Or, How I Photographed 21 People in 6 Hours
I recently had the pleasure of photographing a family reunion portrait. Picture it if you will: a beautiful home nestled in the woods. Inside and outside, 21 family members of various ages are running all over the place being photographed here, there, and everywhere. That was basically my six-hour day, and it was fantastically fun chaos for every minute that I was there. Are you getting your own gang together soon? I can vouch that a reunion portrait is a terrific idea for families of any size, and here are some tips for pulling off your own family reunion photo session.
Scout out your locations ahead of time, and have a plan of action. The plan was genius: Christine, my client, had scheduled a family reunion for the Fourth of July weekend. She had rented a house in the Poconos for everyone to get away from the city and get back in touch with one another. The main activity for the weekend was our photo shoot on Saturday. I knew how meaningful this session was to Christine and her family, and thus she and I put a lot of thought into planning the full six-hour day. There was a detailed itinerary from when I arrived at 2:00 p.m., until the moment I left at 8:00 p.m. Everyone was done with hair and makeup and ready to go when my feet hit the ground. We knew that the day would start with photographing some of the younger children since they would be going down for naps in the afternoon, and the best light of the afternoon was saved for the larger group photos of everyone. Finally, the day ended with a big meal served up by Chef Joe, whom Christine brought in for the weekend. Christine helpfully provided me with a full list of who was to be photographed, the group combinations she wanted, and best of all, a link to the VRBO house description.
The Pocono Mountains in eastern Pennsylvania are about an hour and a half outside of New York. You have to take a bus, not a train, to get there. Since it was a little difficult to visit, I did all of my location scouting online. The link to the house gave me a room-by-room view, and I also did some Google Earth sleuthing to see what the outside areas looked like. I knew there was a pool table downstairs that would be perfect for some shots with the guys, and the upstairs living room had high ceilings and a mezzanine level that would give me a bird’s eye view on the action around the dinner table. There was a field. field in the backyard, and this environmental curiosity came in handy for several photos. Furthermore, the house was surrounded by woods, so I knew I could use the great outdoors to my advantage. In short, even though it was technically one location, I had a myriad of backgrounds to choose from and tried to think ahead of time which background would suit each family member. No family group was photographed with the same background. Finally, I calculated when sunset would occur, and make sure to reserve the ‘golden hour’ for our big group shots to give these photos the best light. When I arrived, I made sure to scout the house with Christine at my side. She told me the areas that were of importance to her, and together we made finalized the plan deciding which family members would be assigned each location.
Be organized, with a full list of who you want photographed. Christine was instrumental in making this a successful photo shoot. She provided me with a list of individuals along with a list of every group photo she wanted. There were 21 individual family members, four couples, and 19 groups. I shot in order of who was ready to go, starting with one family that had young children who knew the kids would tire easily. Christine served as my ‘wrangler’ introducing me to family members and shepherding people in front of the camera. For your own family shoot, I recommend the same. Have one family member designated as the photo session point person who will bring people to me, and make sure that the next group is ready to go. I would also prioritize your list of photos so that I know which groups are most important to you.
Coordinate with your hair and make up people to make sure family members who need to be photographed first are finished first. Seriously, this shoot went off without a hitch. When I arrived, the hair and makeup people had already left, and every family member was camera-ready. I have had weddings where I had to wait an extra hour for makeup ‘professionals’ to apply a last touch of glitter. Not with this group.
Make sure to include individual shots, as well as group photos. Christine was great to include individual family photos in her shot list. It was important that each family member got some time in front of the camera, and with few exceptions, I took care of everyone. Not every member of your family may need or even want an individual photo, but it’s nice to offer that as an option. Nowadays everyone needs a photo for social media, and this is a great way to give the gift of a good photo.
Save your big group shots for the best light. Individuals can be posed to make use of even the harshest bad light. As case in point, take a look at these shots on the boulder field. I started taking photos at 2:00 p.m., and in the summer this means that the light is almost directly overhead. There was no shade to hide under, but the boulder field was such a cool environmental feature that we had to include it in photos no matter what the lighting was. In contrast, I saved the big group photos for a time when the light was much less harsh. One group photo was set in the forest in total shade, and the final group photo was backlit with just a touch of fill flash on the deck overlooking the backyard.
Allow time for fun photos to happen naturally. Our day was jam-packed, but we had intervals of time set aside for family members to simply play. I knew the pool table would be the source of some great photos, so after a few staged shots, I told the kids to just enjoy the game. The older family members taught the little ones how to use a pool cue, and hilarity ensued. The girls were photographed upstairs right before dinner and as you can tell from the photos, everyone was famished.
Have some activities planned that do not involve the camera. Christine and her family love good food almost as much as they love one another. As such, the gang had a big dinner planned for the end of the day. The table was beautiful, and Chef Joe put his best work on the table. Honestly, his plates were beautiful. In terms of the overall composition and flow of story of the images, ending the shoot with the family holding hands and praying before dinner was the perfect shot. It shows how much love was in that room. For your own family reunion photo session, I recommend including activities such as eating, sports, a group walk, or even helping around the house where you can document the entire family pitching in together. These moments show you actively working as a family in a natural setting and say so much more than simply smiling.
Have fun re-creating family photos of yore. Christine has been haunted by family photo from her past. We, of course, had to re-create it down to the last detail during this photo session. For me, the best shot is of the family trying to get it together and position themselves in the exact same spot and with the same gestures as they had so many years ago. Priceless.
And finally, plan enough time for your photo session. With 21 family members to photograph, I did not get to every individual shot on our list. Furthermore, at the end of six hours, the family was simply exhausted from having their photos taken. Everyone wanted to rest, and thankfully, that’s when dinner was ready. When you are scheduling your own family reunion photo session, take into consideration that most people can only last two hours having their photo taken. Prioritize your most important photos, and leave everything else for either another day or at least build in a rest period.
Planning a family reunion photo shoot of your own? Give me a call and let’s chat.
Hair and makeup: Shataya Beauty
Chef: Chef Joe
Coming up in the next blog: find out all the details of Chris and Rob’s Housing Works Bookstore wedding. There was song, there was dance, there was love…what more do you need?
If you would like to see more images from my family photojournalism portfolio, then please visit my website – www.KellyWilliamsPhotographer.com