10 Simple Ideas for Better Group Portraits

Instead of a conventional pose, let your subjects interact with each other in different ways. Photograph/Vipurva Parikh

Instead of a conventional pose, let your subjects interact with each other in different ways. Photograph/Vipurva Parikh

Neha Mutreja reveals some basic, practical tips on how you can add a professional touch to your group photographs.

Huddling to take group pictures is something we like to do—especially when we get together with friends and family during occasions like weddings, school reunions, birthdays, anniversaries, picnics, and religious ceremonies. These pictures are the best way to remember our near and dear ones! However, we often end up shooting carelessly and get photographs that are not up to the mark. There are a few simple things you need to keep in mind if you wish to give your day-to-day group portraits an innovative twist.

While shooting group portraits, it is always wise to have a rough plan in your mind before you start asking people to pose for you. Choose the location, move around and search for a good backdrop and lighting conditions. The way you plan your shot should depend on the equation shared between the different members of the group. Also, plan out how you would want your group to pose, especially in relation to each other. Having this information beforehand will mean that your group does not have to wait or get bored till you figure things out.

Backdrop Worries
An ideal background is a clean wall or something that is not distracting. On the other hand, a cluttered background can make a group portrait busy. Make it a point to hunt for pleasing elements in the background—like fountains, trees, open fields or even textured, coloured walls. The point is to ensure that the background does not merge with the people in the frame. However, there will be situations where you cannot change the background. At such times, use a wide aperture like f/2.8 to blur out the clutter.

Another thing to remember is that if you place people too close to a wall, their shadows will be cast on the background. You can simply ask them to move a few feet ahead or use the shadows in the frame to your advantage. The idea behind putting in so much effort in scouting for the perfect location is not just to make an appealing image, but also to convey stories—backdrops can tell the viewer where the image has been shot or what the occasion is.

Let There be Light
Light is essential for any kind of photography, as it adds to the mood of an image. When you have zeroed in on a location, do some research to figure out when the lighting conditions would look best. When shooting indoors, do not hesistate to make best use of ambient light—from table lamps to bulbs and even window light—they add their own flavour to each photograph. While shooting outdoors, you can make ample use of reflectors and even flash for some additional illumination.

Check the Attire
It is not necessary that the people posing for a group portrait should be clad in their finest clothes and wear makeup. But that does not mean that they should be shabby either. Even if they are wearing everyday clothes, ensure that they are neat, clean, ironed and that their hair is neatly done. Achieving a complimentary or contrasting colour combination is another aspect you can look at.

Control and Direct
Often, when we ask people to pose for a group shot, the taller people run back and the short ones adjust themselves somewhere ahead. The idea of standing as per one’s height is a common practice, but not necessarily the best one. Sometimes, breaking this norm may make your frame more dynamic.

Remember that it is your responsibility to get a good shot, so do not hesitate to direct your subjects. Make your group pose the way you want—they can be seated, standing, posing or interacting with each other. Understanding the temperament of the group will help give ideas as to how to make them pose. For instance, you can ask your friends to mimic someone you know—this will make them feel at ease, and also get you some funny expressions!

Move Back and Forth
Moving in closer will allow you to fill the frame with the people you are capturing. But do not get too close as that can intrude on your subject’s space and make them feel uncomfortable. Remember to frame your image properly— each person in your group must get the right kind of emphasis. Also, try not to crop out hands, legs or part of the forehead, as this may make the picture look disturbing.

Alternatively, you can zoom out to include the surroundings. This will set the ambience of the portrait and also convey where you have shot the image.

Take Multiple Shots
A simple way to ensure that you capture the best possible picture is to shoot a lot of frames. Of course, your first shot is often the best. But then, you may capture a range of expressions if you keep shooting for longer, until the group becomes less conscious of the camera. Additionally, you can also shoot some casual images before the group starts posing—when they are making faces at each other or practising their smiles.

Be Posture Perfect
Pay attention to the positioning of people’s hands, feet and face. Do not hesitate to ask them to readjust their pose, move their chin up, or fold their hands. Also, remember that an effective pose is a great way to portray the relationship shared by the group.

Engage in Activity
The most important thing that can help you capture an initimate portrait is comfort. Shoot at a time when your subjects are relaxed. For instance, you can shoot in your college canteen, or a place where everyone likes to hang out together. Let them get involved in some activity and wait for the moment when their expressions shine.

Accommodating More People
Smaller groups are relatively easy to handle. If you need to shoot more people, it will need a lot of management. One way you can include a number of people without making the frame seem crowded is to change your vantage point. Shoot from a top angle so that the ground serves as a clean background, with your subjects being mere specks in the frame.

It is really simple to take memorable group shots of your family and friends. Considering that these people trust you completely and are always ready to strike a pose, you are never short of opportunities too. Practise your skills, and you will surely have admirers who will love your perfect and heart-warming portraits.

This article originally appeared in the June 2014 issue of Better Photography.

Tags: Shooting Technique, Better Pictures, Neha Mutreja, Composition, portraits, group portrait, December 2010