Taking captivating group portraits can be challenging for photographers. It may seem like something unexpected always happens a split second before the shutter snaps: a sneeze, a laugh, or a nudge between friends that compromises the quality of the photo. A few common errors can appear in group photos. Whether you are in the studio posing before a photo backdrop or if you are gathered at a family reunion, you should do your research and be well-prepared before the shoot.
Common Occurrences with Group Photos
- The perfect photo—except Uncle Joe stepped out of the shot at the last minute.
- There are conflicting tones—babies are crying, Grandpa is smiling and others just look bored.
- The group is posed incorrectly. Not everyone is in the picture or the group is too far away to recognize anyone.
- One or more people have their eyes closed, or they are in the middle of a huge yawn.
- The group is not focused—they are looking in all different directions.
1. PreparationPreparing yourself and your subjects before you start taking shots helps you stay on schedule and ensures the group knows what to expect. Trying to organize the session on the fly will lead to frustration among all participants, including yourself.
- Visit the location before the session. Look for unique staging features or set up your photography background materials before the group arrives.
- Create a picture in your mind of what style and poses you would like to use.
- Tell everyone what time they are expected to gather for the photo session.
- Be sure your equipment is ready—fresh batteries, memory card has space, etc.
2. LocationWhen choosing your location, consider the mood you want to develop. Where you shoot your portraits are just as important as how you position your group. The setting can establish a context or connection for group members. Photographing a group of Navy buddies on their carrier would give a different tone than if they are gathered around a fire pit. If you are shooting in the studio, position your muslin or seamless paper to avoid incoming window light. Choose a natural backdrop that won’t add clutter to the picture. Find a location and position that is large enough to comfortably accommodate your crowd.
Transforming Good Photos into Fantastic PhotosNow that you have determined the best location for taking your group pictures, it is time to look at six things you can do to transform good pictures into fantastic photos.
3. Move In For More InterestTaking pictures close enough to pick up facial details adds more character to the shot. Think about pictures you have seen where you are certain you can see the eyes twinkling. Head shots and half-body shots give you more opportunities to develop your subjects’ personalities and expose the mood. For larger groups, try to avoid as much background and non-people elements as possible. Fill the frame with your group to draw attention to the subjects and not the surroundings. Have people tilt their heads or face each other to add more contrast and intimacy between the individuals.
4. Posed Versus NaturalYou have heard it all before—tall in the back, short in the front. We hear that so often because it works. But there are some simple things you can do to manipulate your photo layout.
- Draw the eye to a special subject in the portrait. You can center one person, or a couple, and have the crowd focus on them or the camera.
- Add some formality by grouping taller individuals in the center and graduating to shorter individuals on the periphery.
- Remind your subjects to raise their chin slightly. This is very slimming to the neck and reduces the dreaded double-chin.
- Don’t be afraid to set up your photo background of choice and then ask your party to arrange themselves. This is a technique that relaxes everyone and usually produces a unique portrait. You can ask one or two people to move around if necessary to improve the balance.
5. More Snaps Equal More PotentialTaking great photographs is kind of like making pancakes; you often have to throw out the first one. Get your group together in front of your seamless paper background or in a central location outdoors. Then take tons of pictures! Shoot from different angles, adjust your frame from wide to narrow, and experiment with simple and complex posing strategies. Shooting in continuous mode often produces some unexpected playful and tender images. You capture group members laughing and relaxed this way, which are sometimes the best portraits of all. Discovering an unplanned masterpiece when editing is like discovering hidden treasure.
6. Timing for EventsIf you will be taking group photographs for an event like a wedding, quinceañera or ball game, consider the activities. You might have better luck getting a group together before the party begins or during an intermission when people naturally gather to talk and visit. Never interrupt a poignant moment by shouting “Everybody gather ‘round!” Take time to read the crowd and find a time that gives you an opportunity to get a great group photo.
7. Lighting is Your FriendFor small groups you can use a flash attachment for your camera in on-the-go settings. If you are using a collapsible background, you may need to manipulate your photography light with a reflective sleeve or add some side lights. Just keep in mind that your photo should be properly lighted. For outdoor photos, position the group where the sun is not shining directly into their eyes. No group photo looks good with closed eyes or hands shading the sun.
8. You Are in ChargeYour job as a photographer is to keep the group motivated and cooperative. The best way to accomplish this is to keep the conversation moving.
- Talk to individuals and the group as whole, encouraging them to pose where you need them and to smile when you are ready. Sometimes there will be one person that “has better ideas” and it is important that you respectfully tell him/her you discussed your plans with the bride and groom or the office manager or whoever hired you.
- Be respectful of other photographers on the scene, too. You may have to share a place in front of the background or you may have to wait your turn. Keep in mind, the less stress you create for your group, the better photographs you will deliver.
- When you have chosen the perfect backdrop for the group and someone suggests another location or position for the photo—be considerate. You do not have to take their advice, but tell them you will consider it after your photos are taken. This will show you are in charge, but flexible. Being flexible is another way to keep the group in a good mood.
Working with Large Groups of PeopleBig groups can be a challenge to capture, regardless of how you attempt to arrange the individuals to fit each one into the shot. One way to approach this problem is to figure out how to make yourself higher than the crowd. Making sure a step ladder is available for you to shoot from above can save you the hassle of trying to elevate yourself on random objects. This technique allows you to fit more individuals into a shot while also staying relatively close to everyone so everyone’s faces can be seen. Taking a shot from above also changes the perspective of your final image, particularly if you use a wide angle lens.
9. Always Use a TripodTripods are useful tools for just about any kind of photography, for several reasons. It’s a professional tool that lets people know you are serious about your work, as well as helping capture the attention of potential clientele. Using a tripod also allows you the flexibility to work on posing your subjects. Have your camera already on the tripod so that you’re always prepared to take a shot and can adjust and lock in the image, focal distance and related settings. You’ll be prepared to catch any opportunity for a great shot.
10. Work with a Photography AssistantA photography assistant can be helpful if you are working with a large number of people. Another set of hands to set up photo backgrounds, arrange props, etc. can make a photo shoot much smoother. Additionally, using an assistant can help you organize a series of group shots that you’ll be taking without a break between shots. Recruiting a friend or member of your own family can help you keep track of the people in your images. The assistant can also gather specific people from the group for a shot. Recruiting a member of the family you are photographing can also help you identify specific people to be photographed.
11. Have a Genuine Smile While WorkingHaving a look on your face that suggests you are in a bad mood can ruin the mood of your subjects. It’s important to emphasize that you are having fun and are enjoying creating images and memories. Smiling also helps to loosen up anxious subjects that need help relaxing. Capturing an image of your subjects that conveys that they are having fun makes a huge difference in the final image.
What is one obstacle you’ve faced when photographing groups? How did you get past it?
- Backdrop Express Photography TeamInterested in learning more about family portraits? Check out 5 Simple Steps to Posing Families!
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