Let me ask you, "What is the most important element in a group shot? "
Sure you want everyone to look their best, but the essential ingredient is more than
smiles, eyes looking at the lens, and natural poses.
What makes or breaks the group shot are the relationships portrayed - the subtext, the connections. These nuances require collaboration. The subjects must relax, remove the masks, and be themselves.
As a children and family portrait photographer, I often photograph groups and I always do my homework. I know the environment and the lighting beforehand so that I can go ahead and work with the group and not be tinkering with my camera and the settings.
I also work fast. The nine-month-old in this group photo was cooperating, but I knew
that would change. To accomplish the photo, I had two assistants standing three feet high on step stools and holding a large diffusing screen (a 42-inch translucent zip disc) to cut down the harsh 5:00 PM (EST) September sun. Indian summer sunlight casts a beatific glow, but it is a challenge to work with.
Typically, I shoot on manual exposure mode and select the ISO required to shoot with the aperture/shutter combination I want. For this session, I wanted to shoot with an aperture of f/8 or f/11 (to ensure sharp focus on more than one focal plane) and a shutter of 1/100 since I was handholding my Canon 5D with a 24-105 mm lens (the rule of thumb to avoid camera shake is 1/focal length of the lens). I settled on an ISO of 1000.
To fine tune the exposure, I took an incident reading, placing my handheld under an
assistantʼs chin, pointing to the lens (or where it will be) to get an exposure comparison. I then fired off a few test shots (my assistant as a model) and used the cameraʼs histogram to fine tune my exposure. I was looking for good facial values; the majority of pixels to fall in the middle of the histogram.
This particular client prefers black and white images, but I will shoot in RAW and convert later using NIK Silver Effex or the Adobe Photoshop b/w adjustment layer. Even though my client wants black and white, I would rather have color files in case she also wants color photos.
With group shots, I usually do not use a tripod because I move around so much. I often lie on the grass which is a great way to relax my clients.
Depending upon the age of the children, I will bring one or two, or sometimes three
assistants. With babies, I know I have a very brief window of opportunity to nail the
image. So the more hands the better.
I work with fill flash and sometimes reflectors. I use a "Pro -T" flash bracket and a
Canon Speedlite 580 EX II, with a Sto-Fen for a diffuser. Indoors I use the Gary Fong Cloud.
If the group is stationary, I have more ability to use the reflectors. But my style is to
encourage a certain degree of movement, so reflectors are not always practical. Some times diffusers are the rule, as the bright sun needs to be filtered to block the harsh rays.
I use a "jill-e" black leather camera bag (some people have told me it looks like a Marc Jacobs bag). In addition to my camera, lens, flash, and bracket, I always carry some anti frizz hair gel, mosquito spray, a brush, and some bubbles. In my car trunk I have a step stool and a tripod.
If you are interested in photographing children and families, and are thinking about becoming a child photographer, then join me for a class. Many photographers have begun their careers by photographing their own children. Let me help you learn how to put it all together.
I also teach "All About Color" and "Painting Photos". Feel free to send me a note:
All My Best,
Cheryl Machat Dorskind