8 Tips For Capturing Family Gathering Candids

We’ve all seen the posed family photos around the dinner table, in front of the hearth or in any number of places. These types of shots are great and have their place in preserving your family memories. But some of us are looking for a more realistic representation of what went on at that meal or gathering. We want to convey the sense of laughter around the table, the craziness of having ten nieces and nephews under foot and the joy in sharing gifts. And posing doesn’t work well for these real world shots. That’s where candid photography comes in! Practice with these eight tips and you’ll be well on your way to preserving family get-together in a compelling, engaging manner.

1. Let Them Know You’re Coming
At any family gathering someone is always taking photos. Most people like to ham it up for the camera or will avoid it like the plague. Letting your family know beforehand that you’ll be taking some photos and to ‘act natural’ will greatly increase your odds of capturing the essence of the moment. Not everyone will heed this request, but it’s good for people to know they should generally ignore your photo taking to keep the photographer from distracting the event.

2. But Don’t Let Them See You Coming
Now that you’ve prepped the crowd and they know what to expect, it’s ok to be a bit sneaky with the photo taking. Hide around corners and near the back of the crowd. Be polite. But don’t draw attention to yourself. Chances are someone else in the family already has the ‘Look over here!” photo responsibilities and you should capitalize on that by hanging in the wings. After people have posed for the standard photos, they’ll be more relaxed, acting like themselves and that’s a perfect time to be waiting in the background ready to capture family interactions.

3. Use A Long Lens
If you have options, choose an 80mm lens, or slightly longer. A zoom is preferable but we’ll see the challenge with that in the next tip. Once in a while a wide angle will be helpful, but for the most part you’ll be capturing facial expression of those around you. And quarters may be a bit close so being able to zoom close from behind your other family members is crucial. With a telephoto lens (zoom or otherwise) you’ll be able to isolate one or two family members as they interact, open presents or prepare meals. This is all you’re really aiming for with candids. Too wide of a lens and you’ll miss the individual expressions.

4. Use A Fast Lens
A nice low f-stop lens may not be in everyone’s camera bag. But if you can take just one lens, bring your fastest one. Using a low f-stop and a slightly higher ISO of around 800-1000, you will be able to avoid using a flash and attracting more attention to yourself.

5. When In Doubt, Shoot In Raw
Now that you’re not using a flash for your candid photos, light color will be a larger issue. There’s good news and bad in this, depending on your point of view. The good news is chances are most of the light will be from the same color temperature, such as incandescent or fluorescent lights. The bad news is it may change room to room, or indoors to out. The easiest way around this problem is, when in doubt, shoot RAW. Shooting in RAW will ensure you have a great chance of correcting for certain lighting conditions in the post processing. If you can set your camera accurately to the lighting situation, by all means, please go that route as it saves time later on. But if you’re not quite sure of colors, shoot in RAW.

6. Focus On The Eyes
As with most any photo of people, tight focus on the eyes is a must. Eyes convey so much more than what is being said at the moment, which is good when you’re not recording sound. While some blurring in images is fine, especially when not using a flash, try to keep the eyes of the main subject sharp.

7. Hang Out In The Kitchen
More and more, the kitchen in a home is becoming the default gathering place. People either want to help out with meal prep or just want to make sure the cooks in the family are involved. Plus the kitchen is usually more relaxed than a formal dining room and a great place to capture family having fun.

8. Have Fun! 
This one should go without saying. But having fun is what family gatherings are all about. Don’t get too wrapped up in the photo taking that you forget to relax, enjoy some conversations and great food. Take a moment to reflect in the moment what it’s like to be surrounded by the people you love.

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