Family reunions are portrait time


Family reunions are great times to make family portraits

By: J.R. vanLienden

Photographing a large group, however, has many inherent problems. You must keep everyone’s attention and have all eyes looking at the camera. Barking like a dog (some of us will do anything to get others to look at us) serves this purpose well. Many times getting a group to say “cheese” works, but “hi!” (tell them to keep their teeth closed) and “shucks” are better.

Smile for the birdie

Soft warm smiles are better than big cheesy grins so ask everyone to shake like a dog, relax and then smile pleasantly keeping attention toward you. Ask persons not in the picture to stand directly behind you so if people look at them, they’ll still be looking at the camera.

Let there be light

Lighting is crucial. Avoid sun that makes big shadows across faces. It is unflattering, and film doesn’t see details like the human eye. The sunlight is behind subjects just after noon till about three o’clock, but open shading from a building shadow or a tree works better.
My favorite light comes just before sunset. Warm color makes everyone look nicer if the light does not create shadows. The soft light just following sunset is perfect for shadow-free, even illumination, but it’s fleeting so shoot fast.

Today’s cameras with built-in flashes work well if the sun is to subjects’ backs, and you use the back-lighting mode. Back-lighting gives subjects more dimensions as light comes over their shoulders.

The three-legged one

Tripods may be cumbersome to use but a lifesaver if you want to make bigger prints from your photographs. The tripod steadies and prevents movement that would be more apparent on enlargements. The more you enlarge, the more once subtle little imperfections show up. You may also improve images by using a cable release. This bit of extra work pays off in finer outcomes.

Fashion is important

Proper clothing can turn a picture into a portrait. Mixing solid colored clothing with the background eliminates distracting colors and puts attention back into people’s faces. One of the easiest ways to keep clothing from having to many distracting styles, colors and patterns is to have everyone wear commemorative t-shirts. If all the shirts or tops are the same color, attention is forced back to faces. It looks incredible. If you have different solid colors in the same tones for each family, it defines each family and looks fantastic. When I photograph families, I like them to wear long sleeves and pants, to keep flesh color mainly to the faces.

Choose place carefully
Where you choose to take the picture is important. Minimize background distractions. A good rule of thumb is to have a simple background without too many colors or distracting patterns.

To see areas that will stand out in the background, close one eye and squint with the other. Don’t try this standing on one leg – you might fall down. If it stands out when you squint, it will stand out in your picture. People will block a lot of the background anyway.
Position everyone so you can see their faces. Get them to relax. Place some people in front on the ground sitting up or leaning on one arm. The next row should be sitting on chairs, rocks, or stumps to get them a little higher. The third row should stand to the side and back of the seated row. Keep individuals and rows very close.

Shoot lots of film. These images will be with you for the rest of your life. If it is in your budget, hire a professional photographer and be sure you get great pictures.

Good luck and keep smiling.

About the author
J.R. vanLienden and his wife Darcy own and operate Masterpiece Portraits ( in Sarasota, Florida. They specialize in outdoor portraits, many of which are created on Florida’s Gulf Coast beaches where they claim to have the whitest sand in the world.


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