The 2020 Matriculation photograph
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The socially-distanced matriculation photo

Social distancing has presented many challenges for Freshers at Fitzwilliam College in October 2020, but a solution has been found for the traditional Matriculation photograph.

John Thompson, of JET Photographic, has been taking the Fitzwilliam Matriculation photo for over 20 years, with incoming students standing in close proximity on tiered platform staging, something not possible during the COVID-19 pandemic.

John suggested a method – one which he had used successfully at Hughes Hall, who have too many individuals for the staging – to stitch the photographs together, and Fitzwilliam graduate students were happy to be his guinea pigs during the summer.

John explains: “In lockdown last summer I was fully aware we may not be able to take our traditional Matriculation picture on our staging. I had this idea of trying to take individual people, superimposing it and making it look just like the Matriculation photos Colleges are accustomed to.

“Living in a village and due to lockdown, the challenge was finding half a dozen young people to experiment on. Fortunately, Suzy Sheardown from Tutorial volunteered some graduate students. We arranged a summer’s evening and half a dozen graduate students came along in their gowns. 

“I took individual photos and superimposed them on to a large Matriculation photograph. They all appeared about 20 times in the photograph! From that I was able to present my sample to all the Colleges, and they said ‘Wow, what a brilliant idea!’ They went for it.”

The individual photos required for the test collage
Examples of the test photos: sitting, standing, and posed photographs.
The test photograph
The repeating pattern of the test photograph, with MCR President Maurits Houck posed as Master

Other photographers opted for household shots, but, as the examples using Fitzwilliam’s graduate students show, John’s method is successful.

The undergraduate Freshers' photos were taken on Tuesday 6 October, and graduate photos on Saturday 10 October, with plenty using the opportunity to get their own photographs in their gowns. Socially-distancing queuing was required, with the photography team spending more time on site than previously, and the final image is not ready yet. 

John adds: “My staff said they much prefer using staging – it’s so much easier. Just taking the photographs was a challenge. We had to take three photographs. The first photograph was a student holding their name identifier, then we took another photograph of them pretending they were on the staging – we had to make sure some were sitting, some were standing – and then we had our traditional portrait posed with the College backdrop.

“They’re looking really good, but we can’t start assembling the group photograph until we have photographed everybody, because they have to be in alphabetical order. A number of students were still in isolation, so we’re going to have to come back to get everybody and then create the Matriculation photo. Hopefully some time this term we’ll have the full Matriculation photo! 

“There are a couple of graduate Colleges where the students don’t go in alphabetical order, so we can start work on those first, even though we will also have to go back to them to complete the photographs.

“We are now in this long, drawn out process of moving the figures in Adobe Photoshop to the backdrop, which was taken separately, to superimpose them so it will look just like last year’s, hopefully.

“The difficult bit is the sitting people. Once we’ve got that row down, with the shadow in, the rest is a piece of cake.”

Students in the socially distanced queue
Students in the socially distanced queue on the Grove lawn


The Master, Baroness Sally Morgan
The Master, Baroness Sally Morgan, at the front of the socially distanced queue awaiting her turn
The Master, Baroness Sally Morgan
The Master, Baroness Sally Morgan, shows her identity card for the first photograph
A matriculation photograph being taken
John Thompson hard at work, with a first-year undergraduate smiling for her Matriculation photo

John adds: “I have to thank Fitzwilliam College, because they were the ones who allowed me to do a proper sample, with the graduate students.”

We will publish the final result when it is complete.

Students enjoying wearing their gowns
Students enjoying wearing their gowns on the day of their Matriculation photograph


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