Many people get nervous when asked to be the designated photographer at family events. A little anxiety is normal but producing exceptional photographs of family events is not nearly as technical or hectic as it sounds. To properly photograph a family gathering, ensure that you have the appropriate tools for the job. A good camera, extra batteries, plenty of memory cards and a flash.
Concentrate on the people, especially relationships and the uniqueness of the venue. A simplified list and a general strategy will suffice for the average family get together. And once you have your set of to-dos, you can be confident that you can fabulously document any gathering you attend.
Create a quick reference list
If you are the go-to for family photographs, you are more than likely the person recognized as having an eye for great shots. And that also means, more than likely, you have a decent amount of photographic equipment. Having a written list for the type of environment (indoor or outdoor) and the kind of activity to be photographed provides a quick shot list and help you choose the equipment you will most likely need. This preparation will save the headache of lugging around all kinds of unnecessary equipment “just in case.”
Consider different styles
As with the list, understand the type of style or presentation that works best with a particular environment. For example, a child’s birthday party is going to have a different look and feel than a wedding anniversary. Try to have a think about this before the day so that you have an idea in your mind of how you will shoot it.
This will also help you when you create your equipment list so that you can leave behind what you won’t need. Keep in mind that often at events you won’t have time to constantly change lenses as you might miss the moment. So only pack what you are going to need and a couple of camera bodies if you have multiple ones.
This is an important part of any family event photography. For one it could have a huge impact on what you need to be able to take photos. For example, a dark barn might require a flash whereas a barbecue outside during the day won’t. So again have a think about the location of the event and plan accordingly. If you are being paid for the shoot, if possible it’s worth visiting the location beforehand so you are familiar with it. Make a mental note of places that you can create shots. For example, is there an interesting fireplace? Or a beautiful old tree? These locations can be places you set up shots.
Avoid the “say cheese” shots
As noted above, planning ensures that your photography is fluid and realistic instead of stilted like the rigid “Say CHEESE” photos that are often the norm at these events. Often the best shots at family events are candid shots of people interacting, playing or generally enjoying the event. If you want to take those “looking into the camera” shots, try to capture someone’s attention so they turn to the camera quickly and take the photo. Often the more time people have to look into the camera the more unnatural and awkward their smile and look feels.
Find the action
The most memorable shots always come from where people congregate. The sheer enjoyment that the family has when they get together is palpable and makes for the best of memories. Outside, it is usually the picnic tables, the buffet table, and the games area. Inside is the same except add dancefloor, kitchen, and TV room. Concentrate on photographs of extended family and siblings. Relationships always deliver among the most cherished of photos.
Do not forget the ritual of sharing a meal as one of the most intimate activities that a family gathering has to offer. This includes the preparation, the ingredients and dishes as well as the meal in itself. But rather than photographing people eating, focus on the interaction between people. The toast or the joke that two people share is far more flattering than someone eating their meal.
Think about the composition
Identifying unique patterns, colours, objects, and actions and fitting them into a coherent shot is one of the great joys of photography, and even more so at family events. Look for coordinating colours in and amongst your family members and consider if the scenery around compliments or contrasts. Try to find scenes where there is a clear focus on a person or scenario with few distractions in the background. Selecting a wide aperture will help blur out distracting elements in the background.
Photographing the little ones
Photographing children is always a challenge but can be terrific fun (and incredibly frustrating). As with the family gathering itself, do not overthink it. Get into the action and get to their level. A wide-angle lens is probably a good idea and you’ll need a fairly fast shutter speed if the kids are playing or running around. You can go slightly slower if they are sitting or standing still. It’s important to get close to ensure you capture those intimate shots.
The key to getting excellent photographs of the younger ones is to stay with the action. If your family is like most, posing the kids only sets you up for a series of funny faces and nose-picking shots.
Monitor the light
Shooting in direct harsh sunlight is always a problem as it tends to wash out the subjects and doesn’t make for very good shots. Try to avoid shooting during the times of the day when the light is very harsh (i.e. around midday). If you are going to be shooting during these times find some shady areas that will help give an even light on your subject. If you find that you are getting harsh shadows (i.e. on someone’s face), use a flash which will help fill these areas in and give a more even light.
Do not forget you
You might be the designated photographer, but that does not mean you should not be in the pictures. Make use of your camera’s self-timer or remote. Self-timer is also excellent for a group shot with you in it, and the remote can be employed when including yourself in the action. Don’t forget; you can also always ask a friend or relative to take a photo.
Pass on the responsibility
Sometimes the energy and focus needed for an extended family event photoshoot is best left to someone who isn’t part of the family. That way they can get on with shooting the event and you can just take a few photos and not have to worry about documenting the whole thing. But documenting a family get together is one of the most fun and rewarding things you can do. Years after the event, your friends and family will appreciate the emotions that you bring to them through your photos.
Anyone who is interested in photography and owns camera equipment has no doubt at some point been asked to photograph a family event. These events can be tough because you are also a guest and want to enjoy the event yourself. But if you are going to be photographing the event, using the tips above should help you capture some memorable photos.
Photo credits: Kav Dadfar – All rights reserved. No usage without permission. Dreamstime.