January 20, 2022
Tips for photographing large families and how to take better group portraits
I remember when I was first starting my photography business, there were few things that made me as nervous as shooting a family session with more than five or six people. I remember thinking, “How will I organize them? How will I make sure everyone is looking at my camera? How will I think of poses on the spot?” I’ve jotted down a few tips that have helped me photograph these large groups over the years!
Prepare a Shot List.
I typically have one contact throughout the booking process so there is a single line of communication when finalizing details for a session. We talk through location options, clothing choices, and create a shot list.
Arguably, the most important thing to keep in mind during a large family portrait are your camera settings. You want a pretty background while still keeping your subjects in focus.
If you shoot in manual, I find that starting with aperture works best for me. If I can fit the whole group in a single row, I will go down around f/2.2. If I have to put a family in more than one row, I bump my aperture around f/3.2. The background won’t be as blurred and light-filled, but you will have everyone in focus. Once I have my aperture set, I change my shutter speed and ISO. I go as low as possible for my ISO to keep it grain-free, and use a mid to high shutter speed so that younger members of the group stay frozen if they are squirmy!
Work Large to Small.
As a general rule of thumb, start with your biggest group first and work down to your smallest. The largest family portrait is the most important, so you want to take those first while everyone is happy and fresh. Keep in mind elderly members of the group or small children who may have a hard time if it is hot or cold on the day of your session.
Stagger + Choose a Focal Point.
It is important to keep in mind composition when placing people in a group portrait. I like to place grandparents or grandkids as the focal point of a shot, and their children’s families around them. If you have single members in a group, place them in between other family groupings so they do not feel left out! You also want to keep in mind height differences and clothing colors as you group.
Once we are organized and in position, I ask everyone to have a touch point with someone else in the group. That means, a hand on a shoulder, arms around their son or daughter, a grandchild in the lap of a grandparent, couples with arms around each other or holding a hand. Get everyone close! No gaps in between! This will create those feelings of love and closeness the family wants to see in their final images.
Clothing Choice is Important.
Attire is an important part of a large group photo. In general, you want everyone to compliment each other, not match. Choose a general color scheme (neutrals are best!), some people in patterns are okay, but most in solid colors tends to be less harsh on the eyes.
I like to do at least two different layouts for the largest group shot. I’ll ask for multiple expressions in a single pose. Try to take a mixture of full body and cropped, horizontal and vertical, and edit both color + black-and-white images for the final gallery.
Another important thing to remember is to take generational photos. These large portrait sessions are often very special to families – some only take them once in a lifetime! The variety of images will create a more appealing final gallery and will go above and beyond what your clients were hoping for out of their session.
When You Think You’ve Taken Enough, Take More.
I am not one to go easy on my shutter button. I’ve worked with kids for so long, I know facial expressions can drastically change from one second to the next (ten takes as opposed to two may get me that genuine smile their mom was hoping for!). My personal preference is to take more images up front so I know I’ve gotten the shot, and cull the rest later in post-processing. Also, with every person added to a shot, the risk of blinking goes up. So, I will take more photos of a group than I will of a solo portrait.
I LOVE candids. You will often see me snapping in-between poses to get genuine interaction. This is a time during your shoot when people can have fun with their images and let their personalities shine. Recreate an old family heirloom, get silly with grandpa, try a funny pose with four adult brothers, be on the lookout for a sweet moment between grandma and her grandbaby. These are often my favorite shots from a session.
At Home? Include the Dog!
I take many of my large portraits at family homes over the holiday season. It is such an easy option when everyone is in town from other places and don’t want to do more traveling. And it makes the portraits so personable! I like to include pets in photographs if we are at home…they are important members of the family too! 🙂
I hope you’ve found these tips helpful when shooting your next large portrait. If you have a tip that isn’t listed here, leave it in the comments and I will add it in!
*For a look at a full large family session, click here.
© Seana Shuchart Photography, LLC 2022 | All Rights Reserved