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Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Shooting Family Gatherings

© 2009 Simon Hucko

It's getting to be that time of the year again. No matter what your holiday customs are, I'm sure at some point you're going to be hanging out with the family eating, drinking, and engaging in general merriment. And, being the crafty photographer that you are, you're going to want to exploit your family for practice document this event for everyone.

Holiday gatherings (at least here in the northeast) mean shooting inside with little to no natural light depending on the weather and time of day. Since I have yet to meet someone kind enough to light their house to ISO 200 f/8 1/100th, you're going to have to be resourceful to get those shots. These kind of events are great for pulling out the fast prime - not only do you get the shutter speed you need in low light, but it's easy to isolate people against noisy backgrounds by utilizing that nice shallow depth of field. It's also a much stealthier option than blasting a flash into someone's face, letting you capture more candid moments. The drawback to this is that you're generally limited to shooting one or two people at a time, and you may still not have a fast enough shutter speed to stop motion (especially if there are little kids running around).

The other option is to bust out the flash. If you have some sort of flash unit, you're golden. Set it up to bounce off the ceiling for a nice soft fill light (don't forget the bounce card for a little catch light in people's eyes). If you don't have a flash unit, you're stuck with the pop-up. Dial it down a little, and set it to rear curtain sync to try to bring in some of the ambient. That will help make it more natural looking. You can even tape a white paper napkin or tissue over the flash to help diffuse it so you avoid blown out hot spots on people's skin. The downside to flash is that it's much more obtrusive - people instantly know you're taking a picture, and if there's a pre-flash they may have time to blink and screw up your shot. It also takes a little bit for the flash to recycle, so you might miss shots while you're waiting for the ready light to come on.

No matter what you choose, get your camera out right away and start shooting. People will be a little camera shy at first or start posing for you, but after half an hour of your shutter banging away they will stop caring and you can get those great candids that you're after. Watch people in conversation for characteristic expressions. Wait for the punchline of a joke or the funny twist in a story and be ready to capture people's reactions. Get some detail shots of the food and the people preparing it. Have everyone crowd around after the meal and get a group shot (a tripod and remote release make this quick and painless - get everything set up before hand with a stand in and then bring them all in, fire off a few frames, and let them get back to the festivities). See if you can get the oldest members of the family away for a quick portrait at some point - it will give you a chance to talk to them a bit about themselves and you'll be glad to have the photos down the line. Most importantly, don't get too caught up in taking photos to actually spend time with and talk to your family and friends.

Have a great holiday season, and feel free to share your photos with us here on the blog or in our flickr group!


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