Group photo sessions are that one part of an event that professional photographers love to hate. It’s the kind of photo that requires you to tap into not just your shooting abilities but also your people and time management skills. You are presented with a group of people with varying temperaments, characteristics, and personalities, staring at you impatiently.
The average group photo is rushed, and there’s plenty of pressure on the photographer to deliver in these less-than-ideal circumstances. Taking group photos is certainly challenging, but the following dos and don’ts can make it easier to nail it.
1. Do Plan in Advance
Group photos are rarely spontaneous. Even when they are not specifically planned for, you can anticipate that such photos will be required in any meeting or event that brings together a group of people. Ergo, it is prudent for the photographer to start to think about the group photo well ahead of the event day.
That means evaluating the dress code, visiting the venue, identifying the best places to take the group shots, and developing a schedule and list of people who need to be in each shot (if you’ll be taking multiple group photos). It may also include ensuring the requisite photo backdrops, floors and props are in place (more info here).
2. Don’t Make Subjects Uncomfortable
As a photographer, the phrase “you had one job” is unlikely to apply when it comes to group photos. You actually have multiple jobs, and that’s making sure everyone is in the right position and, more importantly, that they are comfortable. If your subjects aren’t at ease, you are likely to have a harder time making them do what you want.
Of course, you cannot manage a group without being a little bit assertive, but you can balance this with a friendly gentleness. Try breaking the ice by striking up a conversation, getting to know them, or making them laugh.
3. Use a Tripod
A tripod delivers obvious advantages to any photo composition. With a tripod, you don’t have to worry about shaky movements, making your image crisp, sharp, and clear.
However, it takes on even greater importance when it comes to group photos. A tripod makes it easier to interact with and direct your subjects without having to move around with the camera all the time. It also ensures you do not have to readjust camera positioning and settings each time you have to go and direct a subject’s pose. A tripod is also a must have for long-exposure group shots.
4. Do Not Ignore Shadows
The thing about group photos is that they are as much about the group as they are about the individual members within the group. That’s why you should be on the lookout for shadows created by persons shifting from their positions after you have already set them in the right pose. As people move, so do their shadows.
That being said, it won’t always be possible to ensure everyone remains in position until the photo is taken. If too many people move, it may be more practical to reposition the lights (if you are relying on artificial lighting).
Hint: Place your lighting at a higher angle so you can more easily deal with moving subjects and unwanted shadows.
5. Do Go Higher for the Best Angles
Elevation is not only great at getting rid of shadows. It’s also a convenient way to make sure everyone is accommodated. Some groups don’t have sufficient variation in height to ensure that a balanced number of tall people are placed at the back and shorter ones in front.
In that case, using a chair, table or ladder to raise yourself above the photo’s subjects will prevent the persons in the back rows from being blocked.
Taking excellent group photos is a skill you hone over time. The above tips are just the basics meant to get you moving in the right direction. Inevitably, you are going to fail multiple times in the journey to perfecting your craft.
Note that no two groups are the same. The people or circumstances are always unique, so approach each group photo session with an open mind. Take multiple photos of the group so you can have a fallback in case an experimental shot doesn’t turn out as well as you thought it would.