I had the pleasure of hanging out with my extended family over a recent weekend. Every 5 years or so, a huge bunch of us get together for a massive family reunion. Nearly 70 people trekked up to the mountains of North County, San Diego for a fun (although hot) gathering. We ate, connected, sang songs, splashed at the pool, toasted campfire smores and of course posed for the requisite, HUGE family photo. Guess who took it? :)
Capturing an image of this magnitude can be a bit daunting and takes preparation. Before heading up the mountain I needed to make sure that I had the gear for a variety of challenges.
Light is the key element for a good photo. I was originally slotted to shoot at around high noon: The least ideal / flattering time to shoot a bunch of people for a portrait. Bright, high angled light casts harsh shadows and can make people squint. Not the kind of memory you'd like to hang up on your wall. Just in case, I brought 4 strobes and light stands to (hopefully) overpower any harsh shadows and bad lighting. I also brought sandbags to weigh down the lightstands if it was windy.
Fortunately we changed the photo session time to after dinner. This gave me some hope. I scouted out a location that had a nice background AND was located in light-taming shade. After some searching around the camp, I found it. Huzzah!
Everyone would be wearing colorful reunion shirts to bring some interest into the picture, but I also wanted to highlight the place and location. A straight on shot from a standard tripod would hide too much of the background. What to do? I borrowed a nice tall (8 ft) ladder and mounted my camera at the top for a more angled / downward shot. I mounted my camera on the top of the ladder with a heavy weight GorillPod (http://is.gd/jWGD0C), I used an RF (radio) wireless trigger to release the shutter and had similar wireless triggers to fire 4 strobes to light up their faces.
While up on the ladder I gave them direction and adjusted their heads (no faces behind heads, stagger the faces, taller people in the center, etc. etc.)
I shot at f10 to get some detail in the background and shot in RAW format to make sure I captured all the info on the file for manipulation later.
One family member wasn't going to be able to be there for this shoot. I shot them later and 'shopped them in to the photo afterwards.
The last thing I did before we started shooting was tell the ginormous group that I would be shooting several images. In all likelihood, I would need to do at least some "head swaps". We had quite a few young 'uns and the odds of all of them looking good (i.e. normal and no blinkies) at the same time are ... nil.
Alright here we go: Climb down from the ladder. Strobes in place. People in place. Sit down with the remote in my hand ...
CHEESE! then ... CHEESE! ... then CHEESE!
They might not have understood the need for the specific directions of placement and repetitive shooting BUT everyone loved how the final picture came out.
Something they'd be proud to hang on a wall.
(click on the image for a larger view)