Quick Reference: Photographing Families and Groups
This is going to be your quick reference guide for photographing families and groups. And I feel like families and groups can be some of the more stressful subjects to photography for portraits, because you're worrying about posing, but posing for individuals, and then how they look as a group, and then the lighting, and then you're trying to everyone to look. And, so, it's really good if you can take a quick refresher before you photograph a family or a group, so you can have an idea of how to approach different situations. So, what I'm gonna do, is I'm gonna give you some tips and tricks for lighting groups, also talk about lens choices, and depths of field. Also, we're gonna talk about how to build larger groups, adding on from three people, to four people, to five people, to as many as you want to add. So, this is going to be your reference guide. So, let's take a look though at some of the foundations. These are going to be, this is gonna be your checklist for posing. And we've al...
ready done a segment on posing groups. So, I wanted to go ahead and recap some of those core elements that you want to keep in your head, that checklist, that as you have the group in front you, you make sure that these are covered. So, the very first one, is you want to make sure that your group is balanced and in proportion. So, if you look at the group of people, and it looks like a mass is on one side, and then it kind of fizzles out on the other, find a way to move people around so that there is some sort of balance. Compositionally it's going to help, but it also helps them look more unified as a group instead of separated. So, that first part definitely is going to be balanced. But then segueing into that next part is going to be unity. You want to make sure that it looks like a group, so if everybody has a lot of space between them, or they're not touching, it doesn't look like they belong to the same group. So, find the a way to have shoulders overlap, or a hand on the shoulder, or some way that they are intersecting visually. This helps that they look like a group, and also, compositionally, it'll pull you through the photo. Number three is the pose in triangles. Ideally, you don't want to have everyone's head all lined up. The exception to that rule is going to be for graduation photos, or really large corporate groups, perhaps. But if you're shooting a family, and everyone's heads are all lined up, it's really static, it's really linear. So, you actually are going to go ahead and pose people's heads so that they make triangles. You use that in a composition. And this will work no matter how many people you have in this family photo, whether it's three, or four, or five, you can keep adding with this shape. So that's going to be triangles. Next, you want to avoid bulky poses. Typically, you're going to avoid what most people automatically do when you say, "Pose together." They put their arms around each other, they raise arms up, they cross their arms. Any bulky poses aren't going to be flattering. So, you want to pose people so they interact, but so that they're not completely intertwined and just look like a blob. So, individual poses, avoid the bulky poses. And then, lastly, you want limit the depth of the group when you pose. If you can, try not to have six or seven or eight rows deep. Stick to two rows, or three rows in depth. And then when you're posing, find a way to get everyone's heads on the same plane. So, the person in the front, maybe they lean back with their head just a bit, person in the middle, stands up straight, the person in the back row, have them lean forward. You don't want much distance from the front row to the back row. Try to bring it all into one plane, because that's going to help you out with getting your entire group shot actually in focus. So, let's go onto our next considerations. The checklist for lighting. The first consideration is going to be that you'll generally want a larger light source. You want to shy away from anything that's small. For example, if I were lighting a group, I wouldn't light them with a beauty dish. I wouldn't light them with a smaller light source. I wouldn't use a small umbrella. Tend towards things that are larger. And some of your options are going to be; large umbrellas with diffusion. Another option would be a four by six softbox, or maybe a three by four foot softbox. You could, in small groups, get away with mid-sized octabox, and they make octaboxes that are three foot and five foot. So, just tend towards larger light sources. And I also generally recommend things that are softer and more wrapping, because it helps you get more even light around your group. So, the first thing, tend towards a large light source. Number two: keep your light relatively similar distance to all subjects. So, as you look at your composition, as you look at your scene, make sure the light isn't really close to one half of the frame and really far from the rest of the individuals, because what's going to happen, is that part of the people in the photo will be very, very bright or correctly exposed, and then the light will fall off really quick to shadow. So, you'll have very uneven lighting. What that means, is usually you need to back your light up just a little bit. Try to keep that light relatively the same distance from everyone. That'll give you your even lighting patterns. Number three is, again, avoiding too much depth. But that doesn't just have to do with thinking about posing, it also has to do with your lighting. If somebody is further back in the group, light fall off is going to 'cause a problem. If there's a lot of depth, the people in the back are probably going to be a little bit darker, or maybe the people in front of them are going to cast shadows. So, as much as you can do to compress the group as a pose, it's going to help you out with your lighting. Next is going to be, be very careful with the aperture that you choose. I love, when I do portraits of individuals, shooting at 2.8 or 2.2. If I can push it to 1.8, that's great. With groups, that goes out the window. I'm definitely not going to be shooting with that narrow of a depth of field. Because even if I have everyone in a line, okay? They're all on one plane. If some people in the front kind of curve around to the sides and are a little bit closer to cameras than the one in the middle, I won't be able to get everyone in focus. So, this is why I'm trying to pose everyone on the same plane, but I don't try to shoot wide open. Now, the issue is, I can't give you the exact aperture, it's going to depend on how deep the group is. A lot of times, I will start at 4.0, if it's a relatively shallow group. And I'll actually go ahead and chimp, I'll check the back of the camera to see if I'm getting the eyes of the person in the front in focus, and the eyes of the person in the back. 4.0 is probably as much as I ever push it, even with a short, very narrow group. I usually end up more like 5.6, or 8.0, to make sure everyone's in focus. And there actually are calculators that you can use on an app, where you can figure out your lens choice, and your depth of field, and the depth of the scene, to figure out how much you can have in focus. But I would recommend going a little bit on the safer side until you get used to your gear, to figure out what a good aperture is going to be. Next on the line, is don't focus on the face in the back of the group. How focus works, is that, usually where you focus, you have a third of the focus area in front of where you focus, and then two-thirds behind it. So, if you focus in the back of the group, you've got focus that's not being used behind them. So, I make sure that I focus about a third in. In general, I just go ahead and check it. But try not to just focus in the back and assume it works. Actually give it a try, and know your gear. The more you practice, the more you try this out, you'll know, based on depth, depth of field, lens choice, what you're going to need to do to make sure your group is in focus. So, it's a little bit of focus and lighting. Couple natural light tips; if you don't like to shoot with studio strobes, or you're not familiar with it, if you're shooting out on location, look for large areas of shade, either covered shade or open shade, that gives pretty even lighting on your subjects. If there's going to be a sunset, you don't want to have the sunset lighting half the group. It's going to give you extremely uneven lighting patterns. So, I aim for shade, where the light is nice and even. And, so, my next tip on that list, is avoid reflectors. If you have a 30-inch reflector, and you're lighting a group of 10 people, there's no way you can get even light on all of those faces. Your reflector's small, so that's going to make the light very contrasty. It's not going to be flattering on the faces, because it's a smaller light source. But also, no matter what I do, there's no way I can kick enough light evenly on everyone. So, aim for a bigger reflector if you need to use a reflector on location, or only use the reflector if it's going to be for a smaller group. If I'm viewing and photographing a really large group, I might aim for speed lights or studio strobes outdoors, and maybe I'll aim for two. If the group is large enough, one light isn't going to light everyone evenly, so I may need to have one on either side. So, I have to analyze based on the group that I'm shooting. And then, lastly, when I'm looking for a location, I don't have everyone just line up right away, I actually go ahead, and I'll scout around. Because what ends up happening, is if you go ahead and pose 20 people, and then decide the light doesn't look good, everybody gets antsy and impatient. So, scout your location first, to look for even lighting, then pose everybody. Do you preparation. All right, so, let's talk about your lens choice. I generally recommend against using fixed focal length lenses. I aim more for zoom lens. It gives me a little bit more flexibility when photographing a group. And the lenses that I choose are usually a 24 to 70, or a 24 to 105, to give me a little bit of flexibility there. I also stay away from really wide aperture lenses, like a 1.8, or things like that. I'm using my focal length and my depth of field more, the 4.0, 5.6, 8.0. But those two lenses are going to give you a lot of flexibility to shoot groups. All right, next on my list, is lens choice and perspective. If you are shooting a very large group, and you get up close to the group down low, what's going to happen, is if you get close down low, the people in the foreground are going to look huge, the people in background are going to be hidden. And I think of this like album covers, where there's a whole group of people, and they have the people in the front that look huge. It might be cool for an album cover, but I wouldn't recommend if you're doing a group portrait. So, I try to compress everybody. And one way to do this, is by using a slightly longer lens, not wide angle. I'm not usually shooting a group at 24 or up close. I get back a little bit, and I zoom in. But knowing this, using a longer lens, a really long lens, gives me a little bit narrower depth of field. So, again, I'm checking my depth of field to make sure that the long lens isn't casting people out of focus. Another thing to watch out for as well, is make sure you can see everyone's heads. And if you've ever been in a wedding or a group photo, you might've heard somebody say, "If you can't see my camera, "I can't see you." Well, I mean, that is completely true. But part of the reason that they might not be able see your lens, is if you are a little bit lower, there's someone blocking them. So, in really large groups, sometimes its helpful to get up on a stepladder, and that increased perspective, that increased angle, actually allows everyone to see you more clearly, because they're not peaking over people's heads, they can actually look up to you. So, you're able to see everybody in the photograph. All right, so what we're gonna do, is we are going to pose people in groups of three, four or five, and larger. And these are going to be your go-to poses, so you'll be able to reference back, "Okay, well, how does Lindsay recommend posing a group of, "for a family of three, "four or five, "and then even larger?" So, it would be quick reference. And then I'm going to give you some lighting setups that you could use for groups. And, so, we're gonna start off, the first lighting setup is going to be a large umbrella. I want to show you a large umbrella with diffusion, how it wraps around the group. And we're going to use a fill card to soften the shadows. Next, we're going to use the same setup, but we're going to add a bit of separation from the background by using a rim light. And then, lastly, we're gonna switch up our light source and try out a four by six softbox. And this is a softbox that I used for a very long time for photographing families in my studio. So, we'll go through each of these setups so you can put this into practice. So, let's get started with that. Let's build our groups in. All right, I'm gonna start off with a family or friends of three. And I'm gonna go through and show you kind of what I'm thinking for this pose. So, can I have my friends and family of three? Excellent. And they're, you're friends, right? Okay, perfect. So just stand all in a row, side by side. Okay, so, typically, if you three people, pose like you would for like a cellphone shot. People are like huddled in, right? And nobody looks good. No matter what, somebody's looking squished, somebody's looking hunched over. So, I'm going to pose everyone individually, and following all of our rules. Can you step forward for a second? All right, I am going to scoot you two closer together. I want everybody to be nice and close. All right, hand in the pocket looks perfect. I'm going to have you, great, and I want you to lean your chest forward just a tiny bit, just a little bit. I don't want her to lean forward to much, because if she does, it's messing with my depth of field. That looks great. And can you put your hand on her shoulder? Perfect. Okay, so this is a super basic, go-to three group pose. Because if you look, three person pose. One, two, three. I have stacked triangles. Everyone looks great. Also, negative space here. She's got some negative space. If for some reason I think that she's posed in a way that doesn't looking flattering, can I have you kick your hips back that way. So, maybe kicking in a different direction would look better. I kinda go through that way. Everyone looks good. But what I watch out for, is problems like this. Can you take a step to this side? Where like one person looks a little bit lost, and not connected. If I shoot from this angle, there's no connectivity, there's negative space there. So, I'd find a way to connect, maybe putting an arm around, or stepping in. So, that is super simple, three person pose. And let's say you have a third, slightly taller individual. You're a perfect size. But if I had someone that were taller, and I wanted to pose in triangles, here I could put a chair, or an apple box, or something so that I have different levels. Now let's take a look at our first lighting setup. Going back, I have my umbrella here. What I want to be careful of, is these two young ladies here are facing away from the light. If I have my light source too far off to the side, a lot of their face will be in shadow. So, it'll be uneven lighting pattern. So, that's why I'm very careful with dramatically lighting groups. If I were to use dramatic lighting, they'd all need to be facing the same direction. All right, so let me just test this out and see what it looks like so far. And because I'm in the studio, I don't care about using a narrow depth of field. I'm gonna shoot at f8.0, that way I know that everybody's going to be in focus. Let me test. Okay, let's take a look at this. All right, so, let's look at this photo. And the way that it's set up now, if I have my light too far off to the left hand side, the shadows on the right hand side of their face will probably fall a little bit dark. It'll probably be a little bit too black of shadows. So, if I want to fill them in, here's an easy way to do that. I can add a fill card. I don't have to add another light. This is our one light setup. So, we're going to add this white fill card. And the closer that we bring it into the frame, the more it'll soften up the shadows, so, the shadows will lighten up. This is an easy solution to make sure the subjects don't blend in. And I can hold that part, John. And, usually, what we use is something called a V-Flat. And this one right here is just a piece of foam core. Something like that looks great. All right, let me try one more shot. Perfect. Great. And can I move it in even more? Do you want a hand with that? I'm gonna put it right here. All right, let me soften up those shadows just a tiny bit more. Looks good. So, you'll see like a very subtle difference, but it just makes sure that the shadows on the side of his face aren't quite as dark. So, that is a very simple, one-light setup, three person pose. But let's add in a couple more people. Let's move onto our next setup. So, can I have, oh, yes, definitely you. Okay, good. I'm going to make you marry him. So, can you wrap your arm around him? Excellent. Okay, so, I made them get married. Okay, that looks perfect. When I look at this frame, her height works well for this, for how I'm stacking this group, because I still have triangles. Her head isn't all lined up. But I think I'm going to add in another person. And, so, I wouldn't want to add the next person onto the right again, because, all of a sudden, my composition is gonna be uneven. It's not gonna be a balanced photograph. I could add them over onto the left hand side, especially if they were maybe all siblings, it might be okay to have it a little bit more linear. But I want to the group to be closer, more compact. So I think I'm gonna add somebody right here. And I want their height to be lower, and I don't want them to be obscuring her, so either need an apple box or a chair to do so. So, can I borrow you with an apple box? Great. And can you guys all just shift this way like a foot and a half? Perfect. Great. So I'm gonna have you sit right there. And I'll have you face to that direction a little. All right, great. Now what I want to make sure, is from my perspective, that there isn't too much blocking. So, I'm gonna have you scoot even further to the left. You can move your apple box too, so you're nice and centered. Okay, great. So, now when I watch her head, it isn't going to be obscuring her. So, looks great. I want you to be comfortable. Can you put your hand in your pocket, maybe? Or your thumb, if that's easier. Cool. And then cross your ankles. Perfect. Looks great. So, got that shape. Let me take one photo as-is, and see if I need to modify my light. All right, so I'm looking at this photo, and I'll tell you what I see for lighting. Everybody does look relatively evenly exposed, maybe I fall off the shadow a tiny bit on the right hand side, but I actually think that's pretty passable. What I would want to be careful of, is watch what happens when I move this light in. Let's say you're in a really, really small space. I mean, my first studio space was tiny. And, so, a lot times I had to have my light really, really close. And, so, then when I took a photo in a small space, it's not terrible, but the people on the left hand side are definitely a lot brighter than the people on the right hand side. Because relative distance, if you look, from this light, couple feet, she's literally twice as far away. And if you know the inverse square law, if you double the distance here, I'm quartering the power. So, I'm making significantly less light reach her. And, then, also, because the light's far off to the side, notice how the light wraps far around her face, but puts a lot of shadow on hers. So, my point is, you're in a small space, be really careful that you don't have the light too close. You want everyone to be at a relatively similar distance. So, I'm just gonna bring this light out a little further, a little bit more evenly, a little bit more centered. Let's try something there. Okay, guys. Do one more of those, and I'll add my second light. Perfect. And now the light is a lot more even on everybody. And can we add in our second light for this setup? Yep, the strip light. And I just want to add another light in. And can you raise it up just a little bit? Oh, he's already doing it. Okay, so, my thought here, the reason we're adding a second light, is if you're shooting on a dark background, the far side of the scene is going to be in shadow, and so the people on the right hand side, they'll really quite blend into that background. And the reason I have John raising the light up, is because then it'll kick across further. By making it a little bit higher, it's relatively more similarly distanced from everybody. If it's really low, it's going to be a lot closer to the people that are near to it. So, it kind of evens out the distances. But also I can get hair light. So, I've got a little bit of hair light going to be on his jaw, on his hair, on her hair. So, let's just pop you guys out from the background a little bit more. Great. Perfect. And I'll just a really subtle, nice separation on the right hand side. And if you want it to be more dramatic, you turn it up a little bit. All right, so this is going to be my two-light setup. I have the diffusion on my large umbrella. I've got a one by four foot strip bank to add a little bit separation. And I've got everybody's in triangles, everybody posing individually. But let's go onto the next setup. So, we're going to switch our main modifier, and we're going to switch to a four by six foot softbox. What you want to be aware of, is if you're in a really small space with low ceilings, be careful of using this modifier, because you won't be able to raise it up very far if you have, say, eight-foot ceiling. So, my first light modifier that I had for groups was a, it was a six or seven foot octabox, but I had eight-foot ceilings, which meant it ran from the floor to the ceiling, and, basically, it stayed in one place, it couldn't really move. So, just be aware that really big modifiers in a small space might be more challenging. So, you can bring that on over here. And I can back this up a little bit if you want. And you'll probably have to back up a foot or two. And I'm going to add another subject. Are you ready? Okay, great. I was trying to decide if to marry you to somebody or pretend you were someone's kid. But I'm just gonna pretend, we'll just pretend you're cool. I'm just kidding. I'm gonna stitch on the floor down there. But watch out for getting hit by this, 'cause I'm not sure if they're done.
Okay. Okay, good. Perfect. Great. All right, so, taking a look at what the group looks like now, the reason I have him down there, is so that it makes another triangle. And this actually makes kind of a V composition, or it's like a diamond. This looks very cute. I like it. And you are what makes it sparkle (laughs). You look awesome. Okay, but he goes up on knees, go up a little taller, he starts to block her head. So, I want to make sure I'm posing him in a way, and, so, you're fine the way you were. It was a good height. If he was still obscuring her, I might have him sit on his bottom, to the side, something like that. So, I'm just watching and saying, "What can I do to adjust my heights?" I recommend have apple boxes, have stools, have chairs, because if I needed to make her taller, I could give her, in the back right, I could give her a half apple box just to get a little bit taller, if she was being obscured. Or I could put an apple box for him to sit on. So, it's just tools. And if you look back at the Vogue magazines and Vanity Fair, you see apple boxes and stools all the time for exactly this purpose. So, we have three lights now. I've got a four by six softbox in the front, and two strip lights, one on either side. And notice they're not really, really close in, they're further away, so they're relatively more evenly distanced from everyone. And it'll just put a nice separation on the sides of the face on either side. And we're gonna take this four by six, and the reason this is nice, is since it's vertical, it's taller. The fact that he's sitting on the ground, he'll get some even illumination. If you have, say, a three foot octabox, higher up, and it's smaller, he's not going to get as much light as everyone that's standing. So, something like this, a vertical soft box, even a three by four foot, making sure it's a little bit further away, and still lighting the group, we'll make sure you have everybody top-to-bottom lit. So, let's take another shot. Perfect. Oh, wow. That looks good. Can you turn up just a little bit?
Yes, the main light. Just a little. Not too much, but like a tiny bit. Perfect. Great. And, by the way, I was asking John to turn up the power, instead of me opening up my aperture like I normally would, because, as I shoot from 8.0 to 5.6 to 5.0, I don't want to have to worry about getting everything in focus. The difference would be, if I were shooting this on location outdoors, I would have everybody smoosh in even more. So, I might have, can you scoot back just a tiny bit. Great. And then in the back row, can you guys lean forward just a little bit more. So, I'm trying to put everybody's heads on the same plane. Perfect. I'm gonna do one more. And can you just lean out a little bit more this way. Good. You're good. And I'm gonna bring the light to he front just a little bit more, John. Can you bring it just like this way? So, I want to make sure everyone's evenly lit. And that should be perfect. All right, let me try one more of those. Okay, ready? One, two, and three. Perfect. Great. You guys look awesome. All right, so we've got our poses for three people, four or five people, six people, you see that I can do this endlessly, and we have all of our different lighting setups using an umbrella with diffusion, and adding in strips lights, or switching over to a large softbox like this four by six. So, now what we're gonna do, is we're gonna go outside, and see how these rules or considerations change when we photograph groups on location. I'm adding some speed lights to this situation. And when I'm photographing groups, especially if I'm going to have my speed light further away, I am going to want to keep a couple things in mind. First of all, when lighting a larger group, I probably am going to need a little bit more power output, a little bit more output for my speed lights. So, the modifier that I actually chose here, is the Westcott Apollo Orb. And inside it, I have the triple threat bracket. I have three speed lights illuminating that Orb, which is great, because it's going to fill the entire Orb. One speed light doesn't usually fill it. And, also, it's not enough light to kick to this entire group, especially if there's a little bit of depth to that group. So, I have the three speed lights there, the Apollo Orb. And I want to pick a large modifier, because for this particular group, if I have a smaller light source, it's gonna appear harsh on their faces. So, the larger I can get the light source relative to my subjects, the softer the light. All right, so I'm starting off in the right vicinity here, getting a larger light source, more light, but let me show you a problem that we'll run into. And I know that I feel comfortable shooting around a 4.5. So, I'm gonna shoot there. And I'm gonna have you bring it off to the side just a little bit more, 'cause I can't quite see everybody. Right there, good. Let's just give a test. So I light everybody. Okay, the problem that I'm running into, is the exposure looks good. I'm checking on the back of my camera, exposure looks good, however, it's uneven, because the people on the left hand side of the frame here are relatively much closer to that light source than the people on the far right. And, so, because the fall off of light, the further away they get from that light source, they become darker, dimmer, not enough light is reaching them. So, we're gonna have to think of something, some solution for this. And, so, I have a couple things I can do. I could pull that light back a little bit. And as I pull the light further back, the relative distance now, you know, okay, they are closer, but, comparatively, they're not that much closer to the light source than the people on the right hand side of the frame. But if I just yank this light back to the left hand side, now I'm gonna have really side light. There's gonna be a lot of shadows on the right hand side of the faces there. So, probably, what we're gonna have to do, is pull the light away, so the relative distances aren't as extreme, so, everyone's closer to the light, and then move it out to the front a little bit, so there isn't so much shadow. Now, in doing so, moving light further back, some of that light will fall off, which is good that I have the triple threat bracket with the three different speed lights on it, 'cause now I have more light, more water to work with. So, let me give this a try. And I'm gonna have to adjust, I'm shooting manually, so I'll adjust it on my Odin trigger. I could be shooting with TTL. So let's see if I can get a little bit closer. Great. Let's test this out. Whoops, let me increase my power a bit. Okay, increasing the power, because I knew I moved away. Let's test this out. There you go, guys. Great. Beautiful. And I probably increased the power a little bit too much. Let me just dial it down. It's a little hot. All right, let's try there. Here we go. So, now, if I look at this shot, the illumination is a lot more even, because the light has come around to the front. And there's still a little bit of sculpting to the face, and, sure, she's probably still a little darker than the left hand side of the frame. But, overall, the exposure is relatively even. And, now, looking at the shot, if I want more ambient light back in the background, as we've talked about before, I can use a little bit slower shutter speed. Drag that shutter to let a little bit more light in. And, so, let's get that final group portrait here. Everybody looks great. Perfect. Let me wait for resync. That looks good. Perfect. Let me take a couple more shots. Great. That looks awesome. All right, a couple more. And last one. This is gotta be like the awesomest one. Okay, and lean in on the right hand side a little bit. One, two, and three. Perfect. Great. Okay, so, when you're shooting on location, just keep in mind those things that you don't really have to worry about as much inside. Sure the posing all still applies, but remember that you definitely have to worry more about depth of field. And your lens choice matters no matter when you're photographing a group of people. But it's going to make a big difference on location for that depth of field. Try focusing a third of the way in, and it's okay to do a little chimping, especially if you're just getting used to your gear and shooting groups, to make sure that you have the eyes of your subjects in focus, all the way from the front row, all the way to the back.