Behind the Lens: UA Photographer Shares Top Tips for Portraits

  • April 26th, 2022

Have you ever wondered how University of Alabama photographers get such great pictures on campus? 

Mary Kathryn Carpenter is a photographer for UA’s Division of Strategic Communications and an alumna of the Capstone. Although she takes photos for a variety of events and assignments, her favorite photoshoots are graduation pictures. We asked her to share her best tips for getting picture-perfect portraits on campus just in time for commencement season.

What are the top things to know when it comes to taking portraits? 

The first thing to remember is that lighting is everything, so going early in the morning or towards the evening can make a significant difference to the final image. Secondly, play with the angles and chose different locations — you will find that shooting straight on at eye level does not always create the most dynamic shot. The third would be if you have the time to learn the manual side of photography, it is worth learning. Lastly, do not use the on-camera flash, it does not flatter the subject.

How do you get the best shot with a campus building? 

Don’t stand as close as possible to the building. Walk away from it, get centered up with the doorway, and then take your shot! It makes the photo more about the person while also highlighting the location. 

When is the best time of day to take photos on campus? 

In the spring, I tend to go for sunrise sessions. By late March, the weather is usually nice and the flowers are in bloom. In the fall, late October is the best time to avoid the heat. 

student wearing graduation cap standing in front of the president's mansion
Taking a portrait from an angle other than eye level can create more dynamic shots. 

What are the best props to include? 

Using shakers or the Where Legends Are Made signs is always fun. You can also include personal items that are special to you. I’ve also seen students posing with their pets. Don’t forget your cap and gown! 

Do you have any favorite spots on campus to share? 

Everyone loves to get photos by the landmarks like Denny Chimes and the stadium, but there are countless beautiful, unique places on campus. There are the steps of Gorgas and the Quad, of course, which you can’t go wrong with. I’ve been loving Hewson Hall lately, but Reese Phifer will always be one of my favorite places to shoot.

If you could share any photo secret, what would it be? 

On our campus, being kind to others who are taking photographs goes a long way. Being mindful of others and working together can make everyone’s photos stand out.  


Caroline Gazzara-McKenzie, UA Strategic Communications,

The University of Alabama, part of The University of Alabama System, is the state’s flagship university. UA shapes a better world through its teaching, research and service. With a global reputation for excellence, UA provides an inclusive, forward-thinking environment and nearly 200 degree programs on a beautiful, student-centered campus. A leader in cutting-edge research, UA advances discovery, creative inquiry and knowledge through more than 30 research centers. As the state’s largest higher education institution, UA drives economic growth in Alabama and beyond.