I just show up. These are usually public events in which anyone can attend. As long as you are not making a public spectacle of yourself, you should be be able to photograph the event. The last graduation I attended, as it turned out, was tough to photograph as the stage and lighting made it difficult. I knew by the stage layout and the cameras around me that the pictures from others were going to turn out less than acceptable. After developing their film, parents began approaching me to see what kind of images I managed to have. Had I not been there, no photographs. And there are also parents that don't take cameras. I don't just take photos of the kids accepting their diplomas. I mingle into the graduating class and take photographs of emotional children that are hugging, crying, with tears streaming down their faces and their parents hugging their children. Those photographs seem to sell well.
Announcing you at the ceremony:
For the most part, if you dress the part and act the part, then you will not need to be announced. carry a bunch of business cards. Parents WILL come up to you and ask for them. By dressing the part, I mean a photo vest, maybe even an identification tag hanging off of it (I do this. It oozes professionalism, as it should). You are easily identified and show you have nothing to hide.
I keep a binder for each year. I carried the 2002 binder with me until the end 2003. At the end of that month, I took out all the photos from Jan-Mar 2003 and placed them in their own binder. That became the 2003 binder. I leave the 2002 binder in the office and only take it out if someone specifically asks for something in it. I do not walk around with a bunch of binders.
I use Qimage software program that allows me to place several images on one page with their file numbers. So, I do not print each picture individually. The cost would be too much. I place 12 images per page. All the customer has to do is give me the file number, size of print and qty. That's it. I take payment and have it for them that day or the next. It seems you are limited with your options if you depend on a lab to make your prints. I do everything myself using an Epson 2200 as the printer. Less than a $1.00 per page with 12 images per page.
In fact, just this morning, I had two students order photos that were taken back in May. They looked in the book, found themselves in a few and ordered a 5x7 and a few 4x6's. This is what I get between larger jobs. It keeps a bit of cash flowing in. If the school is private, then you may have an issue. That's why you have the above mentioned contract. You can sell the images to friends, neighbors, aunts, uncles and grandparents.
You do not need a model release.
#1 It's a public event.
#2 You are not licensing the images.
If the place or item is recognizable, then the prudent thing to do is to get a property release form filled out. I took a photo of a barber that works out of a converted school bus. He travels around the island, parks the bus and he's in business. I have a model release from him and a customer. I took a picture of his bus. I got a separate property release for that as well.
I'll give you another example. A person likes to take photos of lighthouses. Many of these are privately owned. Let's say the photographer sells one of these to a postcard company. If the owner of that lighthouse sees it, then he may want a cut of the profits unless the photographer has a property release.
Look for job opportunities with other photographers, particularly in High School Portraits. Become an assistant and learn. Photographs know that you will eventually move on. Just don't compete with them directly when you do. You will need them later, trust me on that. Also try Pee Wee sports photography. Start off as a poser (I learned a lot with this) and go from there.
I hope this article has introduced you to a new few ideas.