Taking photos of a group of people isn’t as easy as it sounds. Just when you thought you captured a Kodak moment on your camera, you realize one or more of your subjects seem to be looking away. Or worse, some are found blinking or maybe someone is missing from the photograph. Then there is the problem of different subjects in different moods (smiling, serious, playful, etc). But, the worse part is when the camera’s viewfinder is not able fit all the subjects into one shot. Now, these kinds of situations can happen at weddings, outdoor camps, parties, sporting events, etc. Luckily, there are solutions though. Read through the following “rules of the game” and you will be smiling all the way to the laboratory. Here we go!
Rule 1: Have a Plan
Managing a group is difficult, particularly when it’s a large one. So, it’s important that you don’t keep them waiting while you are setting up the shot. Here is a checklist of things to do before you even call them for the shoot:
1.) Find a place where you want the shot to be taken, complete with props and anything else you might need.
2.) Think of the group and what it is most pre-disposed to before framing the shot. For example, if it’s a collegiate crowd, you could ask them to make funny faces at the camera when you say, “Now!”
3.) Alert each of the members in the shot to be ready for the shot. If you can also tell them what kind of pose you want from each of them, that will go a long way in making the shot come out beautifully.
4.) If it’s a shot of people in two rows (one behind the other), make sure you inform all the shorter people they need to be in front and the tall people in the back. You could even have the people in the first row squat on the ground while the people in the second row remain standing.
5.) Last, make sure your camera is ready to fire. Importantly, make sure your batteries are charged and you have spares as a backup, especially if you are going to take a lot of indoor shots.
Rule 2: Location
Just like realtors scream, “location, location, location” when it comes to property buying, it works the same with photography. The location plays a major role in defining your group photo and giving it that edge over the others. If it’s a group photo of the alumni of a school, the school building could be the best backdrop and not the school playground. Also, ensure there are no new elements in the photograph, be it the foreground or background that could distract the viewer from the subject. It could be a light behind the subject or a tree branch in the foreground. Either way, choose a position where your group will fit, where there is enough light for the shot and avoid setting up a group shot directly in front of a window where the light from your flash might reflect back and mess up your photo.
Rule 3: Take Many Shots
Part of the fun of taking group photos is to try and take as many pictures as possible using the “continuous shooting mode.” With that, you can manage to get the best picture with minimal problems, like no blinking, no different moods and so on. The best trick is to inform the group that you are taking many shots. That way, you’ll get the best shot. Most times, the initial shots don’t come out very well, but the ones taken later on are more realistic, as the subjects tend to relax and become their natural selves. That’s when your shot gets a traction of its own!
Rule 4: Get in Close
Another trick while taking many pictures is to take some tightly framed shots and some at a wider focal length. This kind of mix up helps later when you are trying to crop the shot in Photoshop, for example. Also, it’s always best to try and get as close as you can to the group. The closer you can get, the more focused your shot will be and the more detail you can catch with your camera. If it’s a smaller group, you could get them to touch their heads and shoulders. Another way is to move people out of a one line formation and stagger them by putting some people in front and some behind.
Rule 5: Position the Group
Now, you know that most people lighten up when they are being photographed and are quite at home to pose pretty naturally. Of course, all the tall people will go to the back and the shorter people to the front, but there are other things you can do to add to the photo’s composition, like:
1.) If the event is centered around one or two people (like a wedding or a birthday), make them the central focal point by putting them right in the middle of the group. You can add variation to your shots by taking some of everyone looking at the camera and then everyone looking at the person/couple.
2.) For formal group photos, put taller members in the group not only toward the back of the group, but also centered with shorter people on the edges of the group.
3.) Try not to make the group too “deep.” (For example, keep the distance between the front line of people and the back line as small as you can). This will help to keep everyone in focus. If the group is “deep,” you should use a more narrow aperture.
4.) Tell everyone to raise their chins a little as well. They’ll thank you later when they see the shot them without any double chins!
Rule 6: Timing is Everything
The best time is usually right at the beginning or the end. Nonetheless, pick the moment for your shot carefully. Try to choose a time that works with what is happening at the gathering you’re at. It’s best to do a group shot when the group is already close together, if possible, and when there is a lull in proceedings.
Rule 7: Let There Be Light
Make sure there’s ample external light, so your flash can make your shot that much better. Avoid positioning the group close to a wall, because that will lead to shadows. Similarly, avoid any harsh light behind the subjects or in front of them. Otherwise, you’ll end up with a collection of squinting faces in your shot.
Rule 8: Take Complete Charge
Now, this doesn’t mean that you should become a dictator and end up with some angry faces in the picture or worse, confused emotions. Try and be relaxed yourself and the group will go along with you. Crack a joke and give them a reason to listen to you. You could say something like, “Mr. and Mrs. X have asked me to get some group shots.” If it’s a birthday, say, “Let’s have all the friends together to celebrate the birthday” or if it’s at a sporting event, say, “Let’s take a group photo to celebrate our win!” When you give people a reason to pose for you, you’ll find they are much more willing to take a few minutes to pose for you. If there are more photographers than just you, it’s best to wait until the others have finished their shots and you can then get the attention of the full group. Otherwise, you’ll have everyone looking in different directions.
Rule 9: Height Matters
When you are taking photos of large groups, it makes sense to capture all the faces in the group from two or three feet above them. If it’s a couple at a wedding, arrange for a ladder to take a shot looking down on the group. In doing this, you can fit a lot more people in the shot and still remain quite close to the group (you end up with a shot of a lot more faces in focus and less bodies). Again, if you can manage to get all the people tightly knit to each other, the better your photograph will be.
Rule 10: A Tripod is a Must
There are a number of reasons why using a tripod when taking photographs of groups can be useful. First, a tripod communicates that you’re serious about what you’re doing and can help you get their attention. Secondly, it gives you more freedom to be involved in the creation of the posing of your subjects. Set your camera up on your tripod so that it’s ready to take the shot in terms of framing, settings and focus. Then it will be ready in an instant when you get the group looking just right to capture the perfect moment!
Rule 11: Smile Away
Smile! It makes everyone feel better and it will show in the group photos you take. After all, posing for a group photo is kind of stressful too. By smiling, you are making the group relax and you’re putting a fun spin on it. That usually does the trick.
Rule 12: Be Creative
There’s nothing like a unique angle or a different way of composing the photo. And this is only limited by your imagination. So think, plan and fire away!
I wish you the best of luck with your group photos!
~ Zahid H. Javali