When a photographer asks for tips for shooting a large group, the common advice is “RUN!” But shooting big groups does not have to be a distressing endeavor; by following a few simple guidelines, large party portraits are not only do-able, they can even be (dare I say) enjoyable!
These tips offer large-group ‘newbies’ sage advice, and are sourced from years of combined experience from our Mastin Labs community. Thank you to all of our group participants for offering your tips and tricks for photographing large groups.
“Be loud and in charge. Make sure they know you’re there and it’s for photos, not just a […] gathering!” - Heather Price Crist
Take Charge of the Large Group Photo
It’s easy to get swallowed up in a sea of people, so Mastin Labs community member, Heather Price Crist swears that it’s important to command attention.
Heather says, “be loud and in charge. People like to waste time when it’s this big group of people. Make sure they know you’re there and it’s for photos, not just a […] gathering”.
Mastin user, Shauna Geyer agrees, “No doubt you’ll have a bossy mom or someone who thinks they know better than you […] every year I have to fight people off from telling me what’s best in terms of lighting, people, placement, etc”.
To help control the chaos, Stacey Olson recommends enlisting the help of a group member, “See if you can rally a family member to be in charge of gathering everyone and helping you know who is who.”
Commanding attention is especially important during the actual photo taking. Subjects may feel distracted or unfocused in a big group, so to avoid the need for excessive editing after the shoot, Paige Vaughn recommends, “Have everyone close their eyes, count down, and then open them on 3 to avoid the blinks!”
Another way to get every member of a big group to stay focused on the shoot (and to elicit some candid emotions) Sara Smith suggests, “Think of a silly song that everyone knows. Have them sing it. You’ll get a great candid shot then, as that moment is passing, get everyone’s attention and get ‘the shot’”.
Above all else, don’t be afraid to assert yourself during large group photo shoots. Being loud and bossy can keep everyone focused, minimize wasted time, and help you get the shot you need.
Prepare The Location In Advance For Photographing Large Groups
When you are photographing a large group, location matters. It’s important that the background does not look cluttered or disorganized. This allows for simple editing post-photo shoot. Saxon Smith recommends finding a clean background “[It] makes it easier if you have to do any head swaps.” Using a tripod also helps to make the editing process easier.
Mastin Labs user Kerry Smith encourages photographers to use features in the environment to help keep the group-oriented, “I usually try to find something to anchor them… like steps or a fence where you can keep them relatively lined up.”
When photographing a large group, you must be able to stagger the heights of the heads in the portrait, so it’s a bonus when your location includes benches, logs, or other seating options that allow for natural staggering. If your environment is not set up in this way, Mastin Labs community members like Monica Hoffman recommend preparing your location with benches, or additional chairs or stools to act as surfaces for your group to sit on to help arrange them into staggered heights.
For a little extra help getting a clear shot of everyone in the group, community members Rachel Lott and Joleen Marie Crosta encourage photographers to bring a stool to stand on. This will help you capture everyone clearly in your group shot and accommodate for height differences within the group.
By Jayme Burrows
How to Pose Large Group Photos
You cannot simply tell a large group to pose themselves. If you do, you will most likely end up with a stiff, straight line that is not appealing to the eye. Kimberly Collis offers great advice for arranging large groups, she advises, “Have them assemble into smaller groups. If you’re photographing a large family, for example, have subjects pose in their smaller immediate family groups.” She continues, “This helps prevent having straight lines of people, and maintains triangle posing and keeps the group tighter.”
Another way to arrange large groups is to take Mastin Labs community member, Sara Smith’s approach. Smith recommends seating the person of honor first (typically the eldest of the group) and then arranging the rest of the group around them. When organizing your groups, she advises, “Larger […] members tend to look better placed on ends and not in the back. Moms and Dads of young kids should kneel.”
Create A Shot List
Typically, traditional portraits, or small group portraits are requested along with the large group portrait. When this is the case, make a shot list to keep yourself organized. If you’re taking smaller portrait sessions in addition to a large group photo, it’s important to consider the order of groupings. If there are children, assume they have a shorter attention span. Sitting for long periods of time, or outside in the heat can also take a toll on older members of the group.
Mastin Labs user, Jenn Dukes, shares her method; “I consider if there is anyone in poor health or babies or toddlers and try to complete [their portraits] as quickly as possible.” When photographing a large family for example, Heather Price Crist advises, “Start with the big group, the grandparents with little kids, and then work through individual families starting with little kids first. “
Kate Trent, echoes her advice saying, “I would do the group shot first, then do individual family breakdowns afterwards.”
You can also flip this approach if you feel your group needs a little time to feel comfortable in front of the camera. Get the group warmed up by taking smaller group portraits first, and ending on the large group portrait. This can help create a rapport between you and every member of the group, and teach the kids to respond to you.
As Sydne Barnett suggests, “Get all of their names and create a set list of groupings. I like to start with sub groups to get them all warmed up first. Add people as you go, and then strategically break out groups.”
By Rob and Julia Campbell
Try To Make It Fun!
With generational differences, and varying levels of comfort around a camera, group dynamics can stiffen when a camera is brought out, so it’s important to encourage fun! Take big group shots quickly, and cycle through smaller groups to give each member time to relax and enjoy the company of one another. Your photos will look much better if the subjects are relaxed and having a good time.
Above all else, accept that there is no such thing as a perfect large group portrait, so be realistic. As community member, John James states, “Shoot the group [a few times] then go into lifestyle photo mode and embrace the chaos. This is where the photos people fall in love with happen.”