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Combination Posing: Groups

Lesson 13 from: Professional Portraits: Moving Beyond Headshots

Gary Hughes

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Lesson Info

13. Combination Posing: Groups

Lesson Info

Combination Posing: Groups

This is not as hard as you think. It is a thing that people struggle with, and I find that once you get past a few key concepts, it's not a difficult thing to do. You gotta figure out who the boss is, that's important, and then the difference in posing something like this, and posing a bridal party is that discovering the relationships between the people becomes important, cause sometimes you'll be walking into a team of real estate agents, and they're all equals in status, or you could be walking into a room in a company where you have the boss, and the supervisor, and an executive assistant, and an intern, or whoever else, so it is important to manage that and to realize that no matter what the dynamic are, between the people, your goal, more than making one person look like they're in charge of everybody else, is to make everybody look good. In my personal experience, if you get somebody who is maybe higher up, in rank, but you kinda put them in a position that flatters them, they'r...

e gonna forgive that a little bit, you get what I mean? And so, let's dive into it just a little bit, and start with what I like to call our "Core Concepts for Group Posing". I just made that up, did that sound pretty convincing? Okay, good. So, posing groups is pretty interesting. In this example, you're gonna see that you have the smallest person is the boss. And so, sometimes you're gonna get the boss that's gonna be six foot five, and strapping, with a chiseled jaw, and he's gonna be easy to make him look like he's in charge, but sometimes your job's a little harder than that. So, let's play a game, I like to call "Who's the Boss?" Angela! Sorry. Sorry for you people who weren't alive in the 80s. (laughter) We're gonna make it. We're gonna get through this, you guys. Who's the boss? So, what I have here is four Jims, in four different poses, are you done? I'm just kidding. We got four Jims in four different poses. Now, based on just the way that they're standing, which one of these Jims do you think is the boss? Raise your hand. Savvy. The one on the left. Jim on the left, Jim number one. Is Jim number one the boss? Okay, and that's a pretty strong pose. You got the arm-cross, the feet-in-first position. Okay, I could see why you'd say that. Who wants to vote for Jim number two? Okay, you four vote for Jim number two. Who wants to vote for Jim number three. Come one, confidence. (laughter) Alright, we got one vote for Jim number three. Jim number four? Nobody likes Jim number four, huh? Okay, cool. So, the thing about deciding who's the boss. The individual pose is secondary to their position in the group. Let's look at the slide. Now who's the boss? It wasn't a contest, Sharon. (laughter) It's a learning experience, it's a teaching moment. So, there are many ways that you can put a group of people together. The idea is that in this type of setting, you'll typically have one person who is in charge, or two people, or partners, that are in charge. The idea is that coming up with a set of rules that's gonna help you make sure that your pose, just by looking at it, not knowing the company, not knowing who the people are, that you know who that boss or bosses are, okay? So, let's dive into it. I've created for you a few different poses for groups that I think you will enjoy. Number one, The Locomotive. This is The Locomotive, it's easy to remember, right? So again, now the Jim that nobody thought was the boss, is the boss. Is that right? This works in situations where you're gonna have a conga line. (laughter) This is a really excellent pose to do when you have a smaller group of people. This works three, four, if you had 20 people, this would be a really silly way to pose everybody, okay? So, remember this one's pretty good, and I would say your probably limit is gonna be four or five people on this one. But it makes a really good leading lines, really good brochure, and it's very clear cut who the guy in charge is. This isn't a really good way to have partners pose. The Flying V. You guys remember The Mighty Ducks? Quack, quack, quack. The Flying V, okay? This is a really good pose when you might have the boss, a couple of VPs, and a couple of subordinates. So the boss is clearly gonna be out in front, you got his number one and his number two guy back there, and then you got the other guy, and the other guy who don't make as much as the guy in the front. Makes a pretty good, compelling pose. And, again, there are gonna be different factors involved, because sometimes you don't always have five guys that are identical, in identical suits, who are identical height, okay? But, we're gonna go over that. This is just to demonstrate those core concepts. Number three, the Band of Brothers. This is good when you have a team, and there's no clear cut boss involved. You see what I mean? One-two, one-two, you have a couple of guys in front, and a couple of guys in back. Looking at it, you might infer if the number of people is even, that the dude in the center, or the lady in the center, is gonna be the boss, that's okay too, but this is a really terrific pose to use for groups when it's more of a team kinda feeling shot. You with me? The Tarantino. You spread everybody apart. If you have a small group of people that are equal, and you gonna give everybody room around each other, in order to be a compelling group pose. This is a really good way to do, not necessarily these individual poses, but the way these groups are posed, a group of creatives that work independently, but as part of the collective, anything like that. This is a great way, a clear cut way, to show that no one in particular, is the person in charge. So, let's look at some guidelines for posing groups. Obviously, that's not all there are, but those are four that will work. One of those is gonna work in whatever situation you find yourself. So, here are your guidelines for posing groups. The boss, or bosses, typically gonna be closest to the camera, or in the dead center of the image. That's gonna be, if they're not the closest to the camera, they should be in the middle, and there are ways to do that, but your boss is gonna be your center of interest, and so you have to build a shot around them. When they're closest to the camera, they look like they're more in charge, typically because they're larger, and whoever's taking up the most space is gonna be the one in charge. Number two, you wanna keep heads on different levels when you can, unless you have a parade of identical Jims, and you can line them all up together, it's a good idea to create visual interest, and we'll look at some image examples, by making sure that the heads are on different levels rather than just a line of heads going across, and we'll look at that. Pillars. I typically, not always, but I like to put the tallest people, or people who are standing, on the ends of an image. Kind of creates pillars that kinda hold the whole thing together. A photograph is rectangular in nature, and so if you have something that creates an image where you have somebody tall in the middle, and small people and tall people, and then little people on the end, it has a tendency to look a little less balanced than when you have two strong pillars on the end of a group pose. I do break that rule from time to time, but when it's possible, I will do it that way. Maybe just kinda my old school way of doing it, but it just makes me feel better when I look at the picture. And I'll give you some samples. Body blocking to flatter. Now, one of the all-time greats at posing groups is a photographer named Hanson Fong, and he's from San Francisco, and I think anybody who's been around awhile has probably seen him teach 12, 13 times, and he can absolutely take any group of people, and make them look great standing together, but the thing that you can take from any of the lessons that I learned from him, and that hundreds of photographers all over the world have, is that you have different body types, and how big you look is relative to the person that you're standing next to, okay? So, if I'm standing next to Savannah, I'm going to look bigger, if I'm standing next to Cliff, we might look about the same size. So, what you wanna do, is you wanna minimize the size of the largest person by using the smaller person to stand in front of them, and I'll show you what I mean. We'll look at some really image samples, and that's called body blocking. So, the trick to posing groups, professional groups, is that you have to make the boss look good, make the boss look like they're in charge, and then you have to create visual interest to the image, and at the same time, you have to pose everybody in a way that flatters them, so therein lies the sort of Tetris kinda puzzle that you have to put together. So, let's look at some images. Okay, so these two are personal injury attorneys, they will fight for you, clearly, so who's the boss? You don't know who the boss is. The boss is the lady. She's closer to the camera, it's a more assertive pose, and since the man in the picture is probably about six foot four, and she's about five foot three, you know, you're gonna do better using her to body block him, and have him in a less assertive pose, a little bit behind her. See, I even have his head slightly tilted away, so that she's the one that looks the most assertive. Everybody good with that? So, we're using that body blocking, we'll also, one of those guys like me, got a little bit going on here, and she's great to flatter him, by putting her in front. So right away, I've put the dynamic of the team together, she's up front in the more assertive pose, she's in terrific shape, so I have no problem showing off her midsection, she's body blocking for him, and at the same time, making the whole appearance of the team of aggressive attorneys that are gonna fight for you. You get all of that. You got any questions on that? Good, good? Okay. Let's take a look at our next one. Okay, here's some financial advisors. Now, what you have here is three partners, well you have the two partners, then second in command, and then you have somebody who is in a subordinate position. You have the boss, who happens to be the tallest guy in the room, which I like, then you got his business partner, that's his number two guy, and then you got the lady who makes the whole office run, and then you got the executive assistant, junior partner over here. So, you have the dynamic where I'm taking the guy who's tall and slender, blocking the guy who's a little wider, and I'm flanking it, I've made kind of one-two-three-four, all the heads are on different levels to create that visual interest. Cool? Any questions? Okay. Here we are, we have a law firm, and these are all of the partners in the law firm. So, I've put space around everybody, so nobody is blocking, necessarily, or dominating the other person, but the guy in the middle, he's the head guy, the law firm's named for him, and these are the other partners in the firm. Is it obvious that he's the guy in charge? He's the closest to the camera, he's large and in charge, he's wearing a little bit lighter of a suit, he's got a red tie, and all the other ties are blue, there's all kinds of visual ways that he stands out. I've got pillars on the end, two people standing, one-two-three, all the heads are on different levels, and I'm creating triangles of support, boom, golden triangles, and the whole image is set in the office to show that they do what they do. That kinda fires on all cylinders there. Let's look at something a little bit different. This is a husband and wife team, they're partners and software developers, and you don't necessarily want one to look subordinate and one to look dominate, you wanna pose them in a way that's a little bit more relaxed, but yet you're creating a team dynamic. I've got the heads on different levels, she's looking more approachable, but I'm body blocking him cause he's larger, this is where perspective comes into play. If you have, small person, and large person. That's probably about right. When you change the perspective, one gets smaller, and one gets larger. See what I mean? So, he's about six foot four, and she's about five foot four, so in order to create that height dynamic that's a little more appealing, to make him less dominant, a little more like a partnership, he's leaning to bring his height down, and she's standing up, and then I have their bodies turned in towards each other. Usually what you wanna do, when you're putting the heads on different levels, try to am to have the eyes of the shorter person, or lower person, about the same parallel as the mouth of the taller person. Does that make sense? That makes a pretty good difference to where you could differentiate the height of the head. Everybody cool with that? A question. So, if you didn't have the counter to lean on, like you did there, is there anything you could do? Like, say, if you were just in that board room with nothing to lean on, like just standing, like how would you pose someone when they're, you know, six four, and she's five foot one? That's a great question. So typically one of the pieces of equipment that I use that I can't live without is my Pelican case, I use a Pelican 1510, and there's a bunch of different ones, but that's what I typically take to a job. It works really, really well as, like, an Apple Box, so I have people stand on it, I turn it up, I have people sit on it, or in this case, I might have shot along the length of the wall and had him lean forward, and that would bring his height down. The simplest way, if you have two people standing next to each other, to take about three or four inches off somebody really tall, as long as their feet aren't gonna be in the picture. Just have them spread their feet a little bit, and you lose like two to three inches right off the top. When you have somebody that's a little shorter, too, if you're standing next to somebody taller, when you inhale, you gain about a inch. And that, so you could have him do this, and have her inhales, he'll come down two inches, she'll come up an inch, and you'll start to narrow that gap. Tilt the head down a little bit, he loses another couple inches. Does that all make sense? You're gonna deal with these problems all the time. Cliff? This may be a little bit off topic, but what is your choices when you're figuring your aperture if you want more, you know, or less depth of field? What's going on when you? Cause I've seen some of them, you have more shallow depth of field, so what do you use as a choice for that? You know, that's a great question. The question was, how do I choose my aperture? What do I do to manage my depth of field, and why do I choose what I choose? It's really gonna depend, in one of the first images, with the team of the, you know, personal injury attorneys, I wanted something that showed the strength of the walls and the pillars, so I'm gonna shoot that at a much more deep depth of field, I want more in focus. It's more about the scenery. In this case, it's just sort of an office, with kinda orangy-yellow walls, and there's just a bunch of cubicles there, so I was really going more for color harmony and warmth than anything else. I think this was probably shot at about F4, F5-6. But typically when I choose my settings, my aperture is the thing I manage my depth of field with the most, although there are several other factors that affect it. And, I think that it really honestly depends on is what's around them part of the story? And so, if it's not part of the story, I wanna eliminate as much as I possibly can. Sometimes, with a depth of field, I wanna throw that depth of field super shallow, if there's something interesting in the background that I can throw into out of focus, and make it kind of a cool mosaic, there are a lot of different techniques. When I'm shooting on location professional portraits, I'm typically more concerned with telling the story, reinforcing their brand identity, saying something about them, and I think that there's enough about this pose that you can tell who they are, a little bit about them, without having to show all of the cubicles and computers that they design their stuff on, although we did plenty of other shots from this session, but this is one I really wanted to demonstrate a totally different type of thing, this isn't exactly the suit and tie crowd, if you get me. Okay? This is a financial investment company, and you have a husband and wife team, and their business partner. Which two are the husband and wife? The ones facing each other, the ones closer, alright? Cool. And so, I assume that if the husband and wife are partners, that the wife is in charge, that's just how I see that, but again, I use perspective and I use posing to create visual interest by keeping the heads on different levels, you'll see that the eyes of the guy on the right are right about level with the mouth of the guy on the left, and then she's just a hobbit, so she's very short. That's her in heels too, I think she was probably about five foot one, but she's beautiful, and she's assertive and strong, and I want her out front, and so we have a really excellent shot for them to show the dynamic. There's a lot of psychological implications to the posing, which would be pretty cool. So, you can do a lot with small groups of people, and little tweaks to the posing that's going to give a lot more psychological implications tied to it, because even though it's on a white background, you wanna be able to infer some of the story from the way that you put the image together. Okay? Here's another example. We've seen this image earlier. A lot of times when you do this type of work, you're not just necessarily taking a team photo, they want, like, stock or action photos, "this is us doing what we do" kind of a thing. You know, you can feel however you wanna feel about it, sometimes it can be a little hokey, but all in all, like, you wanna show them in there, wanna show them working. So, in this case, I've got the dynamic, I've got two of the partners working, the other guy checking on his work, and then she's the one who runs the office, so she's telling him what to do. But, what I wanted to demonstrate with this is you've got the two tall guys on the end, the pillars holding up the image, and you have that sort of W of keeping the heads on different sizes, creating visual interest. So there's a lot you can do, than just lining people up, and having them all on the same level. Let's take a little closer look at this one right here. I honestly don't even remember what these people do for a living, I'm thinking real estate. No wait, financial company, that's right. So, I've got one small woman, and four tall men, and so I used The Flying V technique. When in doubt, too, this is one that you can even shoot people individually, and so a lot of times, if I have a lot of people to shoot in a team and not a lot of space to do it in, I will shoot people individually, and then I will extract them and put them together later. I remember this shoot, specifically, cause just like we talked a little bit about before, I did like 12 poses with each person in about five minutes. Bam, bam, bam, bam, and then after the fact, they gave me the notes afterwards, which ones they wanted to use, and how they wanted to use them. Cause this is one of the situations where I was shooting in such a high volume, I didn't have all the information going in, that I needed, and so I was able to create a group portrait by just doing five or six different poses, some dominant, some a little more submissive, some a little more relaxed with each person, and then be able to put them together in any combination that I wanted to. Joe, you have a question? Yeah, you said in this photo here, you didn't have all the information when you first went in there. What kinda information do you gather before you sit down and plan a shot like this. I mean, you don't just go in and go "Okay, who's the boss?" Right. Sometimes I do, actually. Because of the nature of the business, a lot of times people are like "We need somebody tomorrow", and that's just the way that companies are. Again, you're something on a checklist a lot of times, as a photographer to do this type of work, we're filling the commodity needs, so there's not a lot of. I mean, I can't image what one of my corporate clients would say if they're like "Okay, we need you to come out, we need you to do pictures for our team", and if I was like "Okay, well why don't you guys come into the studio, we'll sit down, I'll pour tea for everyone, and we'll have a consult, and then we'll talk about your feelings." Like, they'd be like "Next photographer." It'd be like that. So, you know, it's one of these situations where it's like "We need somebody tomorrow", go in and do it, so I went into this situation kind of having a rough idea of what I was doing, but I also wanted to give them options. I was shooting a fairly small space where I couldn't line five, six, seven people up, but I could shoot individuals and then put them together later, and so they've got all the individual images and then their web designers put everybody together however they want after. It's a cool advantage, this is why combination posing works, it's because if you can run through five or six poses per person pretty easily, then you don't have to worry about how the group is posed, necessarily later, you can shoot everyone individually, cut them out, and then put them together however the client wants to, later. So, I do that quite a lot, so a lot of times if you're in doubt, I would shoot like this a lot, and sometimes it's better for marketing. Each person gets individual images of many different kinds, and then in order to save time, they'll put together a team photo later with the individual shots. It's kind of a cool way to do it, and you don't have the pressure, necessarily, of posing all the group shots right then and there, you can just put them together however you want. You can do Band of Brothers, Tarantino, Flying V, The Locomotive. Alright, if you have a couple or a group of individuals that are all larger in stature, how would you position the boss, female or male, to accent their position, but also slim them down to look their best? Now, therein lies the question. I would actually, you could do what's called The Reverse Flying V where the boss is still the apex of the image, and you body block with the people coming out from the center, in fact, we can demo that here shortly if you'd like to do that. Yeah, sometimes if the boss needs some body blocking, you know, you could do something like that, I do that a lot. Again, you can make decisions after the fact if you shoot people individually, and you don't wanna necessarily have to worry about it. I have actually, at times, encouraged clients to do it that way, and it works even really well if you have a bunch of people, and they can't all be in at the same time. I've worked for a lot of companies where they have certain partners, executives that travel a ton, and they'll go "Oh well, so-and-so's not here" or "We would love to book the photo shoot, but we gotta wait til next month when the guy's here", I'm like "Don't worry about it, I'll come out to the office and do everybody, and you send guy to me in the studio one day that he's in town, and we'll get it going", it's a real good way to add an extra option for clients, but again, in that case, I would probably do something like the Reverse Flying V, or I would do a Band of Brothers and put the boss in the center, something like that. You have all these options, body blocking, flattering that boss is gonna be more important than making them look large and in charge. Always flatter first, maybe that's my portrait training. Alright, let's look at a couple more of these questions from the Internet. Do you ever review images with clients on location? Yes, if they pay for it. Absolutely. Again, this is one of those up-charges that I have is on-site viewing, cause if there's on-site viewing, I typically have to have someone with me, I have to have an assistant and we use a CamRanger, Eye-Fi card, whatever you got, and those images will go straight to an iPad or a laptop, and the client has the ability to review those images. What is does, if I don't have someone with me to do it, it slows down the session considerably to have to stop and look at the images every single time between people, and everybody wants to look at it, so I always make sure that I charge extra, because I do have to pay somebody to be there with me to do it, because I'm not gonna stop shooting and go and review after every single picture that I take. In some cases, if I shot for trade magazines, and publications, I'll have an art director there, and I will always recommend selling that so that they can have the iPad, and as I'm shooting, they're getting the images, and they can direct what they want out of it, it works all the time. Let's see, one more question here. Are the photo examples we are seeing a combination of available light and added light? A lot of them are all studio, and the ones that are outside are available light mixed with strobes, which we'll talk a little bit about mixing temperatures in light, mixing kind of light when we do the shooting portion tomorrow. Tomorrow's all shooting, man. Actually, we're gonna spend some time on gear, and go over shooting, but I'll talk a little bit more about that. But, one of the reasons I use lighting, I don't shoot just available light is because I like the images to have great cast lights in the eyes, and even if the natural light's great, I'll still have a little bit of light where I'll just pop a little bit in there to get cast lights on people, just a little bit of fill, just a little bit of extra woosh. Natural light is the best light in the world, except when it's not, and so you always have lights with you when you need to give it a little bit of extra something. Okay, shoot. We got a question here in the front. In that picture of the people in the board room with the scenery in the background, did you focus one picture on just the people, and then another picture of just the scenery, and put them together, or do you do it like one shot kind of thing? No, that's gonna come back to Cliff's question about depth of field, let's see if we can get to this. Okay, two. It's all gonna depend. Depth of field is affected by three main things, there are four things that affect depth of field, but practically speaking in today's digital photography world, depth of field's affected by three main things. It is affected by your aperture, it is affected by the focal length of your lens, and it is affected by your distance from the subject, slash their distance from the background. So this image was taken, I think, probably about F11, and it was taken with a 35 millimeter lens. And so, when you have a very wide, slash short lens, and you have a very high aperture value, a very deep depth of field, all of that will be in focus in the shot. You ever try to shoot anything with a fisheye lens, and like everything's in focus, even when you're shooting in F28, so that focal length of the lens really affects that depth of field, and the shorter the lens, the more everything will be in focus. If I had been farther away, like in the next room, and done that shot zoomed in with 100 or 135, or 200 millimeters, you would have seen that background thrown a lot more out of focus, cause it changes the relative distance from the background.

Class Materials

Bonus Materials with Purchase

Ten Tips for Professional Portraits
SEO Workbook
Posing Guide
Gear Guide

Ratings and Reviews


Gary is super knowledgable, yet down-to-earth and relatable. I love how he explains the exact gear he uses but also describes ways to accomplish the same look using DIY and less expensive alternatives. The segment where he demos a live shoot in multiple, difficult lighting situations is worth the cost of the class alone! Bonus: He's super funny. He could probably double as a comedian on the side, but I digress. This class was informative, funny, and very practical for any photographer that wants to increase their profit and expand their business into the professional world. He gives all his prices and workflows so you can get up and running in 2 days! :) Awesome class overall, and it's a great sequel to his professional headshot class (which I also bought and loved.)

Richard Blenkinsopp

I love Gary's straight teaching style, and appreciate him demonstrating with regular people, not models. This is the real life of a regular photographer! I wish Creative Live could show more from the photographers viewpoint, so that when he's posing and moving lights etc, we see exactly what he's changing, and can analyze why... not sure how they'd achieve this in a live environment though. Loved his going around to less than ideal locations and finding the place that works. My favourite course on Creative Live so far.


Gary makes taking editorial portraits look simple and fun. I want to start shooting heads! I love Creative live and Gary is really doing a great job. I got to buy the class next. Thank you.

Student Work