Anyway, the lighting was a real challenge. By the time I arrived at the house where the portraits were to take place, it was in the late stages of sunset. This completely eliminated any idea of having a group picture that day, as my flash isn't powerful enough to fit 18 couples into the frame and still be effective without a real light source somewhere else, and since my camera isn't SLR (it's a Canon PowerShot A590 IS), I can't slave extra flashes or strobes. Also, side lighting makes for awful portraits unless you're going for something really moody. And it's hard to get 36 people to look moody all at the same time :)
I shot as many portraits as I could, doing my best, until the lighting became downright ridiculous. With my flash on the softest setting, I was getting surprisingly good fill lighting in the faces, and with my aperture wide open and my ISO at 100 rather than 80, the ambient light was doing okay. But when the ambient light rapidly disappeared, I had to boost my flash power, which gave me hard shadows and bad photos in general. So I stopped. We're going to have to do these photos sometime before 5:00 when we try again.
Hopefully with the time of day problem solved, I'll be able to get just fine portraits. I'm keeping my eyes open for a cloudy day sometime over Christmas break where I can get everyone whose pictures didn't get taken (or didn't get taken well) together, and if I can find a nice sunny day and get some reflectors together for fill lighting, I should be able to do the group shot.
Here's the portrait of me with my date. Feedback is absolutely welcome; I'm a portrait noob.
click to enlarge, or see it on Flickr
Areas to improve on that I've already noticed: there's some clutter in the bottom of the frame, the bricks (and therefore "horizon") of the photo is uneven. And my expression looks like I've never touched a girl before. But I think the background bricks are pretty neutral, so I didn't worry about throwing them out of focus. And the lighting looks acceptable to me.
One final note: the resolution that this photo is displayed at on this blog page just happens to be one of those sweet spots where you randomly get weird pixellation issues. They aren't really there, just look at the expanded size before you accuse me of using too much unsharp mask :)