Three's not a crowd - photographing groups

Posted Wednesday, 23 March 2011 by Ellen Boughn in Ellen Boughn, Photography
Group photos are among the most popular people shots for business, lifestyle, family and educational uses. Not surprisingly, getting a bunch of people organized into a coherent and attractive group is a challenge. How can you maximize your success in creating images of groups of people while on a budget?
Three happy teenagers on the beach

© hannamonika/Crestock

When you shoot people in casual locations, it's not as important to hire heavy handed and expensive makeup and hair professionals.

Naturally your chances of pulling off a terrific series of photos will first and foremost depend upon the models available to you. Let's forget about hiring expensive models for now and instead consider that you will be using friends and family as your models. Using 'real' people can result in natural looking photos that will appeal to today's demand for photographic authenticity. But sometimes a little bit too much reality can ruin the final product.

Boys in Black and White

© sonyae/Crestock

Family photos can be very effective as microstock images as the models look related...because they are!

You can try to capture some perfect moments at family events or at a friend's party but you will have little control over key factors such as models, wardrobe and lighting. A better bet is to do a bit of planning in advance of inviting your cast over for the shoot. (You can party after the shoot!)

Here are the major mistakes that can result from using amateur models:

  1. Hair and makeup. Images of casual family scenes don't require perfect styling but check that wisps of hair look like a casual do rather than 'bed head'! Lock down that shining forehead with a little dust of powder. Grandpa's red nose? Hit that with powder too.

    Family sitting in living room smiling

    © MonkeyBusinessImages/Crestock

    Professional models can make the shot but break the bank.

  2. Wardrobe. Tell your cast members to leave the striped shirts and logo emblazoned tee shirts at home. Ask them to bring a couple of changes of clothes appropriate for the theme of the shoot and to select neutral colors.

    Try to avoid seasonal looks unless the theme is based on a holiday or particular time of year. A tank top works for summer, but by having the model wear a cardigan the look is expanded to all year long.

    Diverse Medical Team

    © lisafx/Crestock

    Professional group productions should have a variety of ages and ethnicities in the model mix.

  3. Hands. Check everyone's hands... nothing is more distracting or limiting than dirty finger nails. You may not notice them without looking but they will turn buyers off. You don't want to spend your time giving a model a manicure using Photoshop!

    Friends in a Coffee House

    © creatista/Crestock

    The interaction between the male model on the left and the woman across from him is sincere and lively, making the image naturally effective.

  4. Some people are naturals in front of the camera. One of the best models I've worked with was the doorman in a photographer's building. The shooter needed a model with the man's look for a shoot and asked him if he'd like to try it. The doorman was so relaxed and looked so good in the shots that he is now a regular in the photographer's productions. What to do if one of the models in the group is stiff and can't relax? Keep shooting and if time doesn't cure the problem, send that person home early.

    Young business man with his team

    © elwynn/Crestock

    One way to get the look of a group shot without worrying that someone will blink at the critical moment is to composite a series of individual shots into one photo.

  5. If the models are supposed to be in a business situation and looking at a computer, put something amusing on the screen so that they really ARE engaging with the screen to avoid the 'dead eye' look.

Group of happy friends

© andresr/Crestock

Even though Andresr is one of the world's most successful microstock photographers, he still finds success using his family and friends as models... he does have great looking friends though and that helps!

What to do if your friends or family won't cooperate but your budget still doesn't allow for expensive modeling fees? Try street casting:

You are in an elevator and notice a person that you think would be a great model. You can keep your mouth shut and let the moment pass or you can leap in with the "I can get you in pictures" pitch. The latter will most likely cause your target to get off on the next floor. A better way? Have a postcard-sized card printed that showcases one of your photos and all your contact information. On it print something like:

I am a professional photographer that works with models that are used in ads and on the web. I would like to consider you to be one of my models. Please visit my website to see examples of my work and to schedule a test. I'll reward you with a free print and if I select you, I'll pay a fee each time I use you in a photo session.

Feel free to bring your partner, spouse, or a friend to the test shoot.

At least this way you have a chance to establish your credibility and to waylay fears that you are a serial killer! Plus you get your phone number and website URL into someone's hands and you never know where that will lead.

Group of friends gambling at roulette table

© MonkeyBusinessImages/Crestock

This production was costly but very effective and sure to be a best seller. Fortunately designers don't always need complex images. You can often serve their needs with simple, clean shots that don't require professional models, makeup or expensive locations.

To be successful and to increase downloads of group shots, spend some time with the models prior to beginning a shoot. Show them sketches of what you are going to shoot or talk to them about the characters that they are going to be in the production.

Another tip is to stagger the arrival of the models. For a family shot, have an older couple arrive first. Shoot with them for an hour or so before their adult "children" arrive. Then to complete the day, bring the children in for the last hour or two. (Remember it's not a good idea to work with young children for more than thirty minutes at a stretch.)

Remember: two heads are better than one and three or four are even better!

Ellen Boughn

Ellen has over thirty years of experience in the stock business gained at such organizations as Dreamstime, UpperCut Images, Workbookstock, Corbis, Getty (Stone), The Image Bank (Artville) and the creative agency, After-Image, she started in Los Angeles at the beginning of her career. Having been directly involved in the creation of four major stock photography collections, Ellen offers her decades of experience to assist photographers seeking success in stock photography.

Twitter @ellenboughn Facebook ellenboughn

Ellen Boughn's best-selling book, Microstock Money Shots, is filled with insights, tips and advice on how to create commercial images and improve your work flow to profit from photography whether you're a hobbyist or a professional photographer.
Order now on

Weekly Free Stock Photo The Weekly Free Stock Image
We are giving away a free, high quality photo every week! Get Your Image


No comments yet.

Add your comment:

Further comments have been disabled on this post.