How To Shoot Large Groups
by William Lulow
As with most photographic projects, success begins with planning. Whenever I have a large group to photograph, the first thing I do is to try to scope out the location to make sure I can set up my lights as necessary.
The next thing I do is to arrive at the location in plenty of time to set up and do some test exposures. Most of the time, shooting large groups will make lighting the background necessary (unless the shot is outdoors). Your main lights, no matter if they’re portable or studio lights, just will not be able to light up the background as well as the people. So, you will need to light the background separately. Sometimes you can achieve this with a bounce flash, but when you’re in a large space with high ceilings, it may not be possible.
The location was a store and I wanted to give it some sense of depth.
After setting up the lights, the hardest part of doing a large group is arranging the people. Sometimes the best way is by trial and error. I like to avoid having everyone’s head on the same line in the picture. Therefore, I’m always looking for things people can sit on or stand on to vary the heights of the heads in the photo. I even bring boxes and sometimes ladders for them to stand on and stools for them to sit on. I have some leaning and some straight up. Then I’ll take several shots. This particular image took about thirty shots to get.
Once all the people are arranged satisfactorily, the next step is to make sure that everyone’s expression is good. Sometimes I’ll have a short word to say like “Say pizza.” That usually elicits a laugh and some smiles because they’re expecting me to say “Say cheese.” So anything different will get a better response. You may not get everyone to smile, but you’ll at least get some pleasant expressions.