Group portrait help (beginner)

Discussion in 'Digital Photography' started by rusty2192, Sep 7, 2010.

  1. rusty2192 macrumors 6502a

    Oct 15, 2008
    Ok, I got recruited to take the family portrait at my wife's gradparents' 60th anniversary party tonight since I am the one with the DSLR. I am feeling a bit nervous with the responsibility and would like any advice.

    My equipment:
    Canon Rebel XT (350D)
    Kit 18-55 f3.5-5.6 lens
    Old Vivitar speedlight that will flash, but no metering/control
    A few assorted lenses that I can use an adapter, but I feel have a bit too much distortion at the edges.
    Oh, and a decent tripod of course

    What lens/settings combo should I use? It will be a group of 10 people, most likely outdoors.

    Any and all help will be very much appreciated as this responsibility was bestowed upon me in short order without proper time to prepare and acquire the "right" equipment.
  2. flosseR macrumors 6502a


    Jan 1, 2009
    the cold dark north
    depends on how you want to compose the photo. I feel group shots need to have a dynamic style or traditional, everyone in the frame type thing.

    If you want something dynamic, you might adjust the point of view to a little lower and shoot SLIGHTLY upwards to the faces. Or you can put people a bit more relaxed on the floor with a few standing. In either I would use the vivitar as a fill light only. So, dial down the power to say about 1/4 and shoot a test photo days before with a person standing at the right distance. Adjust flash power as needed.

    If it is during the day, outside then just make sure you have the sun out of the camera and out of their faces so they don't squint. And then just make them relaxed. I find interacting with them by talking while composing and moving a little first for a few seconds left or right does help in making them relax a little.

    But in group shots it's all about composition. Your 18mm should be ok even wide open, though you could stop it down to f5.6 for example.
    Tip: Focus on the person that is in the middle of the group in terms of depth. that way you get the one before and behind sharp too. and focus around the eyes as this is where the interest lies and the highest contrast in the face to lock focus on.
    Just my 2c but I could be off..
  3. MattSepeta macrumors 65816


    Jul 9, 2009
    375th St. Y

    Shoot it under cloud cover or under a shadow.

    Harsh sunlight + portrait = failure.
  4. Doylem macrumors 68040


    Dec 30, 2006
    Wherever I hang my hat...
    One thought... To avoid the pic looking like a school photo (ie two rows of people grinning at the camera), arrange your group so that heads are at different heights...
  5. fcortese macrumors demi-god


    Apr 3, 2010
    Big Sky country

    Totally agree, sound advice. Also MattS' 2c about using shade dovetails into flosse's advice about sunlight. Only other advice is avoid any background distractions like signs, etc unless they are part of the "story" you are trying to capture. They usually are distractions to the viewer whose eyes will want to keep going there. Good luck.
  6. Phrasikleia macrumors 601


    Feb 24, 2008
    Over there------->
    Or perhaps better yet, find a way to be up higher than the group (shooting from a porch, a balcony, or even from a chair) and shoot downwards. Even a slight upwards angle will tend to exaggerate nostrils and is usually quite unflattering.
  7. snberk103 macrumors 603

    Oct 22, 2007
    An Island in the Salish Sea
    To expand on Doylem's good advice. Think of each face as being a point on a geometric figure. A line of people is a straight line (boring!) and two lines of people are parallel lines (also boring!). Don't get carried away with making tetra-polyhedrons - but you can use simple shapes combined.

    Two parents standing with a child between them create a triangle. The shape is complete, and creates a logical group. Two parents and two children can create a square (though you can/should offset them to create any 4 sided figure. Put the senior members in the middle (presumably the grandparents or greats, etc).

    People who are common to two groups can form a common point.

    Don't try to figure this out while shooting. Presumably you know the people, and their relationships. Create a layout ahead of time, and write it down. At shooting time just direct people to where you want them to go. If/When someone suggests a different set up tell them that you do that next (and that it's a good idea), but since you've got the camera you get to boss people around (say this really really good humouredly) and you don't get the chance often, and you're going to take advantage of it.)

    Photography is easy.... managing people is hard.

    The other advice offered so far is also good.... you'll be fine. Plan ahead. Make sure your batteries are charged and that you have a spare set. Make sure you have room on your memory card, and that you have a spare. Having either of those problems ruin a family portrait is something you will hear about for a very very long time.

    You'll be fun and good luck.
  8. neutrino23 macrumors 68000

    Feb 14, 2003
    SF Bay area
    Think ahead of time about where people will be posed so that you have sufficient distance between them and the camera. I suspect it would be better to be a little farther back and use a longer lens to avoid distortions in the corners.

    If you don't have a good background you might try and hang a backdrop. You can rent them but if you have some old bed sheets and paint you can make your own. Look at a bunch of portraits in google images for examples.

    I did a quick search and found this.

    This is a little boring but it avoids the funny shots. We still laugh about the Christmas photo where my brother-in-law was standing in front of the tree just right so that it looks like he's wearing the Christmas angel on his head. You never see these things till you look at the pictures.
  9. gnd macrumors 6502a


    Jun 2, 2008
    At my cat's house
    But the photographer SHOULD see these things in the viewfinder. That is why there is a viewfinder. To see your composition before taking the photo. To make sure all the corners and edges are clean, to make sure there aren't any angels on people's heads ... ;)

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