If you think you have enough on your hands with a single portrait subject, be aware that the problems multiply exponentially with each additional subject in the frame. In layman’s terms, “exponentially” means the problems grow in leaps and bounds. Because, besides the obvious problem of getting everyone to smile and not blink, there’s the problem of composing the group into a harmonious whole. With two persons, you have four eyes to deal with, four shoulders, four hands, two mouths. With three persons… well, just remember you’re a photographer not a detective marshaling a police lineup.
When taking photos of groups, there are some basic things that one should keep in mind:
Keep Your Subjects’ Faces At Almost The Same Plane.
This plane is the subject plane perpendicular to the optical axis. Okay, in simple terms it’s the line from left to right in front of the lens. Keep faces on or almost on this imaginary line, to make sure all your subjects will be sharp in your photograph. You may need to ask subjects in the back of the group to lean a bit forward so that their faces are on the same plane as the ones in front of him.
Try To Keep Your Subjects’ Faces Together.
If the photograph doesn’t require that group’s legs be seen, your priority should be to keep the faces not too far apart from each other. Their bodies don’t have to squeeze together; you can have them pose normally, and then twist their body into the picture area.
Consider Your Environment.
In a photo studio, the whole purpose is to get a nice clean portrait amidst a neutral environment or background, so it may be best to keep the focus on your subjects’ faces, such as by keeping their heads close together and excluding their legs from the composition.
However, if it’s an outdoor group portrait in, say, a huge and beautiful garden, the subjects (your clients) expect to see the location, too. So position your subjects in a comfortable way that also includes a view of the garden, even if it’s just a part of the garden.
Avoid Aligning Subjects’ Heads In One Straight Row.
Or two rows, for that matter. Remember that heads lined in a straight line -horizontally or vertically-create monotony in your photograph. Position one model slightly higher than the other, checking the alignment of their eyes, rather than of the tops of their head. It’s the eyes that viewers see, not the tops of the heads. You can manage this alignment by using stepping blocks or chairs.
Watch Out For Aligned Eyes.
Eyes that are aligned also create monotony in your photos. In addition, you can also have your subjects tilt their head slightly to break the monotony. One simple solution would be to sit everyone on a bar height dining table – voila! Instantly leveled.
When posing a group of people, imagine that you’re forming a triangle, or several triangles, with the faces. Aside from being pleasing to the eyes, a triangular composition makes for a more dynamic picture.
Especially when you’re in a studio, it will come very handy to have some props that can aid you in positioning each person in the group photo. Lightweight, sturdy plywood blocks of various heights, sizes and shapes, as well as adjustable-height bar stools are indispensable in lining up the levels of faces and shoulders.
Arrange The Group One Person At A Time.
Don’t be overwhelmed by the number of persons in your group shot. What you can do is to first, position the chairs where your subjects will be sitting. Just seeing the arrangement of the chairs will give you a good visual in your head how everything will look in the portrait. Next, bring in the subjects one at a time, taking note of the height and bulk.