Group Photography – Tips for Photographing Several Subjects
The challenge could come at any time, without warning-from the crowd of family gathering at Grandma’s on Christmas to the beach on Spring Break, and any time or place in between. The group is all together, having fun, and of course, the best way to capture the moment is with a photograph.
One of the most difficult tasks for any photographer is taking a relaxed, creative portrait with a lot of subjects. While it may be easy to squeeze everyone together and say “Now act like you like each other!” the photograph that results will be unmistakenably candid and forced. But what if instead of just creating a record of the people who were there that day, the person in charge of the camera were to put just a few minutes of thought into composing the photo? The result would be clearer, more creative, and a lot more fun to look back on!
There are several basic ways to improve any portrait, but these ideas are designed for portraits of groups of three subjects or more.
First, make a shape! If the portrait is focused mainly on the faces of your subjects, arrange them in a pattern. Three people will form a triangle, four people a diamond, and five or six people a circle. Making a shape not only pulls everyone together, but also puts the attention in the middle of the action. Try putting subjects at different levels, using different sized chairs or the different heights of people. On a side note, it is important to remember that even if people are at different heights, their faces should still be close enough together that there are not large gaps of empty space in the portrait. It may take some practice, but the creative and well-composed photos that result will show the effort!
Making diagonal lines is a complementary technique to making a shape, and helps if there are several subjects. The imaginary lines that connect the subjects should run corner-to-corner instead of straight up and down or side-to-side. Think of making a diamond, pyramid or an X-shape. Creating diagonal lines is artistically pleasing because it keeps the viewer’s eyes moving along smoothly along the portrait, rather than sticking in one area or jumping around.
Once the group is positioned correctly, have everyone turn their shoulders at a slight angle to the camera. This position has a slimming effect on the subjects and prevents the photographer from capturing broad, head-on views that are less than flattering.
Also, keep in mind who is being photographed. If the group of subjects involves babies or small children, try to compose as much of the photo as possible before adding them into the frame. Little ones are restless, and it’s a lot easier for them to sit still for a few seconds than it is for a few minutes! And what about you, the photographer? Set everyone else up first, leaving a space for you, then use a tripod and self-timer to allow yourself to be included in the fun.
After all of the subjects are in place, it’s time for the photographer to do their thing! Getting everyone’s attention front and center during the click of the shutter can be tricky, but it is possible if the photographer works fast. Call for everyone’s attention to the camera-use a loud, direct voice, and snap fingers or clap hands if necessary. This helps draw the attention of children, but works on distracted adults, too! To elicit a true smile, try to get the group laughing or saying anything that ends with an “ee” sound-cheese, monkeys, happy! Making that “ee” sound pulls the cheeks back into a bigger smile. Finally, give the subjects warning, but not enough that the smiles have time to turn fake. A quick “1-2-3!” is most effective.
Remembering these ideas will help you take better photographs at your next gathering of friends and family. These tips don’t require any extra equipment or tons of practice, and they are flexible enough to provide a starting place for creativity without trying to confine it. Knowing how to arrange subjects in shapes and diagonals, position subjects towards the camera, and get the group’s attention will help you, the photographer, be able to create fun and artistic portraits of the people you love most-making them twice as fun to look back on!