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QUESTION OF THE WEEK: FAMILY FORMALS
This week's question comes from blog reader Beth: I struggle with group photos, do you have any tips, i.e. where to focus, do you still use the center focus? Even though I don't show them on my website or blog, my philosophy is that family formals are just about the most important images at any wedding. Years from now, your clients' grandchildren will be studying the family formals, not that artsy-fartsy image of the bride's left pinky taken at f1.2 overlayed with the cracked concrete wall texture. And yet, it amazes me how little thought, effort and importance most professional photographers place on them. I read all the time on wedding forums how many photographers hate family formals and place time limits or image limits on them, as if taking them was an imposition on their fancy-pants art! Unbelievable. Family formals may not be art, but they're critically important. (Business-wise, they're also the best sellers). Okay, I'm off my soapbox now. So let me broaden Beth's question by going through my entire process for shooting family formals. (1) Lighting is much more important than the background. The bride, MOB, MOG or wedding planner is going to suggest you take the formals "in front of that pretty fountain". However, that pretty fountain would put your subjects directly facing harsh 3pm sun. They'll be squinting - and have horrible racoon eyes to boot. You're the professional. You choose the location. My preferred lighting is either backlighting or complete shade. If you can get a nice background as well, great, but lighting is 10x more important than the background. Here's a very simple backlit portrait of the bride and her dad. The background is nothing special - just the backyard of the church - but in my view doesn't detract at all from the image. (note: none of the images on this post have any Photoshop work - just simple LR conversions). 70-200mm f/2.8L IS lens, ISO 250, f/4.0, 1/800 sec, no flash:
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if I'm shooting with my 5D (full frame) at a focal length of 135mm from 40 feet away.6 - pretty much deep enough to shoot a group shot 4-5 rows deep. let's say I'm shooting with a 35mm lens at a distance of 16 feet - here I can shoot at f/5. The 2 shots above were taken with that lens. (3) Aperture. 70-200mm f/2. your camera body (crop or full frame) and your lens choice.laurencekimblog.com/index.Laurence Kim Photography Blog http://www.8L IS lens. then I'll always go to my 70-200 lens.4L. For example. because that's the "magic beauty lens" that makes everything look great. If I have the room. my DOF is approximately 9 feet at f/5.6 and get a depth of field of about 38 feet! 2 of 6 17/01/11 02:11 .0. Your aperture selection is going to depend on the size of your group. your distance to your subjects. If I don't have the room to back up. f/5. 1/640 sec. I suggest that you bookmark this depth of field table for a general reference. then my preferred lens is my 35mm f1. It also does a great job of softening the background.php?link=98&cat=13 And here's what a similar image looks like in complete shade. On the other hand. no flash) (2) Lens selection. ISO 500.
Otherwise you're going to have to frame wider and wider until you get a long row of tiny people.1. As a general rule. Indoors in the church (like the shot above) I'll use off-camera flash. then I usually don't use any flash - the images will look beautiful as is. using the focusrecompose method.4L.Laurence Kim Photography Blog http://www. The high ISO was used to make sure the background was lit to avoid the black-hole look. ISO 1600. My general rule of thumb: - 2 rows: focus on the 1st row (bride's eyes) - 3 or more rows: focus on the 2nd row (6) When to use flash. if it is a sunny day and I'm using backlight or shade. Try to get everyone in the sun or in the shade.0.com/index. Now I'm getting to Beth's question. off-camera flash w/60"umbrella camera right.8IS lens @40mm. (Notice that f/5. EFS 17-55mm f/2. as long as they are lined up in a straight line - 2 rows: f/5. I always use a single focus point (the center point).0 was enough to get everyone in focus even with this size group. 3 of 6 17/01/11 02:11 . The only way to do this is to get up high! You'll have to shoot down to get every face in the shot. Canon 30D.php?link=98&cat=13 In practice. ISO 160. 35mm f/1.laurencekimblog. 1/250 sec.3 - 3 rows: f/7. (5) Focusing. I simply select my aperture based on the number of rows of the group: - 1 row: about f/4 - f/5 will get you everyone in sharp focus. (7) Ginormous groups. This is a stylistic choice and therefore doesn't have a true right or wrong answer. I know I'm going to start to need 2 or more rows. If it's an overcast day then I'll use some direct on-camera flash (no diffuser) at about -1 FEC just to pop some light in the eyes. 1/80 sec. f/7. because shooting down compresses the focal plane from front to back).6 - f/6.1 - f/8 - 4 or more rows: f11 (4) Arranging your group: Once I get to more than about 8 people. f/5. If you have some stragglers that are not in the same light it will be very tough to have them exposed properly. manual mode.
shoot a lot. Instead. I'll take a dozen rapid shots to make sure I get at least one without blinks. blinks can sort of be fixed in Photoshop - but why spend all that time when you don't have to? Time is money.com/index. Yes. Try to leave enough room on the sides of the image so that they can be cropped and printed as an 8x10.Laurence Kim Photography Blog http://www. Don't tell your group to "smile". That will get you a bunch of horrid.laurencekimblog. (9) Shoot a lot.php?link=98&cat=13 (8) Framing. use your personality to keep 4 of 6 17/01/11 02:11 . Instead. then open them up on the count of 3. This will make sure everyone has their eyes open. Works every time. In a shot like the one above that has 9 people. Have everyone in the group close their eyes. (10) Tips and tricks. fake smiles.
It keeps your subjects loose. but I made do with what I had. Canon 30D.Laurence Kim Photography Blog http://www.com/index. Here's the setup: 5 of 6 17/01/11 02:11 . Stay loose and relaxed.8 IS lens @17mm. I also used a stepladder to get a better view. Don't have a funny personality? Then try something else. Relaxed subjects make great portraits. My regular Canon 580ex speedlights wouldn't even have made a dent. EFS 17-55mm f/2. f/10. Joke around with them. Sometimes I just sing while I take the formals. My toughest group shot? How about this one - a group of about 70 sorority girls taken in mixed light (half shade and half sun). ISO 250. To get this shot required using 2 Alien Bee AB800 studio strobes at full power.php?link=98&cat=13 them really smiling and laughing. It works every time. 1/200 sec.laurencekimblog. I really could have used more power.
Your clients deserve it. blog by flosites 6 of 6 17/01/11 02:11 .com/index.Laurence Kim Photography Blog http://www." - Berenice Abbott 14 comments PERMALINK SEND TO A FRIEND ADD A COMMENT view more: tutorials Topics posted: 174 Comments posted: 1276 Total visits: 1113614 SEARCH: GO RSS feed © Laurence Kim Photography. all rights reserved. "Photography can never grow up if it imitates some other medium.php?link=98&cat=13 That's it! Please take your family formals seriously. it has to be itself.laurencekimblog. It has to walk alone.
php?link=197&c.laurencekimblog. this one was obvious.Laurence Kim Photography Blog http://www. However. Here's my thought process behind a recent family formal portrait. I enjoy the challenge. The pose: most photographers would probably set up a shot like this: 1 of 5 19/01/11 01:15 . it's not often that I get hired to do formal family portraits. The grounds are immaculate - the grass almost looks like a putting green. when I do them.2010 As a lifestyle photographer... I knew the background had to be the view from the backyard - no real discussion here.06.com/index. FORMAL FAMILY PORTRAIT 04. Subjects: parents + their 2 adult children and one of their spouses Selecting the background: the parents live right on the Puget Sound.
php?link=197&c. Here's my diagram of the final shot: 2 of 5 19/01/11 01:15 .. It's just a bunch of people standing in a row. then I just make one up of my own. say. which showed them in a more interesting and relaxing setting. a family that ran a prominent business and a story about their lavish estate was being run in Town & Country Magazine. If the client does not have a particular concept in mind. I wanted to do something more interesting.Laurence Kim Photography Blog http://www. My concept for this shot: I imagined that this was.. Now there's nothing wrong with this shot.laurencekimblog.com/index. But the problem is that there is no concept behind the shot. I wanted a more 3 dimensional pose. If I had to shoot 30 family formals in 30 minutes (like at a wedding) I'd probably shoot something like this.
one about 3 feet closer than the other. No Photoshop was required - this is straight from Lightroom. which is why I made sure they were touching each other. and standing.com/index. 3 of 5 19/01/11 01:15 .. and placed the parents in the chairs. to any family portrait (formal or lifestyle) is to show the closeness of the family members.laurencekimblog.. Here's the final image. I set up two lawn chairs.Laurence Kim Photography Blog http://www. sitting on the arm. however. These levels contribute to the depth of the image. The key. Using these chairs gave me 3 levels to work with: sitting on the chair. Placing the 2nd chair 3 feet behind the first adds a 4th level. I wanted everyone to be relaxed. Then the "kids" went behind them. yet still in a more formal position than you'd typically see in one of my lifestyle portraits.php?link=197&c. The smiles came from me just joking around with them.
. view histogram to judge exposure. and perfect light all contribute to an image that's already going to be sharp.. because I had my flash pulled back some distance away from my subjects (to cover all of them without any significant light falloff between the nearest and farthest person).laurencekimblog. (2) Take a test shot. 1/2 power and took a test shot. Get down on that knee! That's pretty much it. However. It was slightly underexposed so I bumped up the power a bit. When I opened the image in Lightroom. I took about 6 shots from this position. Why no umbrella? To be honest. In this case. I did not have to move the exposure slider at all. direct flash. This was just straight. just where I wanted it. The only thing I did was add a tiny bit of sharpening. Why underexpose the ambient light by one stop? Two reasons: it really turns the sky a nice blue on a sunny day or makes the clouds more dramatic on a cloudy day. I used the following as a default setting: ISO 100. Here are the technicals for the shot: (1) Set the camera on manual mode. f8. it was simply too windy to use an umbrella. seats available 4 of 5 19/01/11 01:15 . Remember that a sharp lens. It gave me about -1 stop of exposure. exposure was perfect. (4) I set my flash on manual mode. Taken at eye level this shot would not have been nearly as interesting. Laurence Kim Workshops May 22. evaluative (matrix) metering.Laurence Kim Photography Blog http://www.php?link=197&c. 1/200 sec. my initial settings were just fine. (3) My 580exII flash was on a stand to camera right. I did not use any umbrella or softbox. but I was still less than full power. Starting a Profitable Wedding Business. it will really make your subjects pop out when lit with off camera flash. an umbrella would only have made a minor difference anyway. (5) I kneeled down on one knee to get a low camera angle and fired away.com/index. Seattle. Remember that a low camera angle always adds drama and power to a shot. f8. Second. Camera was a Canon 5D with 70-200mm lens @ 70mm.
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