How to pose groups ~ Pictures and advice

Dec 6, 2011 | Location, Wedding | 15 comments

01.

Here is my feature length guide to posing groups for weddings. It forms just a part of my comprehensive 20 page guide to posing couples and groups that you can download in PDF form for just £2.95. From the formal to the casual, every group needs careful consideration.

Picture 1. Our American clients love a group shot to be constructed with thought and design. For this picture I set each of the guys in their place in turn by showing them how I would like them to stand and then I asked the bride to drape elegantly. I kept the casual feel by including champagne glasses and directing some of the guys to put their hands in their pockets. I held the camera over my head and took the shot blind because I wanted a higher viewpoint than I could achieve from eye level. Digital photography has made this kind of thing possible because I could instantly see if I had everyone in the frame without chopping off feet or heads and that they were sharp. Another key factor to my group photography is the lighting. When I’m shooting groups outside I always shoot into the light and avoid top light where possible.

02.

Picture 02. A group shot often works best if there is a sense of reality or spontaneity. Having the hairstylist in this shot by Julie made it look like a real moment. Julie spotted the portrait of a young woman with curled hair in the mirror and brought in the bridesmaids to complete the group. The bridesmaid behind is directing the action, and the one behind her, is looking on intently.  It’s often the little touches that make or break a group shot like the cascading composition of faces or the curlers still in the bridesmaids hair. A great number of the group shots that Julie and I set up at weddings are juggled situations that just need a tweak to form a group.

03.

Picture 03. Another of Julie’s groups shows a classic composition of a bride surrounded by her bridesmaids. Julie noticed that all the robes in the hotel were the same and she used these to give the girls a uniform look that unites them visually as a team. It’s important to ensure that you can tell who the bride is just by looking at her prominence in the picture. Getting the energy level right is the other major factor in making successful group shots. The expressions on the faces in group shots are a direct reflection of the photographer or their ability to create a moment.

04.

Picture 04. In some cultures the mother of the bride is as important as the bride. Often, it’s the brides parents that invite all the guests to the marriage of their daughter. I’ve placed the brides mother and the bride one step higher than the supporting cast and I’ve chosen to make the bride the centre of the picture both with position and by asking the bridesmaids to look at her.

05.

Picture 05. Shooting formal groups doesn’t mean they can’t be fun. When the suits are formal then the groups should be too. When the clients and guests are fun then the group shots should be fun too. I arranged the group in height order and turned everyone in. A few moments before I took this shot I had the guys lined up as if they were having a pee much to the amusement of the girlfriends and family alongside me. The energy from this moment has carried through into this group. It really is all about gauging the mood and the opportunities available to you. It’s very easy to mis judge the moment and to loose credibility. I feel like a stand up comedian when I’m shooting groups, I don’t use one liners but I do have to think on my feet to keep all age groups and character types entertained. I always let other family members and friends take my set ups. I create the group, invite others to shoot it then I clear the way for me to shoot on a long lens. This way I get uninterrupted attention and all eyes are on my lens.

06.

Picture 06. Uniforms take formality to another level. I always direct every detail from which leg to place forward, what hand to place on top of the sword and so on. With every detail as good as I can get it within reason I create the moment of fun and capture it. The best man was the only civilian in this shot but fits in well with the rest of the group.

07.

Picture 07. Subtly splitting a group into sub groups is another idea to try. There are definite gaps between the family on the left, the bride and groom and the family on the right. I always ensure the right people are in the right place. It takes effort to understand the family connections but it is a job worth doing. I’ve made the bride and groom the focus of attention in this group. I always shoot a straight shot but it is the reposed images without eyes to camera like this one that make the album. This is a classic example of my 5 o’clock shadow lighting. If the clients are standing in the centre of a clock face and I’m at the 6 o’clock position their shadows point to the 5 o’clock position. I shoot this orientation as one of my picture style traits.

08.

Picture 08. Get your group walking to lighten a moment. Ensure everyone has plenty of space and separate them out as required. The youngest child is the focus for this shot. If the opportunity is there I always like to shoot my groups in full sun and I shoot into the light. It is very hard for compact cameras and consumer SLRs with their filter adorned kit lenses to get this shot. A good lens hood on a telephoto lens is a must to avoid flare.

09.

Picture 09. I used a classic pyramid structure for both sets of girls and asked the chief bridesmaid to engage with the flower girls. This moment has given the shot a natural, less well posed feel. They say you make your own luck and this is exactly what the phrase describes. I’ve worked hard to get this opportunity and I chose my camera position carefully. I used the church door to lead into the group.

10.

Picture 10. It’s all fun for the boys too. When men are fully clothed in a pub or anywhere really they rarely touch but when they are naked in the bath after a match or in a pool they are often all over each other. I used that fact to link this group together placing the groom at the front. Effort delivers results.

Tip: Leave your camera and lens on a radiator to get it nice and toasty before entering a pool area otherwise you will suffer from condensation. Don’t change lenses either, you don’t want the extreme humidity in the mirror box.

11.

Picture 11. This fun shot was taken in Trafalgar Square when the area was cordoned off for maintenance work. A place for everyone and everyone in their place. Look for opportunity and where possible avoid the obvious. Passers by were taking the shot too thinking the guys were a pop group. Quite a crowd gathered in the few moments that I needed to get this shot.

12.

Picture 12. It may be fairly obvious stuff but I love to have fun with my groups and I always try to ensure I capture character and relationships. Nothing is more fun than guys larking around. Even in exposed locations like Pendennis Castle in Cornwall I like to shoot into the sun. I stage everything and leave nothing to chance. Then when moments like this do happen I’m poised ready to capture it. I started with all the guys behind the canon and then ensuring I had the correct exposure and framing I asked the best man to go to the end of the canon and lean on it. When the penny dropped I caught the moment.

13.

Picture 13. Even with small informal groups like this shot of a groom and his parents it’s important to fully engage each person. I spend quite a bit of time creating the rapport without the camera to my face. Hiding behind a camera is a sure fire way to ensure a lack of engagement. Only at the last moment does the camera come up and the shot get captured like this shot of a chic French family – joie de vivre.

So there you have a few of my thoughts and systems for capturing groups. These are quite safe by some photographers standards and not nearly as dramatic as they could be. Julie and I have a system to create shots that transcend fashion, become timeless and open up our subjects personalities. These are pictures that will one day be cherished by children and grandchildren. As social photographers I believe we have a responsibility to take care with the pictorial heritage of future generations.

Julie and I regularly run 3 day wedding workshops and the details of the next available one is here. Please feel free to comment below.

In the mean time download my complete guide to posing couple portraits and group shots for just £2.95. It has 20 pages of well laid out information an annotated photographs. It is a labour of love that unravels the secret systems I use to make my couple portraits and group pictures.

 

Photographing Couples Training Video

 

 

15 Comments

  1. Lee Holland

    Staged.. non staged etc etc.
    Whatever the picture is it has got to have interaction and these all have oodles of it. Interaction doesn’t have to be a smile, it can be with the eyes just as much. Your subject doesn’t even need to know you are there to get interaction, just look at the scene and use some imagination.Picture 4 is a great picture, total staged without anyone looking at the camera, and yet its one of the best images here in my opinion.
    Damien, can you share where you focus on some of these and what kind of f stop you would recommend please?

    As always thanks so much for sharing with us and wishing you a and your family and staff a wonderful Christmas and a great 2012.

    Lee

    Reply
    • damien

      Hi Lee,

      Thanks for your kind words. All these pictures with the exception of the staggered group were shot at f/4. I like to keep all my groupees at the same distance from the camera (unless I’m using a flat field lens). With a flat field lens the subjects have to be parallel to the back of the camera. It is important to know the focussing characteristics of your lenses away from the centre spot.

      I hope this helps,

      Damien.

      Reply
  2. Ben Langdon

    I think when groups are done well like this then they are brilliant. The ultimate achievement is to get results like this quickly. Weddings are those rare occasions when everyone is there. It only really happens twice in your life and the second one you’re not there. Thanks for yet more great advice. Ben

    Reply
    • damien

      Thanks Ben :)

      Reply
  3. david cooke

    Superb advice Damien and great ideas for photos thank you so much.

    Reply
    • damien

      Thank you David :)

      Reply
  4. Neil

    Damien, great article. Thank you.

    I love staged groups or portraits, I think some people forget that there are ways of making staged look less staged. I’ve always wondered about the photographers that speak so ill of staged work, is it because they don’t have the people skills to interact and get the best from a group? I don’t know and I’m certainly not trying to be rude in my comments just sharing my general thoughts.

    These modern day funky shots of flowers I find are never complimentary to people. Flat on to the camera in a muddy field doesn’t work most of the time IMO.

    The interesting topic is how much will you bend your style for a booking?

    I’m waffling now.

    Reply
    • damien

      Hi Neil,

      Thanks for your comments. I’d go on to add that the system I used was to create a product and style that would attract our target clients. It was not ‘my’ style, it was the style I chose to marry with the Lovegrove Weddings brand. We put business first. My personal work is far more exciting but perhaps less valuable. We delivered Bently, no go faster stripes, big exhausts or spoilers, just elegent timeless photography. Subaru Imprezza products might look fashionable but don’t secure the top prices.

      I’d suggest at no point should you have to bend your style to secure a booking. The client should want the style they see in your show albums. We kept our style consistent for 10 years without deviation, repetition or hesitation etc.

      Good conversation. Thanks for contributing :)

      Damien.

      Reply
  5. Howard

    Great pictures as usual Damien. Which ‘long lens’ do you use for groups i.e. picture 5?

    Howard

    Reply
    • damien

      Hi Howard,

      That was a 210mm lens on a Hasselblad H2 with a Phase One P25+ back. That equates to a 135mm lens on a full frame 35mm camera. Before I had the Hasselblad I used a 70-200mm lens on a Fujifilm S2 camera.

      I hope this helps.

      Damien.

      Reply
  6. Radmila Kerl

    Damien, I know almost all pictures already as I’ve seen them earlier, but No. 1 is still legendary and no.9 is so beautiful, I can´t get enough of it.

    Alex, Damien´s right. Clients have their own imagination about pictures. I shot 250 school children this September and I cut in about 10 portraitures (10 of 250!) the head a little bit as I thought it would look much better. I ended up with moms complaining about that (“why did you cut off the head of my son? the head of his friend isn´t cut off at all”). Well, I changed the cut of the picture and everybody is happy now, having all heads on :)

    Reply
    • damien

      Thank you Radmila. Have a great Christmas. Damien x

      Reply
  7. Michael

    Damian, Fabulous. thanks heaps for sharing. Can you comment briefly on how you choose to light the full sun backlit images? are you compensating for the shadowed faces by opening up the exposure or are you filling with on or off camera flash?

    Reply
  8. Alex

    A little staged for my liking but a good article none the less! :-)

    Reply
    • damien

      Thanks Alex,

      I wrote the article to share our strategy. There is an important message underlying in this set of pictures that lives between the lines. My clients love staged groups. Diversity of style is what makes us unique as photographers and is what attracts our customers. I shoot what our clients need because that is what they buy. As long as we put the customer first and give them what they need then we will be okay. If we give them what they think they want we can often end up in trouble. I see so many ‘trendy’ shots with heads cut off or faces behind plants or shots that are yellow in a bid to look old. In a couple of years they will be embarrasing (some say they already are) and they will have next to no value. By staging shots I get to see faces, expressions, laughter and character. I hope great grandchildren appreciate the shots as much as my clients do. We have a responsibility as social photographers and sometimes craft is needed over art. Art goes in and out of fashion.

      It’s a good point you raised and the debate about ‘reportage’ or ‘staged’ will go on for a few more years yet.

      Kindest regards, Damien.

      Reply

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