Have you ever tried to organize a picture of a large group of people and found that it’s like herding cattle? Usually, people don’t know where to stand or how to arrange themselves. They need someone to guide them — to be their leader. Thats where you, as the photographer, step in.
After all, the person with the camera is in charge. Why? Becuase as the photographer, you see the group as a whole, and can decide if the setup is asthetically pleasing or not.
I’ve known some photographers who won’t photograph large groups because it can be too complicated, but I’ve always seen it as a fun challenge. I’ll share some tips today on how to best photograph families and groups.
Let’s first talk about posing a smaller family. I have three hard and fast personal rules when it comes to a posed family portrait:
- Mom and dad should always be next to each other. Families begin with mom and dad, and in a posed picture, it’s my personal policy that they are always together. It shows both solidarity and family cohesive.
- The tallest person should be on the left, with the shorter person to their right. And center them between their children. Usually — but not always — the tallest is the dad. I like the fact that this produces a photo that you can “read” like a book: From left to right. For some reason, when I’ve grouped mom on the left and dad on the right, it isn’t as pleasing to my eyes.
- Arrange the group into a triangle. Depending on the number of children in the shot, try to arrange them by height, keeping them as symmetric as possible on either side. In other words, arrange them so that their heads form a triangle — sometimes standing, sometimes sitting.
There are countless ways to pose your family, so I won’t go over those in detail. I like to take the perfectly posed shot by following the rules above, then I’ll suggest the “family hug.” Everyone piles in, faces close together, until the group looks unified and happy.
In the example below, I’ve first posed the family for a traditional portrait, then pulled them in for a hug. It becomes so much more warm and happy.
With large groups, I generally shoot what I call the “family reunion” picture. It starts with a smaller family like in the shot above, but then the kids grow up and have families of their own! Shooting a large family can be tricky, but I start with the idea above, even out the sides the best I can, and work in layers with various people standing, kneeling, and sitting. I then make lots of commotion to get everyone looking in the right direction.
It’s quite helpful to bring a tripod so the camera stays in the exact spot for a good few minutes, in the event of the need for a head swap. With large groups, no matter how hard I try and how many images I take, I’ll generally need to swap at least one head in Photoshop.
As you can see in the group above, the original parents are in the center, with the children and their families evenly spaced around them. The grandchildren are sitting in front, not worried about which family they are with, because this is a picture for the grandparents.
And here is an example in which the family is spread out. The children stay with their parents to differentiate best who they belong to. I’ll often ask if the families care if kids are spread around or not, and arrange them based on how they answer.
Don’t forget that you, as the photographer, are running the show, and you can see things the participants can’t. Guide them in the right direction, and snap away!
Photo credits: Kristen Duke