Photography Basics: Groups and Families


How to Take Amazing Photos with your DSLR


Lesson Info

Photography Basics: Groups and Families

- [Julia] This is probably the most challenging segment we're going to do but it's also, sometimes, the most fun and we have no idea how it's going to go. This is always a little unnerving for the teacher and the photographer, because teaching while photographing a group of six people, especially with ages of children from 2 to 10, can be a challenge. But I want to make some points and I can still, of course, no matter what happens, we can always teach the concepts that are that ring true with posing groups. And what I really want you to understand is while there are rules, rules are made to be broken, okay? But if you don't understand the rules, you can't break them. Make sense? So, I really want to hone into your head the rules of posing groups, and I know groups are incredibly intimidating, right? How many of you are intimidated by doing it right with a family, like, getting everybody to look good? Yeah, it's challenging because, you know, here I've got six people. That means I've g...

ot 12 feet, 12 hands, and six heads to make sure that everything looks right and is in the right position. This takes some practice, again, but once you get good at it, it's an incredibly marketable and sellable thing because so few people actually take the time to practice it and do it right. Once you understand the dynamics of it, it's actually quite simple. It's not that complicated but it seems intimidating because you're working with so many people who you feel like are judging you as you shoot. If you're working with a family of six, they're like, "What do we do? We don't know what to do." And if the kids are crazy, it's like you're under this pressure to perform, and I think that's what makes groups so intimidating. Whereas if you're just working with one or two subjects, it's just you and them, and the dynamic is different. So, if you recognize that and know that, then it makes it a little less intimidating when you at least have a reason why you're feeling the way you're feeling when it comes to posing groups. So, posing groups and families is a skill set, but what I want you to think about it is simply a musical scale, okay? What we're trying to do is act like music with heads in a scene, okay? So, if you take a flat two-dimensional plane and look at it as a music scale, you know, how music has this sounds beautiful because it has peaks, and valleys, and ups and downs, and it forms into a melody, right? Well, it's the same thing with posing groups. The more you have, the more you create that scale, the easier it is to think about it in those terms. Now, what you're going to be limited by is your space, the quality of light, and whether or not you have everybody on the same plane. As I was saying earlier, in the last segment, with strobes, I can shoot at f16, f22, no problem with high-powered strobes, okay? With that being said and the fact that the flash freezes the action and provides that crisp sharpness, as sharp as the image will get, I can actually shoot families a lot easier and with less stress in terms of, "Is everybody going to be in focus or not" with a strobe, okay? But this situation is still doable, you just have to be very conscious of the fact that you're not going to be able to shoot at a really stop down f-stop because we are working in a relatively low light situation. Now, if you're outside and you're just using an overhanging tree to create... like we talked about in that second segment, an overhanging tree to create that direction, the outside is going to give you enough light to stop down pretty decently, okay? But in this situation, I'm going to be lucky if I can get past 5.60 for aperture, which is still pretty shallow when I'm working with six people, okay? So, what I'm going to try to do is to keep them, for the most part, on the same plane. Now, when you think about the music scale, when it comes to posing, the basic general rule is that no one head is vertically or horizontally aligned with another head. I call it the rule of offset heads. So, if we take a family and basically draw lines through their nose, both vertically and horizontally, okay? So, you see that this little girl has a line through her nose vertically-horizontally. The baby has a line vertically, horizontally, mom vertical-horizontally, dad vertical-horizontally. No one is right in line this way, no one is right in line that way, okay? So, if you can think of people's faces in these terms with the rule of offset heads, you will immediately get a musical scale, okay? So, look at it, I have a musical scale, up-down, up-down, up-down, do you see that? Now, will this always happen? No. Okay? That's, like, miraculous especially with a family of six. It's not always going to happen, but we can aim for it and create that feeling of rhythm through the image with the people's faces and heads, okay? So, you can see here I've got these triangles that are all offset, so you can think of it like that too in terms of triangles. Does that help visually to figure it out? Then from there, it becomes a matter of organizing arms and legs, really. With six people, I've got 12 of each, okay? That's where it can get intimidating. What I like to think of is nailing connection. I don't worry about seeing the back of a woman's hand, I do worry about slimming her down because mom's the one usually buying the image. So, I got to make sure she looks good, right? Nine times out of 10, unless mommy is like twig size zero, I will hide her behind dad, almost always, even if she's a size six or an eight. I will do that just to make her feel a little smaller in the image. Because, remember, if she's the one closest to the camera, she's going to appear bigger. Don't want to do that, okay? So, nailing the faces and the heads and where they lie is one thing, but then we have to nail certain body parts: chins, noses, shoulders, arms, hands, hips, feet. It's a lot. I get it. I understand. You don't have to do everything perfectly, okay? You'll feel, as you do it, the connection, and love, and relationship between people is 10 times more important than whether or not you see the back of a woman's hand, okay? The plane of focus, of course, is critical when they're on the same plane... This is Belinda and my former social media manager, Sarah. If they're on the same plane, they're going to be sharp and in focus. The minute Sarah backs off and gives her a fun funky look, she is not as sharp, okay? If you look at the image close-up, oh, it's ever so slight. Belinda is nice and crisp and sharp, and she's just got that little shutter shake. It's so annoying. Been there. Done that. Got that T-shirt. Lots of times, okay? So, keeping them all in the same plane is critical. Now, that is a minor, minor focus shift, plane, focal plane shift, probably not critical in an image but be very aware of it. But like I said, I'm telling you all these rules: musical scales, offset heads, all this kind of stuff, they are made to be broken, okay? You saw in that very first image of my family of five kids, not my family but one of my client's, all those kids are almost an exact straight line, but it worked, okay? Those children are a set of twins and a set of triplets. Within the triplets, there are two identical twins. So, in other words, we had in vitro, two eggs, one split into twins, okay? So, identical twins and all three were born. So, I first met this family when the triplets were newborn, and the twins were two. The twins would not go near the triplets. It's the first time in my entire career that I have never been able to photograph everyone in the same image, okay? Those two-year-olds had wanted nothing to do with those triplets. They had messed up their MO and they were not going to have it, okay? Nowadays, they are easily my most favorite family in the world to photograph. Those five children are way more behaved than any single two-year-old I have ever met. So, we do two sessions a year with them. One outside and one inside, and honestly, the inside studio ones are the most fun to me because I can connect with them so much more. We have the creativity of just having a simple clean background with those stools, and you saw the kids love to climb up on the stools. They were fighting over who got to climb on the stools and the identical twins won out. So, lighting. Lighting with families and groups is a very important lesson in the inverse square law. I talked about this before but now we're going to clarify it a little bit. Basically, the inverse square law describes how light works over distance, how it behaves, okay? And why the distance between your light source and your subject is so important. It explains the dramatic drop-off of light over distance, so have a look at this. Right here, at distance number one, these are equidistant numbers, you've got 100% of your light. Double that distance and you've lost 75% of it. That's dramatic fall-off within twice the distance. Go to there and you lose the same amount even more, and more, and more, and more. But as you get further and further away, say you're only 4%, 3%, 2%, 2%, 1%, 1%. The fall-off is less as you get further away from the light. So, what that means is with a single subject, it's no problem. You can have the light very close and you'll get that beautiful fall-off on the face, nice soft light. But the minute you add its second and third person, now all of a sudden, we've lost a ton of light over here. So, this subject is going to be underexposed versus this one, makes sense? So, the remedy for that, although I say this with a big caveat of be careful, the remedy for that is to pull all three subjects away from the light, the light is more even on them. You're going to get harsher shadows doing that, the closer the light to a subject the softer it is, right? The minute you start pulling the light away from the subject, it's a little harder of a source but you're going to be more evenly lit. Follow? So, this is a balance of when you've got one light like a window of figuring out where to place them, distance wise from the window, so that Susie Q here, closest to the light is not hotspot heck and blown out on her cheeks when Sallie May over here barely has any light on her because you've got them all too close to the light. That's the inverse square law, and once you start seeing that behavior of light as you take pictures, you will see it you'll be like, "Oh, I know what she was talking about," move them away a little bit. Now, we're working in a situation where we have a small space. This is why studios vie for these big huge Northern Light windows, with tons of space, they can move wherever they want, right? That's like the dream studio, okay? Reality is a lot of us work in small spaces, we're working in homes, we're working outside. Now, outside, of course, is why most people end up doing groups outside is because you have an easier light source to contend with. This is extremely challenging lighting for groups right here, about the hardest you can get, because we have dramatic fall-off because we're pretty close to the light. This is as much space as I have to work with. I'm not shooting strobes, I'm shooting natural light, so I'm subject to an aperture that has to be wider open because these lights aren't very powerful. Do you see all these kind of factors going against us? That's good. I want it to be in this kind of challenging situation, so you guys understood how it can be done, okay? You just have to think about these things and factor in for them so that when you're there, you don't make the mistakes. So outside light is sometimes the best for families and groups because it allows you to not worry about the inverse square law as much, okay? Directional light is why sunset is so awesome. You get not only the atmosphere diffusing it more, and scattering it more, it becomes softer, less harsh then it becomes directional. So, you can put that backlighting on them or you can find an overhead shade of some kind and let the light come in like it's a softbox to create some kind of direction to the light, okay? Make sense? Before we call the Hepners over here, lens choice. I'm going to do my best to put them on as close as a plane as possible. You are going to see that the subject over here will be way over lit compared to the subject over there because of that inverse square law. We're going to have to deal with it. Who do I expose for? - [Judith] The one in the middle. - Judith said the one in the middle. What do you think? It's a good guess, Judith. - [Woman 1] The brighter one. - The brighter one. With film, we always exposed our negative for the shadows, for digital you always expose for the highlights, because the highlights blow out so easily in digital and you've lost your data. It is much easier to pull back underexposed image, like I did earlier, to a proper exposure than it is to try to fix blown highlights. So, always expose for the one closest to the light. You may end up with a little darker subject over here, in these kind of challenging small conditions, but you can always brighten that person later, okay? Not that I encourage doing things later, but you know my point. I'm trying to get you the best image possible in the conditions you're presented with, okay? Now, I'm going to try to keep everybody on the same plane but the same time they're not going to totally be on the perfect same plane, it's almost impossible with a group of six, right? What I am going to do is I'm going to use a long lens. Why am I going to do that? To compress them so they appear to be on the same plane. The image of the kids on the stools, if you look closely at that image, the stool over here is pulled forward in order for the strobe to evenly light all of them. Now, the reason I can do that is because I'm using f16 in my studio, and when I compress with a long lens like this, it makes them all look like they're on the same plane. But if you look at the floor, you'll see that that stool is pulled forward. It doesn't look like it, does it? It doesn't look like it, but it is. That's the beauty of compression which allows you to curve your subjects with your... If you're using strobes, you can curve...even outside you could probably do this outside because there's enough light. If you curve your subjects like this, let the light evenly light them all for good exposure then use a lens that compresses, and they'll all look like they're in a straight line, and they'll all look the same size or close to it, I should say, okay? That's the key, is what that compression does, is it keeps the person in front from looking larger than the others in the image. Remember, whatever is closest to the camera is going to look bigger, okay? So, if I use compression on my lens, all of a sudden, they're all going to look like they're the same because it makes background subjects come closer to the camera, follow? I know there's so many factors. It's like there's all these pieces of puzzle and you're like, "What piece goes where?" I know it can be very intimidating and confusing, but it will come. Just keep doing it and it will come.

Class Description

Julia has a great way of explaining even some of the most technical things so that you can understand them. This is a great class to get your feet wet and then use what you learned to start swimming. - Barry Miller, CreativeLive Student

Understanding how your camera functions is a start, but in order to capture the best images, you need to know more than what buttons to push.  Julia Kelleher will walk you through some likely beginner photographer scenarios to show how to work in multiple situations, compose your image and get the most from your subjects. Whether you purchased your camera to take photos of your children, your friends or even products you are hoping to sell, Julia will show you how to feel comfortable in any environment. In this class Julia will show you: 
  • Taking pictures of children: how to work with energetic subjects, what compositions are safest as well as poses and ideas to keep them engaged 
  • Taking pictures of groups: be it your friends, coworkers or clients- learn the best approaches for group photos so you can capture people looking their best 
  • Products: If you’re starting a business or selling your belongings online, a great picture goes a long way in helping a buyer choose your product 
  • Headshots or banner photos: learn techniques to get professional headshots or captivating banner photos for your social media or website 
  • How to work with natural light and control it in your favor, as well as inexpensive options to help improve your lighting quality 
 If you’re new to working with a professional camera, this class will give you the confidence to capture an image in any scenario with your expensive purchase. Make the most out of every situation by learning to compose, pose, direct and light your subjects.  



Julia is an amazing teacher!!!! Funny, go with the flow, honest, and obviously so gifted at what she does. That came through and also inspired those feelings in me as a novice photographer. I left her class feeling excited to play with my camera and appreciate that she encouraged me to use what I have now and get good before spending tons of money on fancier stuff. I also love that she showed how everyday materials from Home Depot can make for great images. I particularly appreciated the 2nd day on product photography, social media images and the short demos in PhotoShop. Please do a full class on just this Julia/Creative Live!!!!!

Brandon Couch

So first off I've been doing photography for a little bit now and only shot in manual 20% of the time and was okay with it. Since coming to this class and seeing how manual mode isn't scary, it is everything you need and want in the life of photography, I now will not use anything else. The team at Creative Live is amazing and Julia's love for other starting and even professional photographers is amazing. She would sit and talk to us together and individually and really loves those who love photography. I would recommend this class and any other one of Julia's classes here on CreativeLive. I can't wait to come back. Was AMAZING!!! LIFE CHANGING!!!

a Creativelive Student

What an awesome class! I am not a beginner and am currently making a living as a photographer and was interested in this class because #1 Julia is such a great teacher with such talent and #2 I was expecting to take away some valuable information to pass along to my little after school beinning photo club. I am happy to report Julia did not disappoint:-) What actually happened was that I learned so many things that I probably should have known being a seasoned professional that I lost track of my original intention of why I was there. I couldn't wait to pull out my camera and try all of the new things that I had just learned. The color balancing and the little dot showing when your camera (Nikon) was manually focused alone was worth the price. I enjoyed every minute of this course. Thanks Julia! Anyone would benefit from this course....