The silly season is called this because there is a bunch of people who get together, over-indulge, and act like fools. And it’s usually the parents / grandparents who ask for a group photograph. Most of the time, this picture is horrible, because it is the silly season, and people get together, over-indulge, and act like fools.
At the best of times, capturing a large group photograph is like herding cattle, having to get everybody in the same place at the same time, and getting them to behave. How does a photographer handle such a situation? Firstly, don’t panic. Things are going to happen. Somebody inevitably doesn’t want to be in the photograph; somebody will pull a face, and someone will have their eyes shut. Ideally, if this was a paid shoot (like a wedding, where the subjects actually want to be photographed, and are happy), here is what I would do:
- Prepare. Scout the location, and find the best light
- Set up. Get my gear ready, with trial shots and have all the settings ready before you muster the herd
- Pose. Try to get people to look their best. Most importantly, make sure that you can see everybody’s faces. An easy way is to tell them that if they can’t see the camera, then the camera can’t see them
- Take many shots. Inevitably, somebody will look weird. By taking multiple photos, you might get one where everybody is behaving. Alternately, you might be able to swap faces out from other images to make the perfect one. Unfortunately, large groups have little tolerance for standing around, so this isn’t always possible.
During this family shoot, we had issues with equipment. 20 spare batteries all decided to die at the same time, and we had just enough juice to fire the flash once before it switched off, and we lost our off-camera flash option. But we still got the shots. No matter what happens, you still need to get the shot. You cannot blame the gear.
Make no expectations that formal family portraits are going to be anything but that. This is not the time to be creative. Just get good light, pose them simply, and try not to get too many hot spots. And when you’re done, throw in the funny photo like this one, because sometimes, they end up as the most memorable one.
This picture was shot with a self-timer on a tripod (obviously, because the photographer was in it). Diffused on-camera flash, ISO 400, 1/125th, f11 (to make sure everybody is in focus).
Merry Christmas to all our family, friends, and clients. Wishing you all the best for the new year. Make 2017 what you want it to be. And remember, life is short. Find what you love to do, and then do it as often as you possibly can.