So...here are some tips for taking nice formal shots of your kids and their friends.
When shooting portraits of people, I usually look for a nice background for my shots. Since our backyard does not have a large bush (large enough for a group shot), I took these images next door at our neighbor's backyard. Their daughter was one of the girls in the group, and we are good friends, so I knew I could shoot there.
It usually prefer to shoot the images in all shade. In this case, it was just before sunset and there were no harsh shadows to deal with. I made sure that my daughter was standing far enough away from the bush so that I could shoot at a wide aperture (f2.8) and diffuse the bush to become a blurry green background. Since it was getting dark, I also used a flash for all these shots, with the flash turned down one stop so that it would not add too much light to the kids.
As you can see, I made sure to take individual photos and group shots. It is always great to get one photo of all the kids together.
Here is a tip for the Photoshop savvy. When shooting this larger group shot, there was not a clean shot with foliage behind all of them. There was a basketball locker to the left of the image. In post processing, I cloned the foliage and painted that over the locker to remove the obvious distraction. You want to do your best to avoid distractions in the background.
I took group photos of all the girls together and all the guys together.
This is probably stating the obvious, but you need to shoot images of each couple. When I was shooting individual or couples photos, I would have my DSLR set in aperture priority at f2.8 or f4. When shooting the large groups, I would change my aperture to f5.6 or f7.1 to make sure that everyone was in focus.
Even though less obvious than the standard couple shot, it is good to take some different shots. In this case, I wanted to get a photo of my daughter's hair. A friend had braided it for her and I wanted to capture that as part of the day. I had them both turn the other direction and shot this.
And...you want the kids to be kids, so along with the posed images, you should take photos of them playing around.
I was getting ready to shoot an image of the guys when my daughter jumped in front of them. I quickly focused on her and took this shot. This photo shows Ali being goofy, which is totally her personality (like her dad).
After taking my daughter's friend, Erica's, portrait, she turned and gave me two thumbs up. Even though I liked her portrait a lot, I actually liked this picture more. Why? Because it is her!
With all these kids on Facebook, they will want individual shots for their Facebook pages. Our neighbors have this really cute little playhouse in their backyard. I asked their daughter to come over by the door so that I could take some shots, and I really liked the scene.
Since it worked well with the wood on one side and the flowers in the foreground, I had each girl come over for an individual portrait.
I should also talk about the post process a little bit. On each of these images, I would bring them into Photoshop and adjust the exposure, contrast, and black levels. Once that was done, I would go in and clean any skin imperfections (in teenage years - otherwise known as zits), and then do some slight skin smoothing. When it comes to skin smoothing, I like to smooth it just enough, without making the kid's skin look too fake.
I hope that the next time someone asks you to take pictures of kids before a formal dance, you will be able to use some of these tips.