Group shots are about togetherness.
The most important thing in any picture is to connect subject and viewer. Some pictures are more compelling than others. Here are three powerful eye pulling ideas for groups.
One of the more compelling group compositions is to introduce cohesion. A happy group of friends has more cohesion than say, a bunch of people on a street corner waiting to cross the road. Something in a friend-group holds them together. There are lots of ways you can build in cohesion to a shot. One method I use is to get the group to put their heads together. Somehow when people go out of the way to touch heads, or to bring their heads close, there is a lot of intimacy shown. That cohesion is very powerful.
Another form of cohesion is arms around each other. More intimate is for the group to be leaning in the same direction in some way. That imparts a powerful togetherness to the group. Another idea is to pose arms in a similar way or a similar direction. You can do the same with legs too.
Groups can hang together really well without being personally intimate. A common theme in the group can give everyone a dynamic togetherness. Sometimes a colour is a good theme. If I am doing family portraits it is important to capture the faces. Any distraction takes away the family feel. I urge my family group to have similar colours and clothes. That helps prevent distraction from the faces and gives a sense of togetherness – all wearing jeans and a blue tee-shirt for example.
If you think creatively there are lots of ways to achieve the same thing. Poses of all sorts can help too. When you are all doing the same thing it pulls the group together. The pose does not have to be intimate.
One of the strong compositional elements in portraiture is framing. If you can find a frame that constrains the group in a small place it helps them to look more cohesive – especially if the frame pushes them close together. One of the best examples of this is in wedding photography. Close members of the family pictured between tight columns outside a church is a good way to pull the group together. The columns prevent the eye from straying out sideways and the family in the middle hold the eye as a result.
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Group intimacy with effective framing can be shot among trees or other landscape features. There are plenty of ways to fit people between features. As long as the framing feature is not too strong the group will gain from the close proximity and still be the centre of interest. Using landscape features is great for impromptu family portraits on holiday.
A more traditional form of framing is the use of the vignette. You put the vignette in in post production. The use of shadow or white-out techniques at the edge of the picture and particularly the corners, helps focus the eye gently to the centre of the picture.
Getting it all together
There are lots of ways to help make your group hang together. If you can add cohesion, commonality and framing to your group shots you will be well on the way to a compelling shot.