The group shot. I know what you’re thinking: you hate shooting them!
But it’s something that, as the photo enthusiast in your circle of friends and family, you’ll be expected to pull off on a regular basis. People love great group shots! What better way to document that gathering of distant relatives? The group shot is the answer and something you might as well get really good at.
What follows are my thoughts and techniques to help you consistently achieve great results.
Before shooting any group shot, decide about your equipment in advance: which camera and lens is needed, will you need to add any strobe, etc. Make sure you have fresh, charged batteries in camera and strobe and a fresh memory card in your camera. You want to have these details worked out ahead of time, since fumbling around with your group assembled is a sure recipe for a bored and uncooperative bunch.
Having shot literally thousands of group shots, I start with the known fact that most people, when put into a group for a photograph, have the attention span of a hamster. Maybe not even a hamster! So it’s EXTREMELY IMPORTANT that you work quickly!
This is the foremost fact of life for group shot shooting. You have only a tiny window of time in which people will really be paying attention, so you must be READY and SHOOT QUICKLY.
Usually, for most straightforward, safe group shots, I shoot either full-length or waist-up. This is a ‘rule’ to be broken, when you have a great idea for a composition, but for the safe, bankable shot, full-length and waist-up are where I always start.
When directing people into position in a large group, make certain that you can clearly see everyone’s face from camera position. This is so important! They may think they are visible, if THEY have a clear vision of YOU, but they may in fact be partially obscured behind Uncle Charlie. It’s up to YOU to make sure you have composed a photograph with all faces visible.
Once you have everyone composed and where you want them, shoot at least three frames of each version. I do this with the motor drive on my camera. Someone will always be blinking or looking away in some of the shots, but getting three cuts down on your overall number of unusable images.
I find that I have my ‘group shot patter’ that I turn on for a group shot. You need to be talking to the group, schmoozing them, making them feel relaxed, reminding them that ‘this will only take a minute,’ as you get them all lined up and ready. Keep smiling, keep talking as you get them where you want them. You want them concentrating on YOU, not on the tiresome fact that they’re having to stand or sit still for a boring group photo! Remember, in this situation, IT’S YOU WHO ARE ON STAGE. KEEP THEM ENTERTAINED. Then shoot quickly! Check your results very carefully on your LCD before letting them go, or moving on to another version.
Look carefully for who isn’t smiling: the guy who’s going to ruin the entire overall shot. Look up from your viewfinder, smile directly at that person and ask if they plan to smile for any of these? Then when they sheepishly grin, quickly shoot that better version, before they have time to think about it. You may get a couple of decent shots off before their nervousness takes over and they return to scowling!
Once you have this perfectly decent, acceptable and ‘safe’ version of the group shot, think about something more creative: ask them all to loosen up, or make them all get their heads in tight together—anything that comes to mind that throws them off balance and not thinking: then shoot quickly! You’ll only have a split second to get this more spontaneous version of the group shot, and sometimes this will be the best one.
That’s it! Instead of thinking about group shots as a chore, think about them as a challenge—something that you can improve upon as you become a more seasoned photographer.
Start to look and pay attention to great group portraits when you come across them. How did the photographer get that photo? What do you think he did to cajole that group of people into jumping straight up in the air in their ball gowns? Look at how he incorporated the background into the photograph: is there something there for you to use? All of these little things play a role as you learn to shoot this most fundamental of photos, the group shot.
Hi, I’m Andrew Boyd, a.k.a. The Discerning Photographer, and I hope this post has been interesting and informative. Please leave me a comment about it, let me know what you’d like to see more of on the site! You can also sign up for email delivery of all future articles or my RSS feed. Thanks!–DiscerningPhotog
Related articles on the web:
Shooting Group Photos at Digital Photography School
Shooting Group Portraits at Light-Shoot-Print