If you've ever conducted business in a vacation town, chances are you've encountered an extended family session inquiry. If you've never photographed 10-15 people at once, this might be a bit overwhelming to think about. I'm here to reassure you that it's just the same as every other shoot. Your clients are looking for the same three things: guidance, professionalism, and control of the photo shoot.
I'm here to give you all my tips and tricks for nailing the perfect group photo.
TIP #1 - Nailing the Group Photo
The main focus for any extended family session should be one good group photo. Start off your session with this photo as it is the most important. Overshoot this pose and double check that you're happy with the result before you move on with more poses.
Let's talk gear and settings.
My favorite lens to shoot a large amount of people with is a 35mm 1.4. A 35mm is wide enough to fit everyone in the frame without being too far away. If you Google what settings to use for a large group, the general rule of thumb is to use an f-stop (aperture) that is the same number of persons being shot (e.g., if you're shooting 11 people, use an f-stop of f/11.) This is NOT always true. Sure, this will definitely make sure everyone is in focus and crisp; however, if you are like me and really value that blurred background that comes from a wide open aperture, f/11 is not an area that you love to be in.
The key is to place every subject on the same plane. You'll find that if you place everyone on the same plane, they will all hit the focus mark. If I'm shooting a family of 3 to 4 I will shoot with an f-stop of f/1.4. Yes, really. If you're shooting full body, not close ups, and they're all on the same plane, it will hit focus. With a family of 5 to 6, I will place my f-stop at f/2. This will give you a little wiggle room to hit the focus (especially if you're shooting on a Sigma lens. IYKYK.) At this f-stop you will still keep your buttery background and sharply focused subjects. Once we move up to 10 to 15 people, we will start running into stacking the subjects. Tall people to the back, us short folks to the front. Because we are working with two different planes now, I will move my f-stop to f/2.8.
A GROUP OF 14 SHOT AT F/2.8
At f/2.8, every subject in this photo is crisp and in focus. Even those lovely trees sprouting from my clients' heads.
But for me, this background was still too in focus for my liking. F/1.8 or f/2 might have worked here, but I didn't want to push the f-stop any further and lose focus. This is where you move on to Photoshop to clean things up.
While it could be the removal and reframing of the trees that makes this photo pop, I think the extra blur on the background really transforms it. Just search "how to blur a background in Photoshop" online to learn how to master this step.
Tip #2 - When You Break Up the Group
Making sure you get photos of everyone can be difficult. Have a plan in your head for who you're photographing first.
Knowing Names is Important
When your client books with you, send them a questionnaire that asks for names. Understandably, it's hard to remember 15 different names. Try to remember the names of the moms from the individual families. They'll help you wrangle in the little ones. But it also helps reassure your client that you value them and have already put time into this session.
Once you move on to shooting the individual families, make sure you get one group photo for them as well. Break them up even more from there. Get headshots of the little ones, parents with the kids, kids together, and don't forget to get some couples photos of the parents. Try asking about their love languages and try to capture how they love each other. Small things like this can elevate the client's experience with you.
Tip #3 - Grandparents
Don't forget to single out the most important members of the family.
Where it All Started
Without them, you wouldn't be there. Get photos of them with all the grandkids, just the grandkids from each family, and individually if they so wish. Get photos of them with their kids as well. This is a step that can often get overlooked.
After that, their love should be celebrated just like everyone else's. Once you get all the shots of the kids and grandkids, ask the grandparents to the side for some couples photos. Find what is most comfortable for them. It might be holding hands and smiling at you, looking at each other, kissing, or doing a slow dance. They and their kids will appreciate those photos for years to come.