem real, as you’re working on moving from velcro to learning to tie shoelaces, reading chapter books, learning equations, discovering where the Amazon River is, and understanding chemical reactions.

And then, out of the blue, you’re in the venue where the Houston Rockets play basketball watching your son being honored among only several others of the 520 graduates who had four to six years of perfect attendance (aka, the Mom award). It almost was surreal.

Jessika spots her mom Sue and me in the stands.

As you might expect, I was as worried about meeting the photographic challenge of shooting in a large building after 6 p.m. as I was getting my #1 son to the ceremony on time. I was able to scout out a diagram of the Toyota Center and, knowing that the graduates would walk across the stage from right to left, I pinpointed two sections (119 and 120) that might be best for shooting. The Mister, our #2 son, and I were able to snag seats in 119 next to my good friend Sue, and it proved to be a great angle for snapping pix of the grads.

My “third son” Chase chats up our school district’s superintendent.

Both sections looked fairly far from the stage, though, so I decided to use my beloved Nikon 70-200mm lens with the Nikon 1.4x teleconverter. Because I would be losing a stop of light (from f/2.8 to f/4), I opted for that low-light champ, the Nikon D700, instead of the D300, which has a crop factor that lets you zoom in even closer.

My #1 son is congratulated by our principal.

The D700 turned out to be an excellent choice, because my ISO started at 1600 in order to not blur the action and ended up at 2500. What was disappointing for me was that I failed to account for the keylights shining down on the graduates; it wasn’t until after #1 walked across the stage that I figured out that I needed to use negative exposure compensation to tone them down. Photoshop helped, but too many of my photos were a bit overexposed. Live and learn!

#1 warmly greets our associate principal where the lighting is more even.

I was so busy snapping and chimping that I didn’t have time to get emotional. Which was a good thing given that ever-looming possibility of the ugly cry.

#1’s tassel has moved to the left: It’s official!

The ceremony moved along at a decent-enough clip, given the 500-plus graduates to acknowledge. It was fun watching kids we had known from elementary school looking so grown up as they walked across the stage to fulfill their destiny as high school graduates. Kindergarten graduation was cute and fun, but this was so much more meaningful.

Texas A&M-bound Karan and my #1 son

Speaking of kindergarten, it was great capturing photos of my #1 son after the ceremony with a couple friends he’s had since the beginning of school. One was Karan, who has always been one of our favorites.

Best friends forever! #1 and Chase

The other one, of course, was my “third son,” Chase. What a proud moment for me to see my two “sons” standing side by side with their robes on, looking so darned handsome. Regular readers know that Chase is practically a member of our family; at times he seems to live with us. So it seemed that the right thing to do when my brother-in-law snapped a family photo of us . . .

Our family!

. . . was to include him, too!

Congrats to both of my high school graduates! May the big dreams you hope to accomplish come true. We’re so proud of both of you!!

6 responses to “Pomp, Circumstance, and the Photographic Graduation Challenge

  1. You just do a remarkable job with words and pics… I love this post. Your son is a pretty lucky boy! And I love the family pic~!

    Suzanne

  2. Such a wonderful post, thankyou for sharing, it was lovely.

  3. How much would I have to pay you to get you up her by Tuesday night to shoot my daughter’s graduation ceremony? I do not have your gear nor your knowledge. I think your shots are amazing. We’ll be at the Target Center where the Timberwolves play, so a similar venue. I’ll never get in that close with the lens I have. Great job scouting ahead of time. Very smart. Your boy is lucky to have you. Congratulations on his achievement. What a great night for you all!!!

    • Wish I could be there for you, Trish! You know I’d come shoot if I could. Our school district did have an official photographer taking photos; maybe yours will do the same (I hope!). Remember, no ugly crying!

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