Challenges of Shooting a Family Conference

by | Mar 17, 2015 | Tips & Tricks, Updates & Opportunities | 5 comments

I just got back from the fun and uplifting Family Encouragement Weekend in North Carolina!

Along with many other things, I had the privilege of helping out with some of the photography needs. The regular photographer wasn’t there, so I was asked to fill in by taking the portraits of each family who was attending. I wouldn’t say I’m the greatest at portraiture, but it was the best way I could help, so I jumped in and decided to face each challenge head on one at a time.

The first challenge was to find a good background. In the triangular-like space that was the best location for family pictures, we stood with our back to the double side-doors to the auditorium looking at two blank walls the comprised the corner of a hall way. It was the day before the Conference. What do you do?! I knew the only source of light I had was bounce flash off the ceiling (thankfully it was a low, tile ceiling!) so I figured a dark background would be nice to hide potential shadows created by the flash. But how do you hang a backdrop without any equipment?

That’s when someone more brilliant than myself turned around and looked at the double doors behind us. There were two mechanical elements, each part of the mechanisms built into the door to help them close slowly, protruding out from the top sides of each door. The perfect resting place for a rod! A rod, black table cloth, stool and some left-over ivy and plastic plants from a past wedding, the Neely’s had a premier booth set up in no time! That really was something only God could have set up.

4621_--_Canon EOS 5D Mark II, 25 mm, 1-20 sec at f - 4.0, ISO 250

Then came the people! Me doing portraits is like a dentist doing heart surgery. Yes, they’re both in the same general field, but they are two completely different things. 🙂 After a few tries, however, you learn from your mistakes and get in a smooth groove, and it becomes more and more natural the more you do it.

The first challenge was trying to keep the larger-sized families against the dark background only. As long as there was black on either side, I knew I could crop in Lightroom later.

65_--_Canon EOS 70D, 27 mm, 1-100 sec at f - 4.0, ISO 200

65_--_Canon EOS 70D, 27 mm, 1-100 sec at f - 4.0, ISO 200-2

In situations where it was impossible to keep everyone on the backdrop, I did the next best thing I could think of: keep them centered on the backdrop.

178_--_Canon EOS 70D, 22 mm, 1-100 sec at f - 4.0, ISO 200

Another challenge when working in tight spaces is figuring out how to arrange everyone so that they fill in nicely in a small space. What helped with this was, after taking a “normal” shot, I would ask the family to huddle together a bit. After checking to make sure no ones’ face was covered up, I’d take the shot. This helped make the expressions more genuine too.

24_--_Canon EOS 70D, 28 mm, 1-100 sec at f - 4.5, ISO 200

(I’m not exactly sure if I’m the one who actually took this shot as there was another photographer helping out that day. There were so many families that I forget exactly if I actually took this one! If not, than credit to Jessica Neely!)

After shooting the larger families, it seemed like a piece of cake to shoot young couples! Couples are so much fun to shoot anyway because of the myriad of poses that are possible with two lovebirds.

135_--_Canon EOS 70D, 36 mm, 1-100 sec at f - 4.0, ISO 200

Not all the pictures turned out perfect. While Photoshop could easily remove the leaves on the left side, there’s just something wrong with the entire setup of the shot below. The smiles are perfect, but the husband appears too short because of the way I had him bending over, and I really should had the adorable boy in the red shirt switch with his sister, to keep the variation in head-height more pleasing.

53_--_Canon EOS 70D, 30 mm, 1-60 sec at f - 4.0, ISO 200

Then there was the “official” group portrait of all the host helpers! It was cold and rainy outside so I had to find a spot inside the church to get the group shot. I looked around at different shots but landed on this zig-zag location as the most interesting. I set the camera up on a music-stand-turned-tripod and, with the help of many other arrangers, tried to get everyone to fit in the frame with their heads all visible. It was really a fun shot!

45_--_Canon EOS 70D, 50 mm, 1-50 sec at f - 5.0, ISO 800

Hopefully you can’t tell, but I was really bummed later when, in post-processing, I found out that I had back-focused, leaving the first few rows of people out of focus. The dark auditorium and necessity for a lowest-possible aperture setting didn’t help any. Oh well. I’ll have to remember that for next time!

The next day, I spent some time just photographing the other elements of the Conference. It was a bit more in my comfort zone, shooting photojournalism-style, and I had a lot of fun capturing the event.

4737_--_Canon EOS 5D Mark II, 97 mm, 1-400 sec at f - 4.5, ISO 125

4755_--_Canon EOS 5D Mark II, 116 mm, 1-400 sec at f - 4.0, ISO 200

4943_--_Canon EOS 5D Mark II, 200 mm, 1-80 sec at f - 4.0, ISO 3200

4634_--_Canon EOS 5D Mark II, 135 mm, 1-80 sec at f - 4.0, ISO 3200

4747_--_Canon EOS 5D Mark II, 144 mm, 1-400 sec at f - 4.5, ISO 320

4638_--_Canon EOS 5D Mark II, 160 mm, 1-100 sec at f - 4.0, ISO 3200

Looking forward to the next FEW Conference! I really can’t wait . . . it’s going to be held here in West Virginia! Feel free to join us June 19-20, 2015 in Raynoldsville, WV by contacting [email protected]!

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  1. Kathryn

    Loved reading this, James!
    Thank you so much for your willingness to take on this responsibility. Had you not been so honest, we would never have known that portraiture was not your favorite field… you did an incredible job, and we have already heard from many of the families what a BLESSING these photos were to them.
    We echo your sentiments about looking forward to WV!

    • James Staddon

      Glad to hear you’ve got the pictures out to everyone, Kathryn! Very encouraging. Thank you for your integral role in helping out; having creative minds like you and Jessi and Jonathan and Wes around certainly made it easy.

      We’ll have to do it again in WV!

  2. Daniel Staddon

    This is terrific James, like living through the whole weekend again in review! As far as emotional impact goes, I think the shot of the little boy in the orange socks gets the prize. 🙂

  3. Mom & Dad

    Fun,fun,fun. You did a great job. It was a great conference. We serve a great God!



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