“It is nothing original, but my biggest phobia when it comes to running my business is photographing and assembling ANY type of group!" Jessica-San Diego, CA
Oh yes, of all the feedback we received, the fear of posing, whether it be large groups (eek!) or small, is the most common.
Once a group is larger than, say, six people, or the point to which spreading them out in a straight line is no longer an option, fear usually sets in, right? Questions and thoughts begin running ferociously through your head. What happens if there's not enough space to put everyone? What if my subjects faces are hidden? What if I run out of ideas? What if they are uncooperative? What if....?
Usually, the fear of photographing groups involves not knowing what to actually do with the people in the group. Stagger them? Add chairs? Couples together or girls and guys? What to do with the hands!?! The fear is then intensified with the fact that you have a large audience to witness the inability to pose the group and get the job done quickly, effectively and artistically.
So, let's discuss the first plan of attack. We need to figure out where to put all these people and how to make a simple photo an attractive image. How do we do that? Start by researching. Examine as many photography books, blogs and magazines and sift through to find interesting and great group images. After finding these images, look a little closer. What made them so attractive? What did this photographer do, in particular, to photograph the group in this way? From this study, you should then have a foundation to build upon. Visually seeing what works vs. what doesn't should get you well on the right path to overcoming this fear! By formulating a few ideas for what make a particular group photo so great, you will be more confident to use the strategies in your next gig.
Let's explore one on the main rules to photographing groups. Obviously, you must make sure everyone in the group can be seen. How many group photos have you viewed in which the individuals in the back row were hidden because the photographer didn't think through the pose well enough before assembling the group? The best way to make sure everyone in the group can be seen is to stagger and tier.
As you can see, staggering involves arranging the group so that the back row shows through the front row and tiering involves making the rows two different heights so that there is some interest and height to the portrait. If you can master arranging your group into this formation there isn't a group photo you can't tackle like a superhero. But it's not always easy to find a setting that is conducive to this formation. The first obstacle that always seems to come up is that there isn't a place at the venue that has the necessary height gradient to assemble a tiered group. If you know you will have to photograph several large groups, the first thing you should locate when arriving to the venue is a staircase. Stairs are your BFF when it comes to group portraits and can take nearly all the anxiety out of the shot. But sometimes you won't find a stair in sight. That's when it comes time to get a little creative. When a stairway can not be found, continue your quest for an attractive location with a curb, graded walkway, or even a hill.
If you can't find a stairway, curb, or other attractive graded surface, resort to Plan B. That involves keeping the rows of the group all on the same plane, but using the heights of the subjects to your advantage. Start by taking stock of the members of the group and noticing who's the tallest and who's, well, not so tall. (Do this part silently, by the way. You don't want to go around shouting, “Hey you! Shorty! I'll need you in the front!”) Create a row of the taller group members and then start placing the altitude-challenged members in the front row, staggered of course. If there are children in the group they go in a third row in the very front. Of course, you will want to keep family members and couples together, so keep this in mind. Then, direct the left side of each row to face to the right (and vice versa) so that the group has a nice position in toward the center. If you need a third row you should start locating some chairs or other furniture. Placing two to four chairs on the bottom row really rounds out the group and looks so much better than just extending each row. If there are grandparents present in the group, they should use the chairs and have the grandchildren surrounding them. Group shots also tend to look better if you don't put all individuals with the same height together. If this happens, the group takes on what I call the “xylophone” quality and is weird on the eye. Don't be afraid to move people around and mix different heights together; it will produce a much more interesting photo. This technique serves well for groups as small as six and as large as 30! It is a very simple group pose, but will lay the groundwork for you to get nice groups every time and eventually gain the confidence to experiment with more creative groupings.
The moral of the story is one you are familiar with by now: be prepared. Know your system before you arrive and always make a habit of always asking the couple exactly who they would like in group formals. It saves lots of time and provides the ability to plan out each of the groups before the day begins. This will diminish your 'stressed-out, hardly can breathe, wow, it's hot in here' moments with groups after beginning this ritual because YOU know what to expect before it happens! We know this standard “staggered/tiered” group setup is not the most creative in the world. If you are “group phobic” the last thing you should worry about is major creativity in a large group image. Save your innovation for what you do well - bride and groom shots, candids, and the story of the day. Keeping the group shots as simple as possible will ensure that you have a solid, sellable, beautiful image to give your clients, and we promise you, the last thing they will notice when it comes to lack of creativity is the group formals. Again, when you have overcome your phobia of posing groups you can begin to branch out and take some risks and get more experimental, but you must be willing to take the baby steps first.
Using this formula, experimenting, and gaining more confidence, we believe you will begin producing the most solid group images of your career. Instead of fearing the group portraits, you will begin to embrace and look forward to them because they were an opportunity to improve your work, gain more experience, and even try something new. With a little time, preparation, and experimentation YOU will turn your biggest weakness into your greatest strength. And that in itself, is something to be proud about!
Ready for large groups? We thought so.
Need a little hands-on inspiration to carry in your bag with you? Try our Inspire Me Cards for Wedding Party & Group Posing.