A look at anyone's Facebook page shows that we are constantly taking pictures of family groups or groups of friends, the same look will show that most of the pictures lack a little quality. Without too much effort, it's easy to turn group shots into great photos.
Whatever you have, this is all about posing people, but to keep a flattering perspective, pick nothing too wide. A lens such as the
, E-P3, E-PL3 and E-PL5, is perfect for capturing portraits with background blur and vivid contrast thanks to its fast aperture.
Individuals or groups of two or three shouldn't pose too much of a problem – as a general guide, get them doing something – or reacting to each other – a less formal feel and a more relaxed picture will always look better than a line of people staring at the camera.
My family are so used to being photographed that they tend to ignore the camera – with better results, so plenty of practise will get your subjects more relaxed about being photographed. Sometimes it's worth going in really close to capture a natural smile – or to crop out an unwanted background.
Taking group shots is never easy – both in terms of putting a group together and getting them to relax. On top of that family members rarely enjoy being photographed, or when they're together in a group, want to give up time to be posed. The result is that as a photographer, you often feel that you have to rush it. Instead, if the family have agreed to a photo, do them the honour of doing your best.
The family example (above) I've included was taken in a pub garden, and featured my son and daughter with their cousins. As a family we are spread all over Europe and we only get together once a year, so there's plenty of catching up to do. I managed to pull the cousins together for a couple of minutes. Using a pub picnic table, I posed them alternately – back-to-back – with the tallest at the back, and the youngest at the front. This allowed a fairly tight composition, without too much blank space between the heads. Once you've posed a group like this, don't take one or two pictures – all it takes is one of the group to blink, and it spoils the picture, so take a good number of pictures. If the lighting is bright, pose them with the sun behind them and use a touch of fill-in flash, A slightly overcast day will offer perfect natural lighting.
You don't always have a pub garden to hand – as I didn't in the photo of my daughter and her group of friends, so I simply laid a white double sheet on the floor and posed the five girls with their heads together, in a star shape. This initially was met with loads of giggles, and a whole sequence of really great, fun shots, including all five girls sticking their tongues out, pulling funny faces, and eventually, a great relaxed portrait that can be viewed any way up. Although I used lighting for this shot, I kept it pretty simple with a single large soft box pointing straight down on the group, whilst I stood on a step stool to get the height necessary.
I also posed them in a sitting position, starting with one lying on her side propped up on an elbow. By adding one at a time to the group, we built up a cohesive feel to the portrait, with them all intertwined with each other. Sure, there was a lot of laughter, but this helps the group relax, and creates other more relaxed images. The final photo shows a happy and relaxed group.
Group portraiture is never easy, often daunting, but when you're photographing family members you are working with people you know well, so you should be able to relax with them, and they with you. 90% of portraiture is in direction, so talking to your family or friends will give you excellent results. One of the most important guidelines – DON'T use the bad ones – all group sessions will yield good and bad pictures – if you show your family the good ones, they will be more willing to pose for you the next time – if you show them the bad ones – even if you think they're funny, your next attempts may me met with less enthusiasm!
So think about your family portraits, communicate to your sitters and let's see some better group shots.
Words and images by John Gravett of Lakeland Photographic Holidays