Tips for Group Portraits

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If you’ve ever felt pleased with your portrait sessions you might be discouraged by how different it is when you’re shooting a group portrait. It’s much easier to direct one or two people than it is with a larger group. More than once I’ve taken group photos (I’m especially fond of doing this at Christmas when we have big family dinners) and taken my camera home only to find that one or two people have their eyes closed, someone else’s mouth is hanging open, and one last person is blurry because they moved just as the photo was taken.

Don’t despair though, here are some tips for taking better group photos:

  1. Line people up in a logical way. It sounds obvious when you hear advice to put shorter people in front or to have taller people sit/crouch down in front so that everyone’s visible. However, more than once I’ve seen complete disarray in group shots with some poor person stuck in the back, half hidden by someone a full foot taller. Before you start taking photos, make sure you can see everyone’s face.
  2. Get a little closer. This can be awkward if not everyone knows each other very well (or if they do but don’t particularly care for each other!) but get everyone to stand nice and close. Again, this sounds obvious but sometimes I see groups where the outside people are partially cut off which is just not cool! On the other hand, you don’t want to crowd everyone so arrange accordingly.
  3. Make sure everyone has their eyes open. If you’re getting the feeling (or have viewed in your LCD) that someone keeps blinking as the shot is taken, try a trick that my sister’s wedding photographer used. We had posed in front of a lovely lake but the unfortunate side effect was that we were looking right into the sun. There was no way to take the shot my sister wanted without looking into the bright light and we kept squinting and blinking. The photographer asked us all to close our eyes and to open them when she counted to three. It worked perfectly!
  4. Make sure people know you’re about to take the shot. This is particularly important if you’re shooting in low light because anyone who shifts or turns will create a blur. Using a word like “freeze!” or “now!” can alert the group to the fact that you’re about to take the photo. If you’re using a remote or timer so that you can be in the group yourself, take a moment to explain to the group about how it works; on my camera, as it is on many others, a light flashes and a beep sounds as it gets ready to take the shot so you can let everyone know when to be ready.
  5. Have a bit of fun! Posed formal group shots are fine and are pretty standard for most gatherings. However, don’t feel like you have to be limited. Group shots can be a whole lot of fun. Ask your group to make silly faces, strike a disco pose, or even jump as high as they can. Enjoy yourself!
  6. Do you have a favorite tactic to get good group shots? Share in the comments!

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