Capture the Moment

SF State’s top spots for graduation pictures.


Daniel Hernandez

Tanya Ochoa demonstrates one of SF State’s best spots to take graduation photos: the Quad. (Daniel Hernandez / Xpress Magazine)

It has been four, or more, years since this year’s graduates dressed in deep purple and gold regalia started their educational journey’s at SF State. The students, alongside their families, have spent hours sitting in Oracle Park waiting to walk the stage. The closing words have been stated, the caps have been thrown into the air and now the families reunite and begin snapping away photos on their phones of the new SF State alum. Then, out of nowhere, someone utters a phrase dreaded by many: “Let’s go take some photos on campus.”

The graduates begin to worry — they’ve spent years on campus yet can’t think of one nice spot to take photos on campus. The photos end up rushed, hastily taken in front of the building they spent the most time in and stored away in a camera roll never to be seen again.

Despite SF State’s relatively small size and rectangular architecture, there are still some great spots to take amazing graduation photos on campus.

SF State’s Main Entrance

This walkway, despite seeming simple, is perfect for graduation photos. The large trees provide shade to cover the harsh light and give a small window to the campus’ wide quad area. It’s a perfect spot for upper-body photos.


As Tanya Ochoa demonstrates, the quad has benches for grads to sit on and a nice green backdrop. (Daniel Hernandez / Xpress Magazine)

In the center of the quad, there is a giant tree and multiple benches to use as backdrops for your photos. This area is ideal for full-body, family or seated photos.

Memorial Grove

Memorial Grove is a garden-like area that engulfs visitors in nature. It’s a great location for those who want to enter a relaxed environment away from the campus buildings.

Don Nasser Family Plaza

The plaza is one of the only locations on campus that prominently showcases SF State’s mascot – the Gator. The statue will immediately identify the graduate as a Gator alum and makes for some fun photos with family members of all ages.

The Top of the Cesar Chavez Student Center

This photo spot is a bit of a climb, as it takes place on the top of the Cesar Chavez Student Center. On the bottom half of the rooftop, there is a great opportunity to take photos of someone sitting. The image will show off the building’s protruding architecture in the background. Climbing to the roof’s top will also showcase a bird’s-eye view of the campus and surrounding areas.

Garden of Remembrance

This area provides different angles and backdrops for photos. The biggest sell of the space though is the small fountain, which works for any type of shot.

Smartphone Photography Tips & Tricks

Always be aware of the sun’s position.

Lighting is key to any great photo. Before taking a portrait, take a look at the sun’s position. If it’s behind the subject, then make a movement change so the sun lights their face and not the back of their head.

Don’t be shy to manually zoom.

Manual zoom, for the purpose of phone photography, means to walk closer or away from your subject. Full-body images might work in some scenarios, but don’t be afraid to switch it up. Capture some headshots and upperbody photos, or walk farther away to capture an extra wide shot.

Follow the rule of thirds.

The “rule of thirds” comes from the idea that a photo is split into nine different sections. The rule explains that visually aesthetic photos are made when the person is positioned on one of the two vertical lines splitting up the image. Extra points if the head or eye is positioned at an intersection where two lines meet.

Capture some motion.

Doing the same two or three poses gets boring after a while for both the photographer and the subject in front of the camera. Try to capture some movement by throwing the cap at the phone or shooting the subject walking.

Play music.

This tip isn’t directly photography-related, but playing music is much better than taking photos in silence. The music will get the person to feel comfortable and might make for some great candid shots of them just enjoying their favorite artist.