By Vanessa Brazeau

As a soon to be graduate, the reality that university is actually meant to reach an end has finally come to my attention. This frightful realization dawned on me during a 20 minute session for the UBC Grad Composite/Parental bragging rights photograph. It might have been the smell of the nylon roses I held in my arms, or perhaps the hypnotizing words ‘Tilt your head a bit more to the left’ repetitively conditioning themselves into my brain, but as I sat between a camera-happy Emily Carr student and an eight foot plastic bookshelf it finally hit me; What the fuck.

For all of you sharing the same existential crisis that comes with university or college ending, I thought I’d try to make at least a part of it easier for everyone. Here are a few pointers for trying to make the Graduation Photo (perhaps the most inaccurate summary of the past 4, 5, or 6 years of your life) a tad more credible.

I started the day with a trip to Barbarella ( Getting your hair styled for Grad photos is a risque action to begin with. I was always a believer in the idea of self-styling for these types of things; a genuine portrayal of oneself. However, I’ve seen too many girls trying too hard to make things formal-more often then not resulting in lopsided disaster. So if you don’t feel comfortable with your own abilities, don’t take a risk. Go to your regular stylist or someone who knows how you wear your hair. Laure Elaine was for me.

Make sure you tell him/her you want to stick with a casual ‘do. The words ‘Graduation Photo’ often signal overdone curls and half a bottle of hairspray. Natural hair will help tone down the formality created by the cap-gown combo, alluding to the more common experiences of your university career. While the unwashed, slicked back bun may be too far of a push in the other direction, more-nature-less-ringlet’ is a good call.

Laure Elaine and I decided that my colour was in need of some new life. She used a simple toning technique that bolds up what is already there. This was a great idea because it helped add a new dimension to my photo, without me having to worry about the overly striped look that often comes with fresh highlights. I opted out of a cut, I just wanted volume and a few curls to give the photo some depth and texture (this is where being a Visual Arts grad gives you some serious advantages.)

I also found it was good to get my hair done with plenty of time before the photo shoot. With a few hours to spare, the style fell a bit more naturally and had a more subtle finish that didn’t look forced.

Next I took a stroll over to the home/workplace of make-up artist Briana Buckmaster, owner of City Cinderella ( With her experience in film, I knew it was a good call because she has worked with cameras before. It is important to know that cameras pick up makeup a lot differently than our eyes do. If you’re getting your make up done, Go to someone with knowledge of the face-camera relationship. There are plenty of talented makeup artists out there who do great jobs for weddings, proms and other ‘in the moment’ events, but it’s important to find someone who understands the way lighting, angles, and the camera itself will affect how your face is captured.

What was great about Briana was she not only made me look beautiful for my photo but also used her time to give me tips on how I can do the same for myself. “The truth is the best thing you can do in those photo-ops is make sure you show off your face. No crazy eye makeup or lipstick. Just a great canvas and a smiling face you recognize.” I was glad that Briana agreed it should look natural. “For this kind of shoot, use your makeup to bring out your features and contour your face shape, not show off the latest trends.”

I also learned the technique of trying to matte yourself with powders so that there be no shine is a huge mistake because it acts a reflector, bouncing the light right back to the camera and making you washed out in all the wrong places. Who knew?

For any part of your photo- make up, hair, wardrobe- it’s all about trying to look timeless. “The thing about any photos for special occasions is to remember that they’re probably gonna be on someone’s wall,” Briana says. “That means they’ll be looked at a lot and will need to stand the test of time whilst sitting on Grandma’s sofa table.”

The Main Event

My greatest advice for the photo shoot itself is pretty ironic considering it’s a photo for educational purposes, but try not to think about anything. And if you do think about something, make sure it’s the look on that Japanese guy’s face when he thought your apartment was his own, and his key somehow worked on your door last year. His expression as he realized that a 22 year old white girl and canvases covered in melted bubblegum were not things that normally occupy his room was the best thing I have ever seen. What I’m trying to say is rather then being concerned with whether you are ‘Smeyezing’ to Tyra’s standards or worrying about the angle of your face, (things that will only make you look stiff and awkward) think of something that will help you loosen up. Unfortunately these shoots aren’t for Myspace, so taking 200+ photos for that one great profile picture isn’t really reasonable. That being said, you shouldn’t be afraid to ask the photographer to retake any of the photos you aren’t happy with. We aren’t paying 60 dollars for 15 minutes for nothing! (Thievery!!!)

The moral of the story: Less is more. These photos should be a celebration of the greatest learning experiences of the last several years of your life, most of which have occurred outside of the classroom. Ditch the institutional formalities and let them see what you have brought to your education, not what your education has brought to you. Don’t forget, the whole University World-Real World separation doesn’t actually exist, and I don’t just mean because you watch the Real World in your dorm room.

Who you are as a graduate should reflect who you were through your entire university experience, just double fisting your diploma rather than tequila.