Photographing large family groups is intimidating. There are so many people that you have to help look good and if you look at the big picture it can be overwhelming. This is a picture I made at my family reunion the other day. Every time I do this it makes me sweat, and it’s tempting to simply have everyone line up and turn toward the center like a high school band picture. But, there’s one thing you can do to make it simple to photograph an extended family.

Chop it up

Instead of thinking of this task of photographing one huge family, think of it as making pictures of small families that happen to be standing next to each other. Pose each little family as if they were in their own portrait. Turn parents toward one another and position kids so that their faces make small groupings. Make sure to pose each person–especially the moms–in a flattering way.

Now add the next family and the next. You should have a little idea about how it’s going to look before you start. For instance, it’s traditional to have the eldest parents toward the center of the picture. But don’t get locked into the old “tallest in the back” routine. Use stools and chairs to vary the face heights of your subjects.

I made this time-lapse to show you how I got through my recent family portrait. A big group like this needs to be shot from a little higher than usual so that the people on the back rows aren’t just floating heads, but most tripods aren’t tall enough to get it done. So I strapped my Platypod Ultra to a ladder step about eight feet above the ground and positioned my camera. I set it to shoot a photo every three seconds using the interval shooting settings. The camera is a Lumix G9 with a Leica 42.5mm lens. I used this telephoto lens (85mm full-frame angle-of-view equivalent) to ensure that everyone would be properly proportioned and folks closer to the camera wouldn’t appear too large.

I’m the guy in the hat and you’ll see me working briefly with each family and then make adjustments so there aren’t gaps.

Finishing touches

The chances of getting 29 people all looking at the camera with their eyes open when you’re in the picture, too, are pretty slim. But, with the timelapse going, I ended up with three good pictures and combined them using Luminar to get decent expressions on everyone. Then I used Luminar’s finishing tools to adjust the contrast, add sunrays and remove the power poles. It turned out pretty good.

When you make a picture of a huge family, don’t worry about posing the entire group. Split it up into family groups and get them each looking good next to each other. Make small adjustments to fill in the gaps. In the end, you’ll have a terrific picture of the whole family and they’ll each appreciate your efforts to help them look their best.

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