Knowing who your client is in advance, and knowing what sort of group you will be working with is very useful in terms of preparing. It would be unprofessional to arrive at a Wedding with expectations of 50 people attending and then finding out that you have 150 to work with. Knowing your group and the expanse you'll need in terms of lens is also really useful. Anything from taking a wider angle to capture more people, to having a step ladder or step stool with you so you can shoot above the group. If it's a Wedding that you are planning to shoot, try and identify someone within the wedding party (Not the bride or groom!) that can help you in terms of finding out who the vital family members are and so on. You need to also work on your confidence in advance, get the courage to shout at a group of people to be quiet, and learn how you are going to direct them.
If at all possible, visit the venue prior to the event. Knowing the location is an important part of the planning process, enabling you to be prepare for certain lighting situations, and to be better prepared to use the location creatively.
Posing & Direction
In terms of posing people and capturing the best out of them, try and avoid shooting at shoulders square on. They are the widest part of the body for many, and thus shooting at them square on can often give a sense of disproportion. Angling shoulders ever so slightly can lead the viewer into the shot. Instruct those in the group to raise their chins just slightly, as this can help minimize the look of double chins depending on your angle. Always be sure to smile and bring forth as much positive energy as you can. No one likes a stressed out, rude, and sour photographer. You’ll find that a crowd will often respond to your own attitude, and a bright smile can make all the difference.
Look out for those jokers who think it's great to ruin a good shot by sticking their fingers up, arranging themselves rather strangely against another person or pulling faces. However sometimes it's great to snap away when the group has just broken away from their formal pose. Play both situations to your advantage.
Don’t be afraid to be creative with your group portraits. While lining them up in school-class style is safe for formal photographs, positioning them in different locations with more casual photos can give a much more natural feel to these group photos. Be sure to check with your client on the style of photographs they would like, and share some of these candid photo ideas with them.
If you can, shoot from an elevated angle. Perches include car bonnets, balconies, tables, walls and various other miscellaneous but sturdy items. Be safe, but if you can get a vantage point above your crowd, then do so, the results will be unique, different and sometimes a lot better than being on eye level. If you're a serious portrait photographer, take a step ladder along with you - it's so useful! A tripod can also come in handy for a multitude of reasons, from appearing more ‘professional’ to the group, as well as being able to steady the camera, and guarantee the photograph won’t be crooked.
When framing for formal shots, you’ll want to use a smaller aperture (larger f-stop number) in order to ensure everyone’s face is in focus. If possible, try to avoid the group from posing too ‘deep,’ as people who may be standing further back could be out of focus. Getting close is also a good tip to follow, as this will help isolate your subjects while maintaining detail in their faces.
Depending on your familiarity with your camera itself, you have several options when it comes to what ‘mode’ to shoot in. If you’re comfortable with your camera, shooting in Manual or Aperture Priority would be the way to go, maintaining that the aperture will control just how much of the group will be in focus, and the blurring effect on the background. If you’re unfamiliar with your camera, there’s no shame in defaulting to Automatic Mode, as that mode will select all of the settings for you, and typically this mode favors smaller apertures.
One very important aspect to group photography, and in my opinion the most vital - is lighting. You need to be prepared for any sort of lighting situation, and this means having your own alternate means of light. External flashes and strobes are your best friend when it comes to creating a polished group photograph. The time these photos will be taken can take a major toll on your photographs if you are not prepared. If the photos are taken during the day, you’ll likely have adequate lighting, but should the photo be taken in poor weather or at night, then it’s up to you to add illumination.
When it comes to specifications, there are two that you may want to keep mind of if you’re shooting in more controlled camera modes. ISO, which is your camera’s sensitivity to light, and White Balance. If you use a very high ISO, like 3200 and above, your images can appear extremely grainy and noisy. Sticking with ISO 1600 and below is ideally where you want to be to avoid this. When it comes to White Balance, the choice is more dependent upon your post-processing options. Ideally, using a Custom White Balance will allow you to more evenly adjust the tone of your image in post. If you’re unfamiliar with White Balance, leaving this at Auto is another safe bet.
The most important rule of all when it comes to group photographs is simply this: take multiple pictures! One person blinking can throw off the entire shot, so taking several is always a good option.
~ Kendra-Paige & Kaz-D