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How to Photograph Family Gatherings Like a PRO

by Peter on January 30, 2009

A few times a year, I get the opportunity to photograph the Bride and Groom with their families at a family member’s home. I really enjoy photographing these family gatherings because it is an opportunity to photograph members of the family who may have not seen each other for years and it is an opportunity for children to have a broader scope of the importance of their family and its history. Grandchildren have the opportunity to sit down with grandparents and learn a little bit about their family history. Brothers and sisters have the opportunity to remember the times when they didn’t have it all together and the changes they have made in their lives. Children have the opportunity to see their mothers and fathers as their grandparents children. Although there may be family quarrels and disagreements the bond of the family should always be recorded through photographs so that future generations will also have the opportunity to learn and see their family history.

So what happens when a once in a lifetime or at least years in the making family gathering occurs and you cannot hire a professional photographer? Well, all is not lost. The most important part in photographing a family event are the family members that are photographed. Here are 5 easy tips that I keep in mind during theses events.  I think that you will find that in the end you are going to have some photographs that you will treasure and will grow in value year after year.

1) Your Camera:

ANY CAMERA WILL DO!!!! Do not be concerned about having the “best camera.” Remember the camera is a tool. QUESTION: Is it more important to you to have the best camera you can buy or have photographs of your family? In fact one of my most prized photographs of my dad is one that was taken while he was serving in the NAVY during the Vietnam war. I don’t think you would call that professional.

Any camera will do. I personally use the Fujifilm Finepix Z20fd for all of my non wedding events. These digital point and shoot cameras are great because they take great photos without any additional work on your part and you can put it in your pocket for easy transportation. To be honest, the smaller cameras seem to work better because they are less intrusive than the bulkier professional ones and people are more comfortable with them.  The smaller cameras allow you to take photographs faster rather than carrying a 5-6 pound camera body, battery pack, and lens.

The point and shoot digital cameras allow you to take wide angle shots and telephoto type shots without having to change lenes as you would with professional cameras.

2) Pace Yourself:

You don’t need to bust through the door with camera in hand to get the best shots. Remember that your family gathering will most likely last more than a few hours so pace yourself. You are better off to take 40 great photos over a four your period than 200 photos of family members putting their hands up or looking really annoyed at you.

3) Don’t Be Shy:

There seems to be a rule in photography that you have to be the “unseen one” to take really good “candid” photographs. That’s just not true. In fact, I get paid to be the Bride’s personal paparazzi for 8 -10 hours on her wedding day and she loves the photographs I give her.  Photographing people is the same as having a really good conversation with them. Do not just go around and throwing your camera around in everyone’s face. Converse with your friends and family and get to know them better. Sit down with people and just look around to see what everyone else is doing. Take your time. When you see a shot that you like then take it.

4) Personalities:

You may have family members who are camera shy. Although you never want to force anyone to take a photograph there are ways to photograph them. Wait until they are focused  on eating or when they are speaking to other members of the family. I can’t tell you how many times that those who were hesitant to get photographed in the beginning were more than willing to be photographed towards the end of the gathering. Remember to pace yourself but to always be on the look out for photo opts.

5) Photo Opts:

There are a few times in a modern families history that all the generations from one family will gather in one place. Take the opportunity to photograph grandparents and grandchildren together. Although you may want to photograph family member’s interactions, find an area of the home where you can take the opportunity to take “generational” photographs. For example, photograph a group of the men and then a group of the women. Always be on the look out for cross generational photo opts. Grandchildren and grandparents conversing or even when grandchildren, parents, and grandparents are sitting together can make a really great photographic history.  Every family is going to have a personality that is unique to it. Since you know it best take the opportunity to look out for those photo opts. These are the photographs that will help define and preserve your family’s history and legacy.

Here is an example of a few photos from one of the family gatherings that I photographed. Although I did use a “professional camera,” I think anyone could have gotten these photos if they just looked around. Do you have any tips to photographing family gatherings?

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