Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Essential Skills: Photography - Group Shots

I am so excited! Heather is back with us today for another Essential Skills post on photography! Last time she was with us she talked about the rule of thirds. I don't know about you, but I've been having a lot of fun playing with that one! Today she is here to talk about something I am very bad at, group photos. How many of you have a group photo where an essential body part of a family member is missing, how about a floating hand, or maybe that ever popular girl group photo where gravity seems to have doubled? Heather is here to fix that!


Group photographs can be tricky. You are dealing with anywhere from a couple of good friends to a room full of people. 

That means different people with different personalities, comfort levels with the camera, different blinking speeds, etc etc. How many times have you FINALLY gotten everyone to sit still and FINALLY got it so that your cousin isn’t making that face and you take the PERFECT shot just to realize that someone has their eyes closed?.

I wanted to give you something a bit more solid on the “how-to” behind group shots, besides whatever is residing in my brain pan, so I hit my bookshelf... and then I realized something. Photographers don’t really like to answer this question. There is too much that can go wrong. I have books that go on and on about lighting, but not about grouping a few friends together for a shot. Or maybe that says more about me. I am not big on having my picture taken, although I love taking them. Go figure.

So, let’s start with what we DON’T like about group photographs and then maybe we can find ways to avoid them.

The Slouch.
If you are a girl, you know what I am talking about. For whatever reason, someone, at some point, seems to have told us that to get an entire group of your girlfriends into a shot, you need to give in to gravity. 

Why do we all do it? I am not sure. They always seem to turn out okay-ish and we must figure that “hey, that’s good enough”. You can see everyone’s face and everyone is smiling, so now I have proof that we were all there at the same time. 

We can do better.

Try to make the situation a bit more natural. It isn’t comfortable to do this “lean” and some of that leaks into our expression, whether we mean to or not. Do something that is more comfortable to you. Have the group come together quickly and snap the shot. Odds are that they will group themselves into something more “normal”. Your job then is just to make sure that you can see everyone’s face. We aren’t striving for perfection. These aren’t runway models and that isn’t the point of this picture, we are trying to capture them in this moment. Basically, a snapshot. Try not to over think it. 



Hands can be tricky in pictures. You wouldn’t think so, you are focused on the face, so where do the hands come in? We sometimes get so caught up in arranging from shortest to tallest, being aware of what faces the room’s clown is making, keeping that one individual from wandering away, etc that the shot becomes so overworked and unnatural that it shows in our hands. What do we DO with them. Sometimes, the answer is to hide them. Take a pose more commonplace. Take that tall, gangly teenager and tell him to put his thumbs in his pocket. Just change that and often, the stiffness will vanish.

The Class Photo

There is always that group photo that everyone has to line up for. Tallest in back, shortest in front or sitting. Sometimes, these just need to be done. They are for record keeping purposes, you know the drill... aaaand smile! For these, there maybe isn’t so much that you can do, just keep it short, simple and painless as possible. 

Tell a joke or just talk to your group, this doesn’t have to be awkward.

Don’t say “cheese”, it makes your mouth do weird things. You are trying for a natural smile. If you have to make them say something, pick a word that ends in an “uh” sound. Saying “mocha” or “yoga”, makes the mouth end in a more natural smile. Pick a funny word, make them laugh and get a natural, relaxed smile. 

Take two photos, someone had their eyes closed. I know it and you know it.

Flourescent Lighting

No one looks their best under these, so if possible, go somewhere else. Odds are, your subjects will also be more comfortable and your shot will look less posed.

Use your environment. 

If you have a big group, use that park bench. It will look more natural than “the slouch” any day!


Children can be a challenge, because they are always in motion. Keep your arrangement short, to the point and fun. Make a game out of it, sing, or if you need more time, keep them moving. Have them stand up, then sit down, touch their nose etc etc and that gives you the time you need to find the camera, the memory card, whatever it was you were looking for, or just to catch your breath. Recently, I was with a group of preschoolers. On the way to their playground, there was a painted map of the United States on the blacktop. We told them to run and sit on a state, any state, just not a state where anyone else was sitting. Spacing issues were solved and the giggles from their race only made a relaxed and cute shot that took two minutes. And no headaches. Yay.

This method can be applied to adults, too. 

Give them something to hold onto. Popsicles and sitting on a railroad tie work, too. Hey, there is nothing wrong with a little harmless bribery on a hot day.

Sit them all together on the slide, have them grab a stuffed animal off the floor and hold it, your possibilities go on and on.

The Restaurant

We all do it. It has been an age, you are finally meeting the girls for some long awaited catching up, hugs and gossip. Naturally, this happens over food or drinks. You ask the server to take a shot of you and your friends.

Really, there isn’t a lot you can control in this situation, but I do have a couple of tips. 

Take the shot just as you are all coming together. Get that hug, that smile as you all see each other for the first time after a long absence. If you are at the table, take the shot before your food gets there or just as soon as it does. You would much rather have a picture of your friends with a delicious meal, rather than your empty dessert plates.

If there is a big group, you might be sitting at a longer table. Your server is at the end of the table and the two people closest to the camera are really the only ones you see. Try having the people now at the “back” of the shot to stand up, making it easier to see everyone’s face without having them lean in so far that they are resting that face on the table.

Don’t Sweat It

Now that you have some different ideas on how to tackle that group shot, try some out. Practice. Get out there with your camera or your camera phone and just have fun. 


Thank you, again, Heather! I'm sure we all learned a lot. For example, I have learned that I should forbid you from putting photos of us in Jr. High in my blog posts! 

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