Group portraiture can be deceptively tricky. With so many moving parts involved, it can be easy to become overwhelmed on location. Luckily, veteran photographer Jay P. Morgan offers some insight on what can be done before and during a shoot to ensure photos that leave everyone looking their best:
Setting the Scene
First and foremost, get all of your set up finished before the group arrives. Your subjects are apt to quickly lose patience if they spend much time standing around and waiting for the show to get on the road. The moment they arrive, you want to begin moving them into position to convey the feeling of moving ahead on track.
Prior to your subjects’ arrival, choose a suitable background. It’s incredibly important that you keep your subjects separated from any potentially distracting secondary elements. You should also take the position of the sun into consideration if you’re shooting outside. Keep the sun out of the composition—you’ll actually want to throw your subjects into the shade and light them completely with portable strobes.
If possible, it’s a good idea to check out the location the day before the shoot to get an idea of the light and area. By doing this, you can spend time contemplating your setup beforehand and avoid scrambling upon arrival.
When working with strobes on location, you’ll have to keep your light’s power in check with aperture adjustments and shutter speed. One of the most important things you can keep in mind while working is that shutter speed adjustments will not affect the look of the strobe lighting, as the shutter moves so slowly in comparison to the split second light output of the strobe. You have to think about your background lighting and foreground lighting as two separate things.
Be sure to match your camera’s aperture to the output of the strobes that you’re using. This way, you can ensure that your foreground elements will always remain properly exposed regardless of any other adjustments you make in camera. If you find that your foreground is spot on and your background looking a bit dark, slow down your shutter speed to allow more ambient light in.
If you have an assistant with you, have them pose for you while you adjust your lighting. By doing so, you can go into the shoot feeling confident that your exposure is perfect.
Posing a Group
Posing your group is perhaps the most challenging part of a group portrait. Keep everyone separated and be sure that the shadows of your subjects are not thrown onto the faces of others.
As far as positioning people, keep things simple; direct taller individuals toward the back and shorter individuals in front.
Bring along a ladder. Shooting from above will ensure that no one’s being lost crowd.
Be aware of finer details, such as how your subjects are holding their hands. Uniformity is important. And be sure that the people you’re photographing don’t look unnatural or uncomfortable.
Most importantly, stay in charge of the situation. Don’t rely on management or bosses to give direction to the group. It’s your job to organize everyone and create a cohesive image. Speak with authority (but avoid being rude or talking over others).
There’s no single aspect of a shoot that ensures success. However, attention to detail and a confident attitude make it much more likely that you’ll walk out of a group portrait session with a product that both you and your client are satisfied with!
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