Just before Christmas I had an interesting photography challenge in the form of how to make a large family portrait, 16 people in all, outdoors at a home along Coffee Pot Blvd. I live within two miles of the location myself and drive by it often. It is a very beautiful place and I liked having the chance to photograph a family somewhere besides the beach.
I did some research on large group portraits and it helped to have a prop of some kind that some family members could sit on, often the grandparents or grandchildren. They said they had an outdoor sofa they could use. I thought the sofa they had was perfect as soon as I saw it and feel it really made the images far better than they could have been without it.
Of course when making a large group portrait you have to really pay attention to making sure no one's head is hidden or blocked by another person, and also to make sure no shadows get cast on a person in one of the back rows or interior placement. To help this, it is best to have people line up in straight rows and not curve at the edges.
After the big group shot I made some shots of the individual families, which were still fairly large as seen by the six person group shot above. Again, have the sofa helped prevent making portraits with people just all standing in a straight line next to each other. I also made a conscious effort to have an up and down composition by having taller people at the edges and a taller subject in the middle. This also helps add balance when you have an even number of subjects, with no central person to compose around.
A variety in hand placement also helps add creativity to a mostly posed large group portrait. Each of the boys has a different way of holding his hands together, and the same for the others in the background of the portrait too.
The family wanted one person to lie down on the ground for one of the portraits which was fine by me as that adds yet another element of interest to the portrait.
The last shots of the portrait session were much more candid with me setting up my lights and just having people walk in between them and have fun. Giving suggestions to the subjects help get a candid reaction, as I asked the grandparents to think of the first time they met, and the grandmother as you can see moved her hand to her heart in reaction, which I was ready to capture. The girls shared a laugh about something and the boys wanted their football in the shot.
I used the same basic strobist setup for all the shots in this blog post, two speedlights off camera on light stands, one in a 43" brolly and the other in a 42" shoot through umbrella. I used a 17-50mm lens for the large group shots and an 80-200mm lens for the smaller group shots.