You take them at weddings, schools, family gatherings, cast shoots, staff photos, and more. We’re talking about groups photos. But how do you ensure your group shots don’t look like a lineup of criminals or a boring cluster of people?
In this episode, Gina and Valerie discuss a step-by-step process on how to create dynamic groups shots that really shine. Gina reveals her “go to” poses for ensemble shots such as the “90210”, the “Reservoir Dogs”, the “Cartier-Bresson”, the lineup and the “just act casual”. We discuss how you can direct a group, whether there are five or 50 people, how to coordinate everyone, how to ensure no one is closing their eyes and how to ensure you image is balanced, and much more!
Do your groups shots look like a boring school photo?
What has inspired and influenced the way I pose groups?
- Vanity Fair magazine
- Annie Liebovitz
- Melrose Place
- Tarantino’s Reservoir Dogs
- The Last Supper
My 5 main styles of group shots
1. The 90210
I learned this style of posing groups by studying the publicity shots of the American teen drama from the ’90s, Beverly Hills 90210.
I have developed and modified this technique over the years and it has become my go-to pose for many of the cast shoots I do.
I like to create interest in these group shots by staggering the levels of all my models.
I will have the back row standing up, the middle row seated at various heights including high stools, chairs, lower ottomans or boxes. Then I have a third level either on the floor or seated on very low stools or boxes.
I will pose each person individually and bring each person onto set one at a time so I can see how my shot is building up.
2. The Reservoir Dogs
This shot is inspired by the opening sequence of a Quentin Tarantino movie, Reservoir Dogs.
It’s a great pose if you are pressed for time, if you need a pose that’s quite dynamic, or you have a group of people who have trouble posing or taking direction.
I like to shoot very low to the ground (sitting or lying down) and ask the group to walk towards me. If this shot is left to chance, you may get lucky but a little direction will really take this shot to another level.
- Person 1 walks with both hands in their pockets and looks at person 2.
- Person 2 fixes up their tie as they walk.
- Person 3 buttons up their jacket as they walk.
- Person 4 talks to person 5 and gestures with their hands.
3. The Cartier-Bresson
This style is named after Henri Cartier-Bresson, a French photographer who took snapshots of everyday life and made them look extraordinary. He was a true master of candid photography.
I love photographing groups in this fly-on-the-wall style, posed to look like a candid snapshot of life as it happens.
I often get my inspiration for these poses from popular culture.
When I’m directing a group shoot like this I give everyone a role and ask them to repeat it over and over again.
Poses are varied only minutely.
4. The lineup
This style of shooting was born out of necessity. Many of the TV shows I shoot cast shots for can’t schedule all their talent to be on set at once so I would shoot them individually and then combine the shot in post-production.
This is a great technique to capture everyone’s personality and it always looks dynamic.
5. The just act casual
This is a less stylised version of The Cartier-Bresson and it’s great for groups in corporate or real life settings.
You might think that candid photography is just a matter of standing back and snapping away.
The problem with candid photography is that you are relying on too many variables to be just right. You need good light, location and expression and you need them all to work together. If you miss out on one of these, your shot can be ruined.
But, if you set up the shot and give everyone specific direction, you are guaranteed a great shot.
Essential checklist for group shots
- Ensure everyone is clearly visible in the shot … “if you can’t see me I can’t see you”
- Try to space everyone out so the shot doesn’t feel too constricted or crowded.
- For really large groups I like to arrange sub groups of three and five — it makes the shot look more interesting and dynamic.
- Keep clothing neutral autumn tones blacks/whites work. avoid red it stands out like dogs’ you-know-whats.
- Double check for little details like; hair over eyes, dirty faces, drink bottles, awkward hands, collar up etc
- Shoot at least 10-15 frames. This is harder than it sounds because large groups can be intimidating and many people in the group tend to lose interest after a few frames. The way around:
- Keep the dialogue going.
- Be complimentary. Never single anyone out for doing the wrong thing.
- If you need to, stop the shoot and give more direction. Don’t be afraid to make people wait. I used to rush through my group shots (particularly with corporate males and athletes) because I felt intimidated. I now realise that when I rush, I don’t get great shots. Be confident and explain that you need to get this right and if everyone does their bit, it should all be over in five minutes.
- Keep the dialogue flowing. Silence is a cue that you are unhappy with the shot or finished shooting.
- When you’re speaking to the group, lower your tone and speak calmly. This is a great trick I learnt from my teacher training. Whenever I’m speaking to a large group, I lower my voice rather than raise it. This way everyone becomes silent to hear you. I also find that women’s voices tend to go up and sound shrill when they try to speak louder.
- Look for open shade
- Avoid dappled light
- Backlit can be nice if you have fill flash
- Large modifiers like umbrellas, large octaboxes and softboxes work best
- Avoid hard lighting as it casts shadows
- Flat even lighting is the safest option
- Use a tripod and lock off exposure so you can comp heads in if you need to.
- Avoid wide angle lenses because these distort group shots making people at the front of the group appear huge and people at the back look like pin heads.
- Between 50mm to 100mm is a good option.
- Shot at f8-11 for maximum sharpness and always focus on the eyes