How to take Group (or Team) photos.

These are my notes and thoughts on how to take group photos.  I’ve done this a lot for the Newspaper. 

Each year the Dolphin swim club gets a shot of the whole group for their web site and for the booster ad in the Chilkat Valley News, and sometimes I get to shoot it.  Last year, I think Ron shot it.  I like it when they are in the pool with their goggles on looking tough.    I really like this year’s shot.  I like Gabby’s smile and wave right in the middle of the front.  It really captures the moment and makes me smile.

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Partially more obscuredpartial ubstruction

The bane of the group photographer

is that  individual that likes to lurk behind others. This partial obstruction to the left is pretty bad.  The dude to the right is almost totally obscured.

This last example, below, has a person that is almost totally obscured, as she is placed twixt two girls that are standing arm-in-arm, plus she is not turned toward the camera.Partial to complete obstruction  GRRRrrrrr.

Any time a group is large, it’s tough to get a good shot of everyone because inevitably someone stands behind another person with just their eyes pointing out.  I hate that when someone assumes that their face is visible just because they can see the camera.  Once the group is assembled, the prime requirement is that everyone’s face is visible. .  Explain to them how to find a window for them to look through between two other people that are in front of them. 

Put them in uniform!

Of course it’s best if the group is clearly identified by the picture alone, so the group should be properly attired: in their Sunday best, if they go to church, in somewhat consistent clothes if they’re a family (like jeans and white shirts, they should avoid clashing colors or styles if at all possible), teams should be in uniform and be in a location that they gather, like the basketball court or football field, and they need to look their best so that they are like how they look in the newspaper.  If the group is a basketball team, they should have with a basketball prominently placed in the photo, as seen below.  Even if it’s clear what type of team is in the photo, years later, people will be thankful that the town and year were added to the photo.  A serious scrapbook person or family researcher will even appreciate the individual names in years to come.

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Arranging People (lines, rows, triangle, pyramid, or circle):

Once everyone is dressed properly and on location, then a suitable arrangement of the people is needed.  Often its’ good to get a variety of poses, one for each application: the traditional shot is the money shot, it’s the one that’s going to go on the trophies or in the newspaper, so that’s the FIRST shot to get, then if time allows, try get an alternate shot that’s creative, like putting then in a circle and shooting up at them from the floor or down at them from a ladder, or anything else weird like just acting goofy.  If it’s a stunt team, then they might be in a cool pose. 

Watch the clock

It’s important to keep time restraints in consideration, if the group is a team, and the shot is done during practice, then be as quick as possible, be ready when the coach says it’s time to take the shot, and make the shoot go quickly.

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Distractions, distractions, distractions… 

In the photo above, the distracting background is often best dealt with using a ladder to get up above the group.  Also, the girl on the front had her legs askew, which tends to distract the eye.  When you want a certain body position from the subject, often it is best to demonstrate the proper pose, rather than to explain it, as there is often too much to explain.  Tell them to “sit like this… ” and then show them how.  Notice the girls on the front left spread their fingers out in a claw-like manner and this is distracting.  As a rule, fingers are distracting in a photo and their appearance should be minimized.  In a traditional pose, the legs should be pointed vertically if possible.

A note on camera settings.

I shoot with Canon XXD cameras (a 20D and a 40D).  It’s important to get as much detail as possible on each face, so a Low ISO is necessary (ISO 400 and below is great when using a modern DSLR), this often means a flash will be used, if the group is large, then a smaller aperture will be nice to use to maximize depth of field, and of course, it would be best if the shutter speed were at least 1/60th or so to stop most subject blur and minimize the effect of camera shake.

What about Tripods?

Concerning tripods and vantage points, Image stabilization is preferred over a tripod for stability due to it’s mobility, but will not be sufficient in most cases when the photographer is going to be in the photograph due to the effect of gravity.  Of course if the photographer is going to be in the shot, a nice tripod that extends quite high is real nice to have, alternately if the camera can be placed and stabilized on a high point, like a car, that can work out fine, or sometimes the group can be placed at the base of a hill with the camera up a little higher. 

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Concerning distortion

There is less distortion in the photo if the photographer is further away than if the photographer is close to the group.  In the group shot above (taken by Chris Bowman, who did a fine job), notice how the guys in the back have really small heads compared to the girls in the front.  This is the distortion I mean.  To avoid this, outside, bring a long telephoto, arrange the group, then scoot back further to minimize the distortion.  Indoors, often the room constraints make it impossible to stand a reasonable distance away from the group and so the picture will have people that are very large near the front of the photo and very small if they are in the back of the photo.  Many non photographers will notice something is not quite perfect about the photo, but will not be able to pin down exactly what is bothering them unless it is pointed out.  Nevertheless, scoot back to shoot the photo whenever possible  In this photo, Chris moved out of the room and into the band director’s office as far as he could.

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A final word about Framing the image:

It’s important to know the layout of the final photo.  Is it going to be on a vertical page and does the editor want it to be a vertical or a horizontal.  Shoot both formats if you’re not sure.  If the primary purpose of the photo is to make 8x10s for family then care must be taken to frame the shot properly. In the photo above, it is difficult to crop the photo as an 8×10 due to the lack of empty space on the sides.  With the 8×10 format, an inch is cut off the sides of each photo when shooting with a traditional DSLR or SLR which has a native form factor of 8×12.  It’s difficult to find frames for 8×12 photos at discount centers, so it’s recommended that the photographer leave additional space along the long ends of the frame: to the sides when shooting in landscape mode (horizontally), and on the top and bottom, when shooting in portrait mode (vertically).  Sometimes the effects of a poorly framed shot can be mitigated by adding additional space at the top  and bottom of the frame, as seen below.  The neutral gray color was selected using the color picker on the carpet in photoshop.  If Chris had had more time, he would have used the clone tool to clone the carpet on the space below–the lights above would have been tougher to clone.

Choir

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