We are now into that time of year when you will be getting together with groups of people who, because you are a photographer, will want you to take “TAKE OUR PICTURE!” Good group portraits are more than just getting everybody to stand still long enough for you to push the shutter button. Remember, photographs become memories. Something you shoot today may be looked at for a long time; make it look good. There are tricks and skills to getting good group photos. I spent a few years, . . . okay 20, in the portrait photography industry teaching photographers how to quickly set up group poses. It’s not tough once you get the basics down.
Here are a few suggestions:
#1. Take control of the situation.
In order for you to pose the group, you need to have everyone listen to you, even if it’s just for a second. You don’t have to be forceful, but keep in mind they know you are a photographer, which means to some extent they also think you know what you are doing. I have found an easy way to do it is to say something like this; “Okay, I want everybody to look good, so I’m going to move you around a bit. “
One of the main problems photographers get into is having the group pose itself. Remember you will get the credit (or blame) for how the photo looks.
#2 Establish how many people you are going to photograph in your group.
A good posing scenario for a group of 2 or 3 is not going to work for a group of 12. You are “building” a shape to your group.
#3 Pose people so they are size balanced.
Avoid putting smaller people behind full size people. When you pose a child behind an adult it makes the child look smaller, and the adult look bigger and wider. Very few people will thank you for that. Children work great at the base of the image to fill empty space and by putting them in front your image looks better proportioned. When possible, never pose people square to the camera, as that will also make them look wider. By turning you subjects at a slight angle to the camera they will not only tend to look better but the overall width of your grouping is less.
#4 Avoid “Stacking Heads”
We’ve all seen those group photos where the people look like they are a totem pole. Never stack people; it’s unflattering. Stagger people so that everyone looks like they belong in the image and the shot was planned.
#5 Use some standard ideas when setting up a group.
There’s a couple of old rules of thumb when it comes to posing group.
They are “Head to Ear, Head to Chin, or Head to Shoulder” Let me explain that. When you start putting small groups together, having people close to each other makes sense to create a more personal feel to the image. In that case, you would pose your second subject so that their ear is no higher than the top of first subjects head.
This is “Head to Ear”
Start with your first two people and have them slant towards each other and then if you add additional people, have them slant that same way, left and right. This bring the viewers eyes into towards the middle of the image and make your image look much better organized.
Now if you want to add a third person, set them behind so that their chin is no higher than the top of the second persons head. That is “Head to chin” Be sure to move the first two people slightly apart to allow the third person to fit into the group.
Now for the last rule, “Head to shoulder” To add the fourth person. place them so their shoulder is no higher than the top of the head of the person in the row in front of them.
From here, it’s simply a matter of adding people to build shapes. Oval and triangle shapes tend to look best.
As you add people, the tendency is to just start building out. For your image to have balance and look good if framed, you don’t want to have empty space at the bottom and a grouping that looks like an inverted triangle.
One great thing to ask when posing a group is “Can everybody see me? If you can’t see me, the camera won’t see you.”
Finally, don’t make your image “Too Deep” Remember that you have get everyone in focus and have enough light to fill the image. Try and keep your group to no more that 3 layers deep.
Once you get the basic ideas down, it’s really easy to quickly build a nice looking group pose.
Oh, and one more thing, if you are going to be in the shot, leave yourself a spot on one end so that you can easily step into the group once your timer starts. Take quite a few shots of your group, because each time you add a person the chance some one in the group will blink increases almost exponentially. And don’t forget to smile; you’ve worked hard to make a good image, you want to look good in it.