This is an extract from the Digital Photography Lighting For Dummies book by Dirk Fletcher. Visit Wiley for more information.
You may be at a big event like a family reunion or a company picnic when someone undoubtedly says, “Hey, let's do a group picture. (insert your name here) has a nice camera...” At this point you try the invisibility serum one last time to no avail, and you find yourself in charge of shooting a group shot of 100-some-odd people.
No need to fret; this is actually easier than you think. Just take charge quickly, or you'll be doomed! Talk loudly and gesture with your arms as you look around for a suitable location.
All you need to do to get this right is follow these simple directions.
Getting all your subjects in the frame can be tough work. Not only do all the subjects need to be posed in a comfortable, natural way, they need to be set up so that the light reaches them all in a flattering way.
Here are some ideas for getting everybody into the frame:
Steps are your number-one pick for getting a large group of people into a picture. You can have kids and pets sit on the steps, but stay away from having adults sit down. Their clothes and bodies never look right.
Look for a ladder, tree, van, or roof you can climb up on to get the shot. Pack them close together like cattle in Texas, and shoot away. Having your subjects look up at you ensures that you can see everybody's face and no one's mug gets lost in the crowd. This also gives them something to talk about later.
Look for a park bench or even the bed of a pickup truck that you can use to support and drape people over and in. Anything to break up rows and rows of people helps tremendously. Using large props also keeps you from spending too much time trying to get everybody lined up perfectly.
Here's the ironic thing: You don't want to light a bit. The idea of trying to get a complementary light across 100 faces gives me chills. You don't even want to try to use fill in flash – you want nothing!
What you need to do is find a location that has even and complementary light already there waiting for you. Outside under a big tree is ideal, as are the front of steps of the courthouse on the shady side. Cloudy days (as you can imagine) are extremely useful for this shot.
Shooting inside generally causes ore headaches than it's worth. Steps are easier to find, but even lighting is rare. Don't make this trade-off; take even lighting over posing any day of the week. People can overlook posing (you're shooting 100 people after all), but if you can't get a decent print because half the group is washed out and the other half is in deep shadows, you'll be the next topic of discussion at the water cooler!
Hand in hand with the need to find 20 or so feet of even lighting is the need for a tripod. You'll need one if you plan on using the self-timer so you can be in the picture too. I wholeheartedly recommend using a tripod even if you don't want to be in the picture. Of course, this is complicated if you're on a roof or a ladder, but valuable nonetheless. Again, you don't want to dash the expectations of 100 of your family members or co-workers by providing images that are even the least bit blurry. Blurring is an easy thing to avoid; you'll have more important things to focus on (photo pun) than trying to hold the camera still. Plus, nothing says 'professional' faster than slapping your camera atop a beefy tripod before taking a picture.
On the same note, it's okay to slide your camera up to 400, 500, or even 640 ISO if necessary in order to get a decent exposure. A little digital noise is easily overlooked if you provide a great picture that's stuck on everybody's computer for the next month or two. A safe exposure is a shutter speed of 1/125 or above and an aperture of f/8 or above.