How to Pose People for Group Portraits

 

As someone who does a lot of family and child photos, one of the most rewarding but also the most challenging scenarios I encounter, is that of classic group portraits. You know, the one where you’ve got the whole family together and the kids all dressed up and it’s the first time in three years that the everyonewasable to get in one place for a picture. Someone is fussing over an un-tucked shirt, another is texting his buddy, the kids are crying, and grandma and grandpa are patiently smiling away because they’ve been down this road many times before.

It’s a tricky situation to be sure. While every family is unique and there is no one single method that will work for every situation, there are a few tips and tricks you can use to pose the whole gang. Get everyone to chill out long enough so you can get the type of frame-worthy shot that may end up as a giant print on the wall or above a fireplace mantle.

As a photographer, it can be tempting to get right down to business at the beginning of a photo shoot. You want to show everyone how serious you are about your work, and start barking orders to all parties involved. “Okay Grandma, you sit down over there. Now uncle Jimmy, you go here. And you…what’s your name? Claudia? Can you do me a big favor and get your hands out of your pockets?”

The feeling of authority and power that can creep in when wielding your expensive gear and big lenses can be as intoxicating as it is nerve-wracking. But unfortunately, it’s not the best way to get the shots you want.

It’s easy to get so caught up in the idea of getting the perfect picture that you forget about the people whose photos you are taking. You don’t know what happened before they arrived at the session. They are probably a little trepidatious regardingwhat is about to take place with this photographer and all the fancy cameras and lenses.

The adults are likely on pins and needles because they have investedtime, energy, and possibly a lot of money into the ensuing photo session and they just want things to go right. The last thing they need is more stress from a photographer (who can’t even remember their names) telling them where to sit, stand, and look.

To solve this problem, I like to spend five or 10 minutes at the beginning of a family or group portrait session not shoutingorders or even getting my camera out, but talking with everyone and getting to know them a bit. And for goodness sakes, learn their names!

Learn some other things too. Where do they work? What do they enjoy doing in their spare time? What movies do the kids like? Sure it will add some time to your shoot, and yes I realize the sun is going down soon and you need to get moving. But if you really want to up your game when it comes to family and group portraits try taking some time to get to know the family or group.

They will feel more at ease and want to work with you. Then when you need Claudia to get her hands out of her pockets you can call her by her correct name (Olivia, to be exact) and give her the Vulcan Salute with a wry grin because you just found out that she, like you, is really into Star Trek.

While not all group photos involve children, many of them do and in those situations, it’s vitally important to make sure you prioritize the little ones over the grownups. Not that you don’t care about the adults, but they are much more compliantwhen it comes to following directions and working with you. Kids are another matter entirely, which is why it’s so important to get them on your side early on and then pay extra attention to them during the photo shoot.

I usually make this clear to the grown-ups too, and blatantly tell them that I expect them to smile, hold a pose, etc., because all my attention is going to be aimed at the little ones.I often start by showingmy camera to the children and letting them hold some of my gear. This can be especially useful if you are using longer lenses like a 70-200mm that might feel kind of intimidating to them. The process helps acclimatize them to you as a photographer, dispel some of the nervousness that often results during a session, and usually makes the kids more open to following instructions.