The Group Portrait
- see also:
- articles on group portraiture on the web:
Some rules to consider for classical style group
- REMEMBER: its the placement of faces and not bodies that determine the
effectiveness of the composition
- men should usually have their hair cut 5-10 days before the session, while
women generally know when their hair will be looking best.
- straight lines
- light clothing or light backgrounds as these distract attention from
- bright colours or bold patterns in clothing.
- adjacent faces at same vertical or horizontal level
- wearing black which can make the subject look like a floating head
against a dark backdrop.
- showing bare arms or bare legs - thus avoid short sleeve tops and
- dark toned background
- dark or mid-toned clothing of complimentary colours
- broad frontal fill light to give adequate shadow detail while
minimising catch lights & reflections in glasses
- if bounce light, consider using a warm white paint to bounce off.
- single main light placed to front light subjects and higher than face
but not high enough to lose catchlights
- +/- background light aimed at middle of background below level of
shoulders to minimise spot effect
- compose group considering heights, features and relationship of each
- if family portrait, consider starting with parents either one at
each end or both in the middle with mother seated.
- aim to give a concave curve line of all feet whilst keeping all
faces in a single plane and people towards the centre
- place adjacent faces at different heights and vertical lines
- look for an interesting cluster of faces, curve, or triangle or
sub-groups of triangles.
- have everyone touching or at least in close proximity to another
- keep it simple, avoid clutter.
- in general, for couples, have the eyes of the shorter person at
the level of the mouth of the other person
- compose each person:
- feminine vs masculine pose
- avoid straight arms
- always have them bent at elbows eg. holding
something, arm on someone's shoulder, in pockets.
- avoid having joints at the same level (ie. shoulder, elbows,
wrists, hips, knees)
- generally avoid elbows at 90deg but may work for seated
couples or woman with hands on hips.
- avoid bodies square on to camera
- usually aim for lower half to be 45deg angled to the camera, then
bring upper half back towards the camera.
- when one shoulder is closer to the camera than the other, not
only does it create a more interesting image, it also makes all
of your subjects look slimmer.
- if standing, women should point their front foot towards the
camera, bend her front knee slightly and shift her weight onto
the rear hip with little weight on the front foot.
- placing weight on a rear foot creates a relaxed look, while on the
front foot creates a more edgy look with feeling of movement, but equal on both feet tends to
create a stiff look.
- woman often look better leaning body away from camera slightly
so closest shoulder is higher than rear shoulder - if sitting,
place a wedge under the near butt to achieve this and still have
subject relax, or, alternatively, lift the front leg higher
which will achieve a similar result.
- raising the front leg also avoids crotch shots, otherwise, place a
short subject in front to hide the crotch but avoid vertical
alignment of their heads.
- avoid slumped posture, stand or sit tall but not stiff
- minimise hands:
- hands tend to add clutter and detract, so where possible, hide
them, particularly the rear hand:
- men can fold their arms, women can place them in their
laps, kids can put them in pockets.
- avoid showing both hands together.
- show the hand with little finger towards the camera and
hide the other hand.
- fingers should not be flat nor inter-twined but bent at each
joint, with males being more bent than females as a general
- avoid showing the back of a woman's hand, the little
finger side photographs best, with fingers naturally curved.
- when hands are below the waist, the wrist should be curly down
or be neutral. When hands are above the waist, the wrists should
- tilt heads
- ensures that every person's body is not straight up
and down & creates an immediate feeling of intimacy when tilted
towards another subject's head.
- women can tilt heads either way but often look better tilted
away from the camera, although older women often do better with
- males should "never" tilt their head towards a high
shoulder as this generally gives a feminine look.
- face position:
- most people look best with a 3/4 face position so that the
nose does not cross the far cheek edge of the face (otherwise it
looks big), and BOTH eyes are seen fully - avoid half-eyes.
- project the chin go minimise double chins (and/or use a higher
- eye gaze:
- should see some white on each side of an eye, and with females
their should be slightly more on one side of the eye than the
other, whilst with males, their gaze should normally follow
- women often look better with some white below the eye which
can be achieved by either having the model lower her chin or
have the camera raised higher, or have the model gaze upwards
and away from the camera slightly.
- if they are going to smile, a smile with the eyes gives a better
smile than a forced mouth smile.
- determine centre of attention for group:
- often looking at the camera produces dull photos and accentuates asymmetries
in faces, consider a separate focus for attention
- if outdoor background, separate people more to allow some background
- camera height:
- Generally speaking, the camera lens should be at about eye level
for head and shoulders portraits, chin level to chest level for ¾
length and chest level to waist level for full length portraits.
An even lower camera height for heavy set brides, that are posed
standing, will make her appear taller and more "regal."
- When shooting families, allow them to interact and joke with each
other. Keep your eye looking through that view-finder and snap the shot
when they are being candid together.
- getting a group photo shot without anyone blinking can be difficult - the
more people in the group photo, the more likely one is going to be blinking
during the exposure
- people are blinking 4-5% of the time
- the chance of someone blinking in a photo can be calculated based on
exposure duration, average duration of a blink (250ms), average frequency of
blinking (once every 6 secs), and number of people in the photo
- to minimise the chance of blinking:
- reduce the exposure duration (ie. use a short shutter speed or a
- reduce the number of people in the group
- avoid situations which may precipitate a blink such as the camera's
- use manual flash setting or exposure lock so camera does not need
to calculate exposure
- turn off AF illumination if camera uses one
- turn off red-eye reduction as this sends a pre-flash to constrict
the subject's pupil.