It can be quite daunting to accurately capture a photograph of a large group. By large group I mean more than five and all the way up to several hundred. When I have been asked to do this I always make sure that someone other than myself is coordinating getting everyone to the right place at the appointed time. All the photographer should be thinking about is how the heck they are going to pull this off! Here are four tips for capturing beautiful images of large groups of people.
Next to my camera, my ladder is my most important photography tool. I often just bring a two-step stool, but for larger groups I bring out my large, sturdy ladder. At the wedding of Erica Vrana to Joshua Schutt they requested that I get a group photo of all their wedding guests. I chose a wide, open area and climbed up on my taller ladder. This bird’s eye views allowed me to see more of the people in the back rows. My second shooter, Sarah Van Heusen, arranged everybody for me. Because I wanted a deep depth of field I shot this at f/16.
Tip Two: Create a Panorama
Sometimes a scene is just too large to take in with one, 35mm image. Recently I was photographing The Silk Road Ensemble with Yo-Yo Ma. I was allowed in the lighting booth at Memorial Hall so I could capture this image quietly without disturbing the audience. I shot with a 300mm lens on a tripod. I slowly panned from left to right in two rows to capture the whole scene. I shot about 20 images. I then pulled the images into Photoshop Bridge. I recently wrote an entire blog post with detailed instructions on how to photomerge. Needless to say, the resulting image is much more like what you would get from a large format camera.
Tip Three: Spread Them Out
Sometimes it is good to do the opposite of what you normally do. In the case of the wedding of Emily Day to Eric Iverson, rather than posing their wedding party close together on the altar, we chose to do an alternate version outside. This allowed everyone to spread out and really showed off the grandeur of White Memorial Presbyterian Church in Raleigh, North Carolina.
Tip Four: Try to Capture the Personality of the Group as a Whole
In a really good portrait of a single subject you are trying to both get an attractive photo that is pleasant to look at, while also capturing some of the story of who the person is. Last year I was asked to photograph the senior portrait of Elliott Rodgers. Rather than just posing him alone next to a tree or some other such typical image, his mom and I decided it would be great to get a portrait of him and his classmates who were all graduating from Cedar Ridge High School in Hillsborough, North Carolina. Since this was a young, fun, excited group of people I just said, “I am going to count to three and then I want you all to show me how excited you are to graduate!” The image above captures the mood of this group perfectly. And I only had to do one head swap.
Tip Five: Ask the Collective
Although you may have many ideas of how you want to photograph your large group, it can’t hurt to ask them if they had anything in mind. A couple of Thanksgivings ago the Kennedy family asked me to come photograph their family. They have nine siblings and countless grandchildren at this point. At the end of the long shoot I asked the siblings if they had any ideas. The photo above is what they came up with. They are actually lined up in birth order, too which is pretty cool.
Thanks for reading!