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Tackling Huge Families in Portraits

I never usually advertise that I do family portraits.  I can do them, but as a wedding and portrait photographer, full family portrait requests just don’t come my way often.  Up until recently, most of the family portraits I’ve made were of my family, or the families of friends, and it’s usually because they know I’m a photographer.

I had a request from Jacky, a very sweet and wonderful client, who wanted family portraits for her grand mother’s 80th birthday.  It was to be the weekend before Christmas, when all the kids, grand kids, and great grand kids were all together under one roof for the weekend.  I thought, “Okay, I’ll take a couple of images of each family unit…assuming the biggest family is about 7-8 members…piece of cake, won’t be that difficult at all, because I’ve already done that.”

About a week and a half before the date, Jacky mentioned that there might be about 100 people, and that she would love to get one portrait made of everyone present.  My heart skipped one, or two beats…maybe three, before starting up again.

The last time I attempted to make an image of a group that big, was back in late May 2015…and it ended in a complete, and utter failure.  It would take me too long to explain the whole event, but believe me when I say it was a photographic catastrophe, trying to photograph 60+, type-A personalities in one group.  To make matters even worse, this particular image was to be a parting gift to not one, but two Marine Colonels.  It was both professionally and personally embarrassing.  I did ask for an opportunity to retake, but the damage was already done, and the request was denied.  This image is below.

This is just bad!  Set my self up for failure hear with bad location, bad lighting, bad everything.

Okay, so fast-forward to the present, where I now have request to create a large group portrait for Jacky and her family, and the previous attempt weighs heavily on my mind.  Luckily for me, I had learned from my previous mistakes, and I had purchased the Lighting 201 from SLR Lounge in August, with the mindset that, “What if I get that request at a wedding?  Would I nail it, or would I get nailed?”

To prepare for Jacky’s family portrait, I quickly dove back into my SLR Lounge archive, reviewed the outdoor group lighting portion, broke out my three battery-powered studio strobes, and three light stands.  Then a ton of questions came into my head…”What if you can’t overpower the sun?  What if there is nothing nice as a backdrop?  What if…?”  Finally, I was like, “Relax man, follow the light rules and it’ll work out just fine.”  A couple days before the shoot, I did stop by the location to see what I was working with, and what I could do to be more flexible in determining plans A and B…and C (if it came to it).

The day of the shoot, I showed up about 45 minutes prior to the predetermined start time.  I kept watching the movement of the sun while I set up, and had a plan in case things changed.  At start time, Jacky told me that some families were running behind and had not yet arrived.  I decide to use this opportunity to shoot images of the families that were present.  This gave me a good warm up, and we could have breaks in between families arriving, where I could just chat everyone up and make them, and myself, more comfortable.  When it all came together, it was a large group, but not the heart-stopping 100 as Jacky had expected.  It was closer to about 60 in all.  At the end of the day, I believe I did a good job!  More importantly though, my client believe I did a good job.  I sent her about 10 sample images prior to taking off for a mini-vacation.  Her message to me on my phone, “We love them!”  I was very happy, and very relieved.

This is one of many posed images, with a very candid feel.  The client was very happy.

Fast-forward one week, I’m delivering the digital images, and Jacky shows me one of the samples she had already done in a custom canvas print.  Huge canvas print!  She was all smiles, and I was overwhelmed with its size and beauty, and the wash of wonderful colors, and the beautiful, smiling faces.  This series of images, while posed, and not absolutely perfect, have a distinct candidness about them that my client loved.  When my client is happy, I’m happy.  I had never seen any of my images that big on canvas.  Man, it was a magnificent confidence boost.