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Taking the group shot (01/25/2004)
By Tom Hirsch

Have you ever heard this statement? "Okay, everybody. When I count to three, look at the camera and give me an expression like this is the last thing you want to be doing." Probably not, but when taking group photos, that's the way the pictures frequently come across.

If you know ahead of time that you will be called upon to take a group shot, try to have as much as possible planned in advance so that when the people are called together, you can concentrate on taking pictures.

Start with the background. It should be neutral so it doesn't compete with the subjects, and it should be suitable to the size of the group. An open doorway is nice for framing a couple. For larger groups, you might consider a tree or grove of trees, a stairway, or the side of a building. You can often find background ideas by thumbing through magazines.

When arranging a group of people, by far the easiest, and by far the most boring pose, is the lineup. This arrangement is not always easy to avoid, but for more interesting photos, informality is the key. If possible, have some members of the group standing, some seated on chairs or on a bench, and the rest sitting or kneeling on the ground. For pictures of a large family gathering in the park, a picnic table would be well suited for this type of shot. You could utilize the table top, the bench, and the ground in front of the table.

The above concept works well even for groups as small as two people. Professional photographers use this idea when taking wedding announcement pictures for the newspaper or anniversary shots; the couple's heads are very rarely at the same level.

You can also add interest to group shots by having a distinct focal point. The focal point might be a person being honored, a new baby in the group, or someone having a birthday. In the picnic table setting, you could seat the "star" in the center of the bench with no one seated directly in front of him or her. There are, of course, many variations of this idea.

Do you want a feeling of intimacy in your group shots? Have the people bunched as close together as possible. This could be a very casual arrangement, like having some people in the group leaning on the shoulders of others, or something more formal, such as asking everyone to line up in a straight line, and to stand close together with their shoulders overlapping.

Do you think you can get by taking one or two shots by telling the group not to talk to their neighbor, close their eyes or make rabbit ears on the person in front of them? HA! When you see the results, whether you say anything or not, someone will be making a wise remark to their neighbor, others will have their eyes closed, and at least one will have sprouted rabbit ears. Expect these things to happen, so take some informal shots while the group is still acting up. They'll settle down when they know you mean business.

By the way, don't say to the group, "When I count to three..." This will only make them tense up. Just talk to them and shoot while you're talking. You can talk about the weather, the latest ball game, how pretty the girls look, almost anything that will keep them a little off guard. But don't talk about things that will require a response from them.

Oh yes. A tripod and camera with a self-timer will allow you to get into the pictures yourself. 


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