How to make 22 people smile at the same time, look good and be well lit ? How to pose them all? How many lights do I need to photograph them? What lens should I use? What else do I need? etc. etc. These are just a few of the many questions that popped into my mind when I hang up with J.D., my new client this past summer. When so many people meet for a family reunion and want to have a beautiful group portrait taken, the last thing you want is to mess up everything (you know that they are not going drive back another day to the same place for you to try again). If you are a photographer and have been contacted for a family reunion portrait and you have started panicking... fear not! The following paragraphs will guide you step-by-step on how to make your client's family reunion portrait really stunning.
Planning is of the utmost importance for anything to be successful, right? So why not applying it to this case? That is what I told myself when I started planning for this large group photo shoot. I will tackle it the same way I do for every session. First thing first, I had to plan for my client: the location of the session, the date and time and what they will wear/what would look good.
Let's start with the location. Location, location, location....The location is something that I choose very carefully for every session. In that case I chose Stanley Park in Vancouver, BC. It is a beautiful and large park that offers some awesome scenic views with either the mountain as a backdrop or the city skyline. That day was an overcast day so the scenic view were not at the "rendez-vous". But Stanley Park stills stays such a gorgeous place to shoot at.
A quick advice! Be very picky when choosing your location! The client may suggest a location but don't forget that you are the professional and you know what looks good. When browsing the Internet, I saw so many family reunions photos that would look so much better if only the photographer had chosen another location. Also, be very selective where you position the group for the photos. As it is for a large group, I suggest having a nice open space so the photos doesn't look too cluttered! I personnaly chose this small hill in Stanley Park that had an open sky at the back. It was an overcast day but the spot still worked for me!
For the date of the session, we had to make sure that it wasn't raining on that day and that the selected day would work for everyone's schedules. I also had to select a time that would not only work for everyone but also a time when the sun was not up in the sky (just to have a softer sunlight). I was lucky that it was cloudy which was perfect light-wise.
Finally, let's look at clothing. We selected something really simple and that everyone usually has in his closet: a white top and blue jeans (pants or short). It is really important to have everyone wearing the same shade of blue or very close to each other in order for it to look better.
Now, let's plan for what you need in terms of equipment and staff. Depending on your lighting style, you might choose different lighting equipment. Personally, I went with two monolights Profoto B1 with two 60'' umbrellas and 4 heavy sandbags (the sandbags are critical especially if it is windy). For my lens, I chose a Nikkor AF-S 28mm f/1.8G (I shoot with a crop sensor) so it is closer to a 45 mm. That allowed me to not have to back up too much in order to have everyone in the frame as well as some white space around them.
I chose the large umbrellas to make sure that enough light would bounced back on everyone. This would also help me to reduce my editing time. I also had an assistant to help me carry and set up all that equipment faster. When I was placing the family members for the photos, correcting their posing and switching them around, my assistant was setting up the lights. I also made sure to bring along two adjusting stools for the grand-parents to sit and a couple of foldable step stools that I bought at Canadian Tire. The foldable stool were helpful to move people around without worrying much about height.
For the rest there is no magic. Once you meet all the family members on the day of the session, you have to make them feel confortable, try to have a great rapport with as many of them especially the kids to make sure they listen to you when necessary. Posing is also very important as well as positioning family members. Try to position people close to each other, make sure no hands are hanging (they can either be in pockets or on someone shoulders). Have the shortest people in front and the tallest and largest people at the back. When the group looks good and is ready to be photographed. Try to make them laugh by saying some crazing things. You can also make them say the same sentence/word multiple times as it helps to create a sense of "group" but also make them relax.
You will find below a sample of the photos I made for J.D's family reunion portrait. Everyone was quite delighted when they discovered the photos a few days after the photo session.
If you also did a family reunion lately and want to share your photos or have some questions about how to plan for a large group/family reunion portrait, please don't hesitate to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
P.S: Just in case you are wondering what were the settings on my camera, please see below: