For the typical smile for the camera group and family photos (I call them “cheese photos”) you will want to position your subjects so that the light is falling on their face or behind you. It is pretty straightforward. Just keep the light directly in front of them or behind you. As simple as this sounds, getting the light right for these photos is extremely important. These are the enlargements that are going on the wall. They are also the images that you can tell the most if the lighting is off as some shadows can be very unflattering. This is especially important when shooting indoors where unflattering light is in abundance. Light quality is key here. You never want to use a direct on camera flash for any reason, ever. Light in nature isn’t a concentrated beam that shoots out of our foreheads at people that we are interacting with so this angle of light is incredibly unflattering. The oils in our skins reflect the light back at the camera and creates a greasy shine that makes us look like we just left the gym. Just think about putting a flashlight right in font of your eye and aiming it at a mirror into your other eye. This is what is happening with direct flash, this is what we are seeing in that skin shine. It’s to a lesser degree, but the same nevertheless. Our noses somehow appear much larger and lines across our cheeks appear out of no where. Our eyes lighten several shades and look very unnatural to loved ones who see us every day. Direct light can be nice but not from that small of a source and not originating that close to the lens. So when shooting indoors I find it best to position yourself in front of a window and shoot with the subject in front of you. This way you will have the window as the main light with a very flattering look. I also like to turn off any background lights in the room if possible as they can be distracting. Sometimes you will want to leave these on and try to create an effect, but this is not typical when shooting these type of photos. Obviously if the sun is out and beaming in the window this technique will not work. If they have sheers, you can pull them closed to diffuse the sunlight or you can usually just position them out of the way of the sunlight. This was from a wedding in Mexico that I recently shot. Often, the bride will get ready in a hotel room like this one. The sheers were pulled over to diffuse the light and as you can see, it makes for a beautiful image.
Raw sunlight should never be used as a main light when shooting cheese photos. In fact, at a wedding, I won’t even use it as a backlight. Sometimes it is unavoidable but for most situations, there is always shade to be found. So I always try to find some shade when shooting outdoor family photos after a ceremony. This goes for wedding party photos as well. For me, when dealing with large groups of people, light is not something that I want to be trying to manage as well. So I find some shade or if indoors and a window doesn’t suffice, I will have sometimes have an assistant hold a speed light in a flash disc or other diffuser. An umbrella works too. If there is a white ceiling at regular height, you can always bounce your speed light off of it by aiming it upwards. If not, and the window is not doable, then either the flash disc/umbrella is the only option or move rooms. Wood panelled ceilings will cast an orange or red tone across your image and very high ceilings, like that of some halls or ballrooms will not reflect enough light. Also glass ceilings at night will need the other flash method as well. Here is a shot indoors using the ceiling bounced method. The window light was harsh sun and the shades were tinting the light yellow. It doesn’t have the same glow as the window light, but still makes for a nice evenly lit photo.
A cloudy day certainly makes things easier, but you are able to add a little extra pop into your images if you try to pinpoint where the sun is behind the clouds. There will still be a noticeable difference if that light is falling on their faces. This one was from a cloudy day recent wedding at Fort Langley Golf Course.
So in summary, get a large light source, and have the light hit your subject/s right on the nose. The bridge of the nose even to be more precise. This even works when working in creative portrait sessions to add mood. Which brings me to Part Two