Group portraits, whether formal or informal, are always a big hit wherever friends and/or family are gathered. Weddings, family reunions, graduations, birthday parties — you can be sure to find people jockeying for position in front of a camera at all of these events. The impetus behind group portraits is, perhaps, of a more sentimental nature than other types of photography; as we grow, evolve, and journey through life, we will inevitably have to part ways with some of our closest family members and best friends. We rely on group photos to remind us not only of the individual faces that mean so much to us, but also of the events to which those face are connected.
Given the value of group portraits, it’s important to get them right — something that doesn’t always happen. You’ve seen them, those groups shots where there always seems to be that one person looking in a different direction than everybody else; two or three of the people in the shot are blinking; someone’s missing from the shot because they went back for an eggnog refill at the last second. If you’re the photographer, these are things you’re going to have to deal with, but there are steps you can take to help make the whole process less awkward and the outcome more successful.
- Be prepared — ensure your camera and any other gear are operating properly, have an idea of how you’re going to frame your shots and where you’re going to set up.
- Make sure the location you choose is relevant to the event, is large enough to accommodate the size of the group, and is free of background distractions.
- Quickly fire off multiple exposures to mitigate the lack of uniformity caused by blinkers and those whose facial expressions may not be matching the rest of the group at the moment of capture.
- Keep tall people in back, shorter people in front or at the sides.
- Place VIPs (bride and groom, graduate, guest of honor at a birthday party) front and center; everyone else should fall into place around them.
- If you plan to do any formal shots, try to get those as early in the proceedings as possible while everyone is still well-groomed and functioning at a relatively high energy level.
- If you’re working with an especially large group and your wide angle lens still can’t fit everyone in the frame, try shooting from a higher vantage point.
- Don’t be afraid to take control of the situation. People generally respond well to direction because they know they will like the resulting image.
- Pay special attention to the lighting. Whether you’re working with natural light, flash, or both, you need to be sure that everyone in the group is well lit and nobody’s face is left obscured by shadows.
- Be willing to break the mold. Don’t feel obligated to stick to the standard script of posing and framing your shot. Everyone will appreciate a little creativity.
- Try to remain upbeat and positive — as the photographer, you set the tone for everyone else.
- Get someone to help you! Having an assistant in your corner will keep your stress levels lower.