This is just about the most varied form of photography you will ever encounter and ranges from shooting on-the-fly at celebratory events and similar gatherings, catching something unusual by being in just the right place at the right time, the typical family gathering with a limited amount of posing, the more formal shot at a family event, and then finally working under studio conditions.
It covers natural light outdoors in all its variations, available low light indoors, speed-flash and studio lighting, and some of what is included here is also covered in more detail elsewhere.
I’m going to cover it all here. Let’s start with shooting on-the-fly.
Shooting on-the-fly at celebratory events
This covers weddings, christenings, bar mitzvahs and similar and goes right through to school sports days.
Christenings can be great fun, but capturing the baby at the centre of events can be fraught with problems. I recently attended my granddaughter’s christening at an open-air chapel in France. Thankfully the priest was really clued up and despite being in the second row, with the family and godparent group in front of me I captured several absolute crackers. These are my two favourites:
Secondly I caught two others just by making sure I was in the right place at the right moment, the latter being of the godmother’s daughter; I just gently called her name – it’s handy I speak fluent French:
This location had plenty of light shade and fill flash was unnecessary.
More formal outdoor portraits
Again the weather conditions will decide whether camera top flash is needed. I remember shooting one wedding where the light was so poor that the group shots outside the church were down to an eighth of a second and f5.6 on a tripod, but fill flash produced cardboard cut-out figures – a nightmare.
Hopefully you won’t suffer that problem, but be ready to let the auto setting on your camera and a good TTL speed light such as the Yongnuo YN-565EX – found at http://www.fotogenic.com.au/Yongnuo_Speed_Light_SpeedLight_Cheap/Yongnuo_Speed_Light - determine if fill is needed. I always carry a tiny mini-soft box that slips over the top of the speed light to soften the resulting flash such as the one sold by Fotogenic found at http://www.fotogenic.com.au/Yongnuo_Speed_Light_SpeedLight_Cheap/Individual%20_Speed_Light_Accessories. E-TTL will handle the reduction in light produced by using such an accessory.
Remember the fundamentals of posing. Once there are more than two in the group, avoid straight lines – triangles for three, and diamond-shaped combinations for slightly larger numbers. The same rule, of course applies in the studio – more of that later.
And do look for the unusual opportunities. When my daughter got married, her new husband’s dog attended. So include the dog!
And on the next photograph, from a wedding I shot in 1989, (hence the colour caste), I got the groom and the best man to pick the bride up:
By the way, as an aside, here’s a tip for those shooting weddings professionally or semi-professionally. Every wedding party has an Uncle Fred. He comes armed with a battery of cameras and lenses and ALWAYS calls to the bride, “Over here, luv”, just as you are about to take a formal shot.
The late, great Monte Zucker taught me how to overcome this problem. When everyone emerges from the church he uses the ushers to get the entire group into the large group shot first, shooting from a stepladder. It avoids the smokers dispersing to get a nicotine fix, and keeps you in total control. Now whittle away the non-family attendees until you have reduced the group to bride, groom, attendants, immediate family and ushers, and, at that point, announce to the assembled mass, “Ladies and Gentlemen, now is your opportunity to take your special photos of the bridal party here. I will be back in a few minutes to carry on”; (note, NOT ‘the bride and groom’, and the word “here” is very important).
You now shoot the candids of the crowd and, if you are lucky, take a quick breather. The gathering will quickly get what they want and run out of ideas. Just make sure the bridal party does not break up, and especially make sure Uncle Fred does not try to steal the bride and groom.
In probably as little as four minutes the bridal party comes back under your full control. Tell the gathering, “I am now going to take the bridal party round the other side of the church to take some formal portraits. Please relax for a few minutes. We won’t be long.” And at this point the ushers’ job is to keep Uncle Fred with the main gathering and out of your hair. If he does follow you, be polite but firm. They are paying you to do the job. And this was the result from 1985, (again the reason for the colour caste), getting a very nervous bride and groom to relax, away from the crowd:
Formal, and not so formal, portraits indoors
We’re back to France here, and I did show another shot from this group in my blog entry on speed lights:
This uses a bounce-head E-TTL speed light to soften the lighting, and I avoided the left-hand girl’s tram-track braces by asking both not to smile too much. It’s a simple portrait and very effective. Even had they been the same height I would have used some means of creating a diagonal, perhaps the simple expedient of asking one to bend her legs or getting to rest gently on the seat of a chair or stool. The light from the small lamp in the background separates the darker haired girl’s head from the background and is not intrusive.
The family group and a non-white ceiling create their own problems. This shot used a tripod, ASA set to 3200 and no flash, rather than using the flash pointed directly at the subjects. An outdoor shot was impractical, as the temperature was well below zero. Colour temperature and contrast adjustment were done in the computer using Paint Shop Pro. Note the triangular format of the group.
Studio family portraiture
Studio family portraiture is much more controlled and it is up to the photographer whether to use LED or studio flash lighting. Backgrounds in the studio, unless you have a specific requirement in mind, should be kept simple in my opinion. I remember seeing one studio that had a very fussy library shelves backdrop, which they seemed to use for people for whom it was, in my opinion, unsuitable. It was fine for corporate portraits, but family groups always seemed distracted by the background in that case.
Again remember to make pairs of people have at least a slight diagonal line between them:
… whether the photograph is in landscape or portrait format:
And family portraits don’t just have to involve people. I was recently shooting pet portraiture at a major pet superstore when I was asked to do this portrait where both the dogs and the human subjects make diagonal lines:
And at that I’m going to end this section. But you’ll see the above photograph elsewhere in the “Backgrounds” section, and indeed much of what appears here has relevance elsewhere.
Apologies to all Uncle Freds out there. :)
Family Portraiture – original article © 2011 Barney Douglas at http://www.bdfoto.co.uk and http://www.bd-shop.co.uk
Article produced for Fotogenic Photographic Equipment of 3a Averill Street, Rhodes, NSW 21380, Australia
The republication or reproduction of any part of this article without the permission of the both Fotogenic and Barney Douglas is a breach of copyright.