Super size Family of 60 Portrait Session
I had done some pretty big, extended family photo shoots before, with upwards of 24-26 people, so when Donna contacted me to see if I was up for doing a large family photography session on Oahu's North Shore, I didn't even pause before I said, "No problem." It was only after she explained that she was talking about a family of 56-60 adults and kids that I had to sit back and consider her request more carefully.
One thing you figure out early on with family photography or group portraits at events like weddings, is that the more bodies you add to a mix the greater the session starts to resemble a cat herding rodeo. Where a couples engagement portrait can take all of 3 minutes to pose, dial in the lighting and snap off a perfect shot, a family portrait of anything over 10 bodies can end up taking 15+ minutes just to finally get one decent shot where every person is looking at the camera and has their eyes open. And it just gets exponentially worse the more bodies that are added to the mix. On top of that, lighting all those bodies properly and evenly gets more difficult the larger the group as well.
And the weirdest part of it all is that it's not always the kids that are the problem! There have been many a family portrait where it was the adults who were the most distracted and hard to get corralled so I could get that one clear shot that they were paying me for!
So when Donna was explaining to me how she wanted a portrait on the beach with 12 of her kids, along with all their spouses and grandchildren, my mind was whirling, considering both the technical requirements, the location requirements and just what it was gonna take to deal with getting a crowd of 50-60 people in position and paying attention long enough to get the Donna the one shot she really wanted the most.
I like challenges, however, so after reassuring her I could handle it, I recommended a morning session at Kawela Bay Beach Park, near the Turtle Bay Resort on Oahu's North Shore where they were staying. I knew the beach there had a fairly steep slope that I could use to my advantage, and that the forest growing up to the beach edge would keep them from staring into the direct sun.
When the morning arrived, and I met Donna and her family at Kawela Bay Park, I was quite bemused to be walking the block or so into the beach surrounded by so many people. I quickly set up my light stand and got my gear ready as the entire family began to assemble on the beach at the water's edge. After a number of test shots to dial in my exposure and flash settings where I wanted them, I was finally ready. I put down my camera and was astonished to find that the family was already mostly in place and positioned with very little input from me. I took the moment to address everyone since I had their attention to let them know what I'd be doing next and what to expect. Then I made a few adjustments here and there to a few bodies and we were ready to begin.
This is where I gotta say that just a week before I had had another large family session of 24 and they had been the most chaotic, disorganized and hard to corral family I'd ever worked with. So I was prepared to literally take most of an hour to get just a few useable family photos of this group of 60. Which is why I literally didn't quite know what to do when after just about 6-8 shots, I stopped to examine the images closely and realized I already gotten the group photo I needed. Somehow, despite all the kids ranging from toddlers to teens, and the moms and dads and grandparents, everyone was working with me so easily it left me almost unbalanced!
And then the rest of the two hour session went just as smoothly, as we got all the sub family groups, kids with grandpa & grandma group shots, couples only shots, even a couple of maternity portraits for two couples who were expecting.
In the end, the biggest family portrait session I'd ever done ended up being one of my easiest family photography sessions ever! A big shout out to Donna and her wonderfully huge family of 60 for hiring me and making it such a joy!