Posing groups of people for photos can be daunting for the uninitiated photographer (and sometimes for the initiated, too!) but with practice comes confidence and experience in dealing with multiple people in one shot. In terms of posing, they are the same as for any other portrait; look to create pleasing lines, shapes and grouped elements within the main group. In terms of organisation, it’s a case of being calm but firm and having a clear idea of what you want to achieve. An injection of humour usually helps, too.
Groups and triangles
The first useful and effective technique to remember when photographing groups is to split large groups into smaller units based on relationship, age, size, or whatever works well. The second useful composition is a triangular shape, with most of the mass of elements at the bottom of the image. This subconsciously lends a sense of stability to the composition in the eyes of the viewer.
However, ensure that these units are kept close together. A common mistake is to create these mini-groups and then place them far apart from each other; this will create distracting space and will look unnatural. The separation of the main group into smaller units should be almost imperceptible from the viewer’s perspective.
Better than lines
Placing people in lines is often flat and lacking in dimension; it can also be difficult to keep everyone in the frame. A circle, an oval, rows of smaller lines, layers, a horseshoe shape, almost any other configuration can work better than a line. However, it is important to ensure that the camera can see everyone in the group, and that some are not hidden behind taller subjects. So make use of nearby architectural elements. For example, steps can be a godsend with groups, as it allows you to build rows of subjects on different levels, while the steps ensure that everyone in the group can be seen. Of course, children or shorter subjects may be arranged at the front of the group so that they are not hidden away.
Keeping everyone in the frame
It can be a real challenge to ensure that everyone remains in the frame when you’re photographing groups. Do try different arrangements, and definitely think about shooting from above. A favorite trick of wedding photographers is to arrange the wedding group on a lawn in a circular or horseshoe shape and then either use a first-floor window or a tall stepladder to gain a higher camera perspective. Shooting from above not only creates a more unusual perspective, it also means that no one in the group will be hidden behind others.
Shoot lots of frames
The betting is odds-on that someone, somewhere will be blinking, sneezing, talking, looking away, or not really ready to be photographed. So shoot lots of frames! With just one shot, you might not get the photo that you or your client really wants.
If you keep people standing uncomfortably or having to maintain fixed grins for ages, they won’t be too happy, either, so shoot lots of frames in quick succession to maximise the chances that one of the one of them will be perfect. The more people there are in a group, the more frames you will need to shoot in order to insure against odd facial expressions or moments of fatigue or unpreparedness.
From posing and framing, to advanced lighting setups, and reliable post-production and finishing techniques,Photo School: Portrait, by Michael Freeman and Gary Eastwood covers all the essential aspects of quality portraiture. Get motivated by numerous and specific shooting challenges, and be inspired by sample work from fellow photography students, with critical evaluations of the results to improve your understanding of the core concepts.
Photo School: Portrait, by Michael Freeman and Gary Eastwood
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