The Group Shot


Do you do group shots? Willingly? Got any other strange traits we should know about?

Well, no need to go all Aw Shucks about it. We are all called upon to do group shots from time to time – indeed there are some occasions like weddings, graduations, and hangings that demand it as de rigueur. The better we do them, the more they are in demand. And if we do them right the first time we do not have to keep on doing them.

Note: group shot means a picture of people assembled in a body deliberately for the image, and presumably co-operating with the photographer. Pictures of presidential imaugurations*or mass whale standings are not group shots per se; neither sperm whales nor Democrats will ever respond to direction. Group shots are only counted if there are 10 or more people in them – under that figure they are a smaller subdivision like family or bridal party.

The general equipment for a group shot includes:

a. A camera. Not a mobile phone. The bigger the better as far as the camera sensor goes.

b. A flash attached to the camera. Or two flashes that can be synched to the shutter.

c. A tripod or camera stand.

d. A wide-angle lens. For an APS-C camera anything from 10mm to 23 mm should do it. For the full-frame camera choose a 16mm to 35mm. Doesn’t need to be a fast lens. Remember the lens hood.

e. A stepladder – as big as you can fit in your car.

f. A small pistol.

The place for the group photo is wherever you can find space. If you have a glorious artistic background it is a bonus. If it has to be taken in the back lot of a lard-rendering establishment, so be it. Wear rubber booots. You just need a position that allows everyone to stand or sit there facing away from the sun.

Don’t put the people in alphabetical order or height or religion or smell or anything. No arrangement you can make will survive the first granny who wants to cross over the front of the group to be with Auntie Ivy. Let them sort themselves out roughly and then pick a centre couple.

Not surprisingly, put them in the centre. Plunk your tripod down fair square looking at them at mid-height. Tell them not move on penalty of their life, and show them the pistol. Then appoint a right marker and a left marker to be at the extreme of the coverage of your lens. Position them, then draw them into toward the centre markers by about a foot. Let everyone know that they MUST be between the outer markers. A lot of them won’t get it but keep on moving them in until the fit.

The front row can generally fit better if they echelon in toward the centre markers – left or right shoulders forward as necessary. They look good, stack in more, and leave space behind for the second row. If you can do your group in two rows you have a chance of success – three rows and deeper really only works if you are dealing with Guards regiments who know how to obey orders on a parade ground.

If you are using a very wide lens you should try to have the front row of people curve toward you on the sides like a buffalo’s horns. This makes the right and left marker’s faces look more normal. It’s a small thing but it helps.

If you can position the two rows on a slope toward you, you can see the second row faces better – the light will hit them evenly. No slope? Climb up that step-ladder and shoot slightly down.

Exposure should be based upon a spot reading of the front row. Be generous by about a third of a stop. Use the flash to get as much widely diffused light into the faces as you can. The faces are what they want to see. Use the highest ISO you are confident of before it all goes to noise. If it is all going to be spots, download Nik Dfine and smooth them out.

You’ll only get a chance for three shots at civilians – no crowd over 10 people can hold still for longer. You cannot hold their interest past that second shot.

And the pistol? You use it for an attention-rivetting sound just before the first shot. They all jump but they do look at the camera and then they look again to see if you are going to do it again. Probably best to shoot it into the air…

* Imauguration: imaginary ceremony.




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