How to Photograph A Large Group of People - The AVPG Shoot
August 23, 2013 – Group photography can be one of the simplest types of photography to shoot, but creating a great group shot can be quite challenging. Photos of groups get taken every second across the world, by amateurs and professionals alike; it’s a very popular type of photography. People love to be in group photos, and they love to see the results afterwards and share them with their friends and family However, the photographer’s job isn’t as easy as you would think with groups. There are many things to take into account when photographing groups of people; things that could make the difference between the shoot being a success, or the group itself wanting out of the shot.
Our assignment today was to take a group picture at AVPG (Audio Visual Professional Group, Inc. ) for use on their web site and in their promotional materials. Scott Ellison of Inquiry Films was the photographer for the shoot, and I served as his assistant. AVGP sells and rents concert quality audio and lighting, video displays large and small, entertainment staging, outdoor roof systems and custom displays. We visited their place a week prior to the shoot to scout out the location. Their group consists of about 20 employees, and Scott chose their warehouse for the shoot. Scott opted for White Lightings Strobes (600WS and 1200WS) for the fill and main lights, and a couple of small strobes for the backlights. We spent several hours setting up the shot, and I want to share with you some things to consider on your next group shoot.
1. First, decide where you want to take the photo.
In this case, AVPG’s warehouse is pretty cool with a lot of lighting equipment around, and a big open space in the middle. This large space was ideal for the shoot, as there were many employees to fit into the frame. For other groups, consider where they would make sense. Sports teams make sense wherever they play; baseball teams on their diamonds, hockey teams on their rinks, and football/soccer teams on their fields. Wherever they play could make a good scene, but it all depends on the background.
2. Make the background look interesting.
You don’t want to line a bunch of people up on a stucco wall and shoot, because it’s going to look boring. You want to make the photo look interesting; you want to make everyone in that photo excited about it when you show them the photo later. With the sport teams mentioned earlier, the play space could be interesting, but don’t shoot them with just grass in the background. If that’s all their field is, a grass field, then find someplace else to shoot them that looks more visually interesting, because that grass shot you considered earlier has been taken countless times before. A locker room would be a decent place to shoot those players; try letting them get comfortable in their environment instead of just placing them all in a line. Let them scatter out across the lockers, doing certain things but always looking at the camera.
With AVPG, all the equipment scattered around didn’t make for an interesting picture and just got in the way. So we asked them to move the stuff out of the way, and we experimented with a few other things in the shot until we got something we liked. We left in some lighting equipment, big metal trusses, a forklift, and we left one of the doors open leading to a big storage truck. We felt this made the background look like they were just about to load their stuff into that truck, to make the background more interesting, instead of just clearing the place out to give them a place to stand.
3. Decide how/where you want the people to pose.
If there are too many people in the shot, you may not have a wide enough lens to fit everyone in, or it just may not look good with them all in a line. One way to help with this is to stagger everyone by dividing the amount of people up, and placing one half behind the other. This will fit more people into a smaller region, and allows you to zoom in a bit further. However, make sure you can see everyone’s faces. One way to help with this is to elevate your shooting position, so you can shoot down onto them and see the people in the back a bit better. Also make sure the tallest people are in the front and are not obscuring the people behind them. Shooting from higher up helps this, but you may need to reposition people to aid the sight lines.
You may also want to experiment with posing them in different places around the scene. Take my locker room example from earlier, and try applying it to where you are shooting.
4. Set up lights and strobes if needed.
If you’re shooting indoors or anywhere out of natural light, you may want to use lighting and strobes to give you a better looking shot. Decide where you want these strobes to go before you do anything else. Then once they are set up, take some test shots to see how it lights up the environment. You could also recruit someone to help you out before you call the whole group in. Figure this out now, because if you have undesirable shadows from the strobes, you may not have any time left to adjust them when the whole group has put on their smiling faces.
At AVPG, Scott and I set up two strobes behind us on either side of the ladder he was using to shoot, and two smaller strobes behind the group. In both cases, the units were mounted very high. The two strobes behind the photographer were shining away from the group into a forward facing umbrella to diffuse the light onto the subjects, and the strobes behind the subjects were mounted onto support beams on the ceiling high above the group. The strobes were all set up in such a way that any shadows cast by the subjects would be singular and crisp.
5. Take lots of photos!
This part is crucial when it comes to group photos, because it deals with the unavoidable factor of portrait photography: blinking. Blinking is a natural human reaction to overexposure of light, and it will happen when you are shooting, indoors and outdoors. The best way around this is to take many photos, not leaving anything to chance. If you take loads of photos, you’re bound to get one where everyone has their eyes open and their smiles wide.
6. Be friendly, and be creative!
Last thing is to just be friendly! The more people like you, the more they are likely to smile and pay attention for the photos. Also, get creative! Creativity is the key to good photography.