Time to be with your loved ones

Time to be with loved ones

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My grandfather is turning 80 this year in September. The most important thing to him is his family. Because of this, my entire family is getting together to celebrate. Since the family is spread out all over the country, it is rare that we all get together.

I have been tasked with taking photos of all the family and I am stressing out about it. I don't believe that I am a total noob when it comes to taking pictures, but I am most definitely not a professional either.

The camera I have to work with is a Sony Cybershot DSC-H2

I will have to shoot 15 adults and 5 children (the oldest having just turned 5 and the youngest being around 18 months). I need to get a group shot as well as shots of each family on their own. I also plan on getting a shot of all four generations together. I should also mention that this shoot will take place outdoors.

Does anyone have any tips, tricks, or ideas that could help me? I am especially nervous about getting good pictures with the kids.

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I would enlist a kid friendly relative to assist you in getting the childrens attention. They can hold rattles or shiny objects to draw the eyes in. It is tough to do this at the same time as taking the picture, so see if anyone is around to help that won't be in the shot! –  dpollitt Aug 3 '12 at 0:51
    
If you feel that one of the answers below answers your question you should mark it as correct. If not, you may want to consider adding to your question to facilitate better answers. –  CyberKnoy08 Sep 18 '12 at 3:10
    
Take lots of shots. With a group, someone is always blinking, yawning, has a funning look on their face, etc. You will want a lot of choices to pick from later. –  Olin Lathrop Jul 22 '13 at 14:11
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4 Answers

  1. Lighting - as others have mentioned, lighting is going to be the key to successfully capturing everyone's facial expressions, depth, etc. I prefer family shots outside about an hour before sunset and/or dinner. Younger children will be a little less energetic, and dinner provides a good incentive for everyone. Indoors is fine too, especially if there is a family house or other sentimental location, but lighting is more involved. Be sure ambient lighting is adequate and then light faces a bit more.

  2. Flash - I always use an external/attached flash to get a little more from the faces. But keep in mind that it may need to softened / diffused. The closer the lens is to the subjects, the more the flash needs to be diffused.

  3. Adult assistance - the larger the group, the more you need. Other adults need to cooperate with keeping children engaged. I usually have a conversation with other parents ahead of time to discuss what they'll need to do, etc. Sometimes children will need a break, run around a bit, etc. Their involvement in the picture is usually much better after a short break, but the photog'r doesn't need to be responsible for this activity.

  4. Depth of field - Use more DoF than you would for portraits, and post-process for more bokeh if desired. To get an idea for DoF settings, plug your camera and lens info into a depth of dield calculator. For example, I would probably use f/8 with my 50 mm lens at about 15' from the subjects. This configuration would appear focused about 3' in front & 5' behind the subject, and begin to blur outside those ranges.

  5. Children - Although formal pictures tend to be easier - everyone standing together, facing the camera, etc. - I find most children enjoy whimsical sessions more, and freq'ly the pictures are better - more personality comes through. We usually do formal pics first, and then some "fun pics" at various degrees of informality / silliness.

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Others have talked about the logistics, setup, and art of photography. You expressed some concern about the children.

Make it fun. Ask them to make their silliest faces, their scariest faces, their happiest faces,... Give them a countdown, so they can prepare. And have the adults do the same thing!

Try other things like throwing a ball in the air and asking them all to try to catch it (like the garter or bouquet at a wedding). Action and fun, rather than static.

Be prepared to take shots before and after the one you're staging, because they'll be laughing, acting silly, and just being human. So while the staged shots might be good, I'm betting that the before and the after will be at least as good, if not better.

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As it's practically a once in a lifetime situation you might want to consider hiring a professional photographer. If nothing else it should eliminate the stress.

The other thing to do is PRACTICE. Practice, practice, practice. This is one of the things that separates professionals from hobbyists.

Take the camera with you everywhere and take a shot of anything even remotely interesting. Force yourself to take shot after shot with the camera until you are so familiar with it's operation that you can forget about the camera and concentrate on the other aspects of taking a photo like lighting, framing, position of subjects, and opportunity shots.

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Yeah honestly I completely agree with Clara here, sure take some of your own pictures too, but you might want to consider hiring a professional. –  VoronoiPotato Aug 5 '12 at 0:40
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Well, the first thing I'd do if I were in your position is start asking people why they don't want me in the pictures :o)

The second is to avoid midday sun at all costs (unless the weather is horribly grey and overcast, which is actually a blessing). If there is open shade large enough for the whole group, use it, otherwise you'll want to have the sun behind them such that there are no harsh highlights or shadows on faces. When you're dealing with little folk, mornings are probably best—they're far less likely to be cranky or filled with wanderlust in the early hours. That may not agree completely with those who are neither very young, very old, or parents of the very young, but they'll just have to suck it up, won't they? There's history to be recorded!

Whatever sort of formation you have the group flying in, it's easier to get everybody in decent focus and fully visible if you elevate the camera a bit (get a couple of steps up on a short stepladder) for the large groups. It puts the plane of focus on a tilt, so that people in the back are at least nearly as sharp as people in the front. This also has the beneficial side-effect of forcing people to look up slightly, doing wonders for things like double chins, turkey necks and Bassett hound jowls without having to resort to individually coaching people out of awkward poses. And it eliminates the middle-of-the-picture horizon line if there's no appreciable backdrop available.

You'll also want to be far enough away that you don't need to use a really wide-angle setting on the lens. Something in the neighborhood of a 35mm-equivalent would be okay (that's as wide as your camera gets, really, but I'm trying to make this geneal) but anything significantly wider than that will begin to visibly distort the people nearest the edges of the frame.

This may also be one of those occasions where you'd want to rent, borrow or steal (only if absolutely necessary) a newer, better camera. 2006 was a long time ago in digital camera years, and even the top-of-the-line pro cameras from that period have trouble keeping up with the better point-and-shoots of the present. Six megapixels from a small, noisy sensor is barely enough, really, for a newspaper-quality 8x10 print. (I know -- the quality seemed magical at the time, but times have changed. What you have is still great for shooting for the web and 4x6 prints, but it's not really "photo quality" for mantlepiece or wall work anymore.) If you can get a recent-vintage camera with an APS-C-sized sensor (or larger) for the day, and preferably for the day before as well (DSLR or mirrorless doesn't really matter, what matters is that you know how to use its basic controls), then you'll be able to create something that's worth framing for posterity.

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+1 for the good answer, would have added another if possible for the parenthetical remark ;-) –  Francesco Jul 31 '12 at 5:11
    
@Francesco - You can offer a bounty and award as much free rep for great answers as you would like! Its fun, give it a shot! –  dpollitt Aug 3 '12 at 0:49
    
@dpollitt I had never thought about that... thanks for the suggestion :) –  Francesco Aug 3 '12 at 7:36
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