Lessons from an Informal Family Portrait

Once every summer the entire family (on my mother’s side) gets together for what we call “Christmas in August.” This way we avoid the whole issue of multi-family and ex-family scheduling that normally plagues the holiday season. I’m not a terribly social person, but it’s always good to see everyone and it’s also a great opportunity to take photos.

This year someone suggested we do a group portrait. There were about 40 people to include. I had the M7 with me and fortunately a 28mm in the bag. We were outdoors, which would’ve likely been the only option anyway. The problem was that by the time I got back from my car with the camera everyone was already lined up facing directly into the setting sun. I just shrugged, composed, focused, said “One, Two, Three, Smile!” and fired. The resulting shot is not a very good portrait, but it’s still an important picture. The more I shoot, the more I think that context and subject are all that really matters. Technical quality is just a bonus.

### Lessons Learned

A photo’s technical quality may be a bonus, but I still want to improve. Next time I’ll be a little more forceful with positioning people, even for an informal portrait. No direct sunlight causing everyone to squint! Also, with that many people, each person makes up a very small portion of the image. I’d prefer something a little less grainy and a bit higher resolution than the XP2 400 speed 35mm film I happened to have. I’d use either a larger format film or reasonably high-resolution digital. When framing the shot I left too much room at the edges, knowing that the Leica’s framelines aren’t always exact and I didn’t want to accidentally leave anyone out. This meant I had to crop a bit too much for the final image, making things worse.

Next year’s portrait will be better.