Jun 082006

Whenever friends and family get together, it’s always a great opportunity for a group picture. And in this post, I share tips for taking snapshots of groups.

Whether you are the official keeper of family memories and want to get a picture for your scrapbook, or out with friends and just want get a shot of a great time to share online, here are a few tips to help you get a better shot.

In my experience with wedding and event photography, I’ve picked up a few tricks along the way that help get the best picture of all people in the group. And one that maybe even tells a little story about the people in it.

The tips are about the two most important things for a group shot. It’s not about how to use the camera. It’s how to position the group, and talk to the people to get the best expressions and connections between the people.

It’s funny – I’ve noticed that a lot of people still take pictures the way the photographers did a hundred years ago. We think of a group picture as a single shot (like in TV shows, the old-time photographers with flash powder).

Chances are, in a group picture, there is somebody with their eyes closed or funny-looking expression on their face. So, you need more than one picture to make sure everyone looks good.

One thing you can learn from these old-time photographers, is that you have to take charge. But do it in a nice way. Don’t get bossy. Be warm and friendly with the people so you bring up the right expressions.

Anyway, before you start rounding people up, take a moment to choose the right background. Make sure they’re not standing in front of a mirror, or even a window hidden behind a curtain. This will reflect your flash.

If you need the group in front of a mirror or a window (or have no choice), shoot at an angle so you don’t get reflections. Make sure there are no shiny objects in the picture, like silver plates or candlesticks, or even large shiny picture frames.

Now you can start getting the people together. Be enthusiastic, and make them want to get in the picture. Of course, if it is a sad occasion, you may want to make your tone appropriate, say respectful and encouraging.

But otherwise, get people interested and excited. Be really nice to that one person who does not want to be in the picture. Tell that person how important it is for them to be included. Or have the group cajole them into the picture.

Mostly, group photos have the shorter people in the front and the tall people in the back. This looks predictable, and it really annoys the shorter people. Think differently, have tall people sit on the arm of the chair or squat down.

Have couples and family members closer together, or let close friends be side-by-side. People can hold hands or have their arms around each other. Make sure that the overall group looks balanced and natural.

If some people in the group have darker complexions, and some lighter, it is better to put lighter complexions towards the back and darker towards the front, if you are using flash. That balances out lighting from the flash, and faces look more natural.

Remember, taking several shots gives more chance you will have one with everyone looking good. With digital, extra pictures cost no more. The more you take the more choice you have for a perfect shot. Take at least three.

Tell the group in advance you will be taking several pictures. Say that you want to get a good shot of everyone, and that the first couple are practice shots for their smiles.

That way their smiles will just get better as you take more pictures. But if you don’t tell them about this beforehand, every picture you take will show somebody getting more and more impatient.

And the worst thing that you can do now is to say “Everybody ready? Smile”, and then take another five to ten seconds to take the picture. By that time half the smiles will have faded.

If you’re using a flash, and your camera has a red-eye setting, this is a great little device to get a good smile. Here’s how. Tell group that they will see a little bright light come on or flutter.

When they see that, they should think of something really happy or funny, and then let that show on their faces. That way, when the flash goes off, their happy expression will be at its peak.

You may want to make sure that no one does that V-sign behind someone else’s head, and try and stop kids (and even big kids too) pulling silly faces that will have to be apologized for in the future. But that is just my preference – maybe people (and you) actually want a goofy photo.

As you frame up the shot in the viewfinder, make sure it’s nicely balanced, and uses most of the frame with heads near the top edge. Don’t just put faces in the middle, with a big space at the top and then cut off people’s legs.

After you take the first shot, remember that you’re still in charge and the people are waiting for you to take the next shot. So talk to the group. Say something like “Great, now let’s get a couple more”.

Before each shot, prepare your group to watch for the red-eye pre-light for the flash, and to think of something happy or funny each time.

And when you’ve taken all the shots, tell them you’re done, and thank them for their cooperation and help.

So next time you have a group together, try these tips, and see if you don’t get much better pictures. Thanks for listening, and I hope you get some great memories whenever you get a group together.

This topic is also available as a podcast on Apple iTunes in “Digital Snapshots”.
© 2006 – Jim Everett


 Posted by at 9:56 pm

  2 Responses to “Tips for Better Group Snapshots”

  1. Hi James, thank you for your article. A friend asked me to take their family picture this weekend, and I’m looking forward to applying these tips. It’s easy to understand what you mean. Some pros say they want to give you tips then get really technical and “normal” people have no clue what they’re saying. This is definitely not the case in this piece. Thanks again.

  2. Ana – glad to hear that my tips have been helpful. If you would like, please send me a picture where you used some of these techniques, and let me know how you applied them.

    And remember, whether you are printing at home, or using a kiosk, you can always do things like straightening horizons, cropping, redeye removal, and adjusting the exposure, for an even better result.


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