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For many years the gold standard for posing groups looked just like my first grade school photo. Everybody would be lined up and asked to stand as awkwardly as possible, feet together and for the lucky ones in the front, hands clasped together in their laps.
The photographer would shoot two frames (one for safety) and count every one in with a “1..2..3…say cheese” my grade one teacher Mrs. Witchell was way too cool to do cheese. She busted out her own version of Blue Steel instead. Respect.
Sadly this style of posing large groups is still pretty much the norm. But with some careful planning, and a little imagination, portraits of large groups can look far more dynamic than my grade one school photo.
I learned this style of posing groups by studying the publicity shots of the American teen drama from the 90s, 90210 (I had a huge crush on Dilan). I have now developed, and modified, this technique and it has become my go to pose for many of the cast shoots I do.
I like to create interest in these group shots by staggering the levels of all my models. I will have the back row standing. Middle row seated at various heights including high stools, chairs, lower ottomans or boxes. I then have a third level either on the floor or seated on very low stools or boxes. Lastly I pose each person individually and bring them onto the set one at a time, so I can see how the overall shot is looking.
The 90210 style also works for larger groups like this shot of the entire cast of the Australian Soap Opera, Neighbours ( above) or the cast and crew shot of the musical Moonshadow (below). I use the exact same approach and set up my shot in groups of three and five, staggering the head heights to keep the shot from looking too square.
This shot was inspired by the opening sequence of a Quentin Tarantino movie, Reservoir Dogs.
This is a great option to photograph groups if you are pressed for time, need something more dynamic, or have a group of people that have trouble posing or taking direction.
I like to shoot very low to the ground (sitting or laying) and ask the group to walk towards me. It works best when I give each person individual direction before we start. Eg., Person 1 put one hand in your pocket;,Person 2 walk and fix your tie as you go, Person 3 button your jacket up as you walk, Person 4 walk with a strut and attitude.
If this shot is left to chance you may get lucky, but a little direction will really take it to another level.
When shooting set your camera to autofocus (AI servo for Canon or continuous for Nikon) and shoot with a long lens 150-200mm (to remove background distraction). I recommend aperture of f/5.6, a shutter speed of 1/250th of a second or higher, and focus on the face.
This style is named after Henri Cartier-Bresson, a French photographer who took snapshots of everyday life and made them look extraordinary. He was a true master of candid photography.
I love photographing groups in is this fly on the wall style, which is posed to look like a candid snap-shot of life. I often get my inspiration for these poses from popular culture.
When I’m directing a shoot like this I give everyone a role and ask him or her to repeat it over and over again. Poses are varied only minutely. For example: Billy and Shane (far left) were directed to look at the newspaper and eat the sandwich. Sam and JB (center) were asked to have an animated conversation and Garry (far right) was asked to laugh off camera. Expression was varied slightly but the pose was kept the same.
This style of shooting was born out of necessity. Many of the TV shows I shoot cast shots for can’t schedule all their talent to be on set at once so I shoot them individually, and combine the shots in post-production. This is a great technique to capture everyone’s personality and it always looks dynamic.
Finally, don’t forget to have fun when shooting group portraits and let their personality (and yours) shine!
These images were all posed to look like they had been taken candidly. The problem with candid photography is that you are relying on too many variables to be just right before you can get your shot. You need good light, location and expression. Miss out on one of these and your shot may turn to caca. If you set up the shot and give everyone great direction, you are guaranteed a great shot.
What are your favourite ways to pose and direct groups? Is there anything I may have missed or do you have a group portrait you are really proud of? I’d love to hear from you.
All images copyright Gina Milicia 2015