How to take better group photographs


Along with the advent of “selfies”, we also have the group photos at some event or other with a row of people all holding their thumbs up.  No longer does this mean “good” it now apparently means “like” after Mr. Zuckerberg was allowed to massacre the English language with his pictogram.

This trend, and a mindless one I should add, can be seen every day in Facebook, so if you do persist in wanting to upload photographs to FB, let’s try and make them stand out from all the other shots at any event, without there being one thumb, or two fingers in the peace or victory salute, quite inappropriate in the vast majority of group shots.

Most owners of a half reasonable camera will have found that they were asked to photograph somebody’s wedding.  If you can, weasel out, weddings are a pain.  One very experienced wedding photographer even went so far as to call the craft, “Hours of controlled patience, punctuated by moments of sheer terror and intense bursts of creativity.”

So how do you get stand-out photographs from groups?  The first thing not to do is to line the subjects in a line, like army privates on parade, wave a hand in the air and say “neung, song, sam” (one, two, three for non-Thais) followed by “hawy” (another Thai word we won’t go into here, but will make Thai people smile, much like “cheese” for westerners).  And don’t suggest they use Zuckerberg’s “like”.

So you know you will be taking photographs, so what now?  This is the time to remember what you learned in the Scouts – Be Prepared!  Check the camera – how is the charge in the battery?  Are the lenses clean?  Do you have enough lenses?  And what flash will you use?

Now, don’t turn on the camera yet, but have a look at where the shots are likely to be taken.  What sort of background is there?  Plain and unobtrusive or cluttered and distracting?  Too bright?  Too colorful?

What you have to think about, is why are these people there?  A group has some common theme in the people.  Is it funny hat day?  Is it a wedding?  A BBQ?  Having worked out in your head what the common factor is, now look at how you are going to show that factor.  Taking the BBQ concept, for example, catch the men around the BBQ plate with a beer each.  Or get the ladies in the kitchen making the salads.  That you can have a hand in, but don’t have them all standing in a line – get them doing something.  I came across a fabulous quote the other day from Australian photographer Russell Colvin who apparently often says, “All the gear and no idea.”  Don’t join that group – think about the situation and get an idea!

Now the weddings.  Wedding photographers talk about the three P’s – preparation, photography and presentation.  My idea of wedding photography and the three P’s are pain, persecution and panic.

However, looking at the accepted “preparation”.  This is very important and will make your job so much easier.  This would include going to the church, temple, registry office or whatever before the great day to see just what you can use as backgrounds, and where you can position the happy couple, and their parents, and their bridesmaids, and their friends, and the neighborhood dogs and everything else that seems to be in wedding photographs.  Just by doing this, you at least will know ‘where’ you can take some photographs.

With weddings, there are always some stereotyped shots that the happy couple expect, and you can’t get around these – bride and groom plus their parents, but you still do not have to line them up like soldiers on parade with (gawdelpme) their thumbs up!

There is bound to be a garden chair that you can seat the elders on, with the youngsters around them, and even have the happy couple seated, and the in-laws around them.  Use some grey matter to get something different.  It can be done – even at weddings.

Try to take photographs of groups in a new or different way.  Make your shots stand out.  It can be done!