|Nikon D100, Sigma 15-30mm, ƒ/9.5, 1/30|
The key to group photos is planning — and how big you plan to use the photo can make a big difference in your planning. We don’t hang wristwatches on the wall, because their faces are so small you cannot tell time with them. In most family rooms, you could have a three-inch face clock and tell the time. In a classroom, you might need a 10-inch face. The clock face size is a good rule of thumb for determining whether someone will be recognized in a wall print at a normal viewing distance.
|Nikon D2X, Sigma 15-30mm, ISO 100, ƒ/11, 1/60–Alienbees used for fill flash|
The more you show in a photograph other than people’s faces, the larger the photo needs to be to recognize the people, because their face size will diminish. If your group photo is more for identification, then getting everyone close together where you can see their faces should be the primary goal. Then you can run the photo in a publication and people can tell what everyone looks like.
|Nikon D3, 24-120mm, ISO 200, ƒ/8, 1/100–6 Alienbees B1600 shooting through white umbrellas|
On the other hand, if your photo is more about creating a mood for a poster of, say, a hip-hop band, then you will shoot much looser and space the people out and let their body language help establish the mood. For these concept/mood photos, I like to spread people out and put people at different heights (relative to their faces). I like to think in triangles. If you were to connect the dots (faces) between people, do they make triangles? Create depth by having some people closer to the camera and others further away. This will give it a more three-dimensional feel.
|Nikon D2X, 70-200mm, ISO 400, ƒ/16, 1/200–4 Alienbees B1600s full power lighting the room|
If you go to the music store and look at CD covers of music groups, you can see some of the leading work done in the industry. Try copying some of these until you get the hang of it and can come up with your own concepts.
If you pre-plan and have a good idea and have taken into consideration people’s sizes, you will move pretty quickly through the process. If you don’t, it goes slowly and your photo may fall apart — because you will lose the attention and interest of the people in the photo.
In scouting locations in advance, you are not only choosing a location because of the scenery; you are also ensuring you are there at the best time of day for a group photo. Having the sun right behind the group isn’t the best technical photo. Sometimes, a location won’t work simply because the group isn’t available at the right time of day to make the photo.
|Nikon D2X, 24-120mm, ISO 100, ƒ/16, 1/200–4 Alienbees shooting through white umbrellas|
I have found that if you have done your homework, you can pretty much make any group photo in 10 to 15 minutes. You may get to the location earlier, but the people in the photo should be able to be placed into position immediately — and then you are just looking for good expressions.
One last thing that can make a great impact on the quality of your photo: either have a laptop computer or TV on location to view the images as you shoot. Virtually all digital cameras will plug into a TV and let you see the image big enough to assess the smallest details — enabling you to move people only inches and improve the final product.