Why Do Great Group Portraits Require A Highly Skilled Photographer?
Posing and lighting a group successfully, and providing the right background, are much more challenging than working with an individual.
Expert Tips: Where To Photograph the Group | Background Choices
Environment – Setting it up in an environment that reflects your brand is a great way to go. Typically a law firm or IT company will benefit by using an office as the background for the images. You need a very large room or office lobby. Office windows make a very nice background if the sun isn’t shining brightly through them. The more space between your subjects and the background the better.
For example, in the Bethesda TIC group photo on left, the lines created by the background building add depth. The poses suggest confidence.
Softly lit by sky top right created nice shadows on left of jaw lines. I positioned them such that the building would cover the left 1/3 of the background, leaving nice white open space to the right.
I believe this photo was used in a magazine article about the successful Bethesda company. Another version I made is cropped considerably higher with much more sky in the background which conveys even more power in the image.
White/Gray Background – If your group is small enough to fit in front of a standard 9′ wide background, probably 4 or less people, and you like a clean look, we can get pretty creative with a gray gradient or even white background. We can provide the gray gradient or white background in your office or in our studio.
The below white background 3 person group portrait of executives from Terraform/Sun Edison was created on location in their office in Bethesda,MD.
Bours & Lucero was very happy with this recent gray gradient background portrait of their group!
Corporate Group Portraits Case Study
Just to give you an example of some of the typical challenges encountered in obtaining a great group company photo, I’ll reference a recent law firm group photo session (see image at page top).
The law firm did not have access to a large enough room to accommodate 12 people properly. They only had a small conference room, with a short ceiling height, and had we used it, the images would have been very poor. Notice how much distance is behind the group… probably a good 20 feet or more to the stairs. Also notice there is plenty of room above their heads, which is needed so we can place the lighting up high.
In order to find a sufficient space for the group portrait, I had to enlist the help of the property management. Upon touring the office building and surrounding areas, I located an office building across the street with a nice lobby and arranged for the group to setup there. A busy lobby won’t work either. This lobby happened to have little traffic, high ceilings, and an attractive background with plenty of distance behind the group.
In the case of the SNV group portrait below, we barely had enough room to set up this 15 person group. The background window had very little light coming in so it worked fine once we added just enough off camera flash from the front to balance the light. We rarely use couches in our group photos, but they were willing, so with a little creativity we carefully posed everyone for a successful portrait.
Back to discussing the, top of the page, warm, group photo, that we setup in the building lobby. We set the lighting up, tested it, then called the group to join us. It was very warm in the lobby, and the attorneys were anxious to finish very quickly. It’s important for the photographer to pose the group well, and take a lot of photos quickly while everyone is in a good mood. You cant get good images when people get cranky!
This is difficult to control, and of course it’s very subjective, but keep in mind that if the attire is poor the images are doomed to fail. If everything else is fantastic, but clothing is very poor, the images are poor. So give it some thought beforehand. Generally, a law firm or IT company prefers to keep the colors to dark blue, gray, black and white.
Consider your brand, and what type of attire represents it well. In this situation, I didn’t have any control over the attire, and I did my best to work around the color and attire choices that they made. Consider how the suit and outfit colors of the group work together.
It’s best to keep consistent color values and styles. Get everyone to dress formal, or business casual, dark or light. Mixing formal and casual, dark and light pants can be distracting. In other words, have everyone wear dark suits rather one person in a dark suit and another in a light suit. Ladies will look much better if they coordinate together as well. If one lady wears a red outfit, another wears a blue, and another wears a white outfit, all this color variety will distract.
Guys, consider in advance, do you really want to wear those brown pants with your sport coat? Will those brown pants look good with the other blue suits in the photo? Northlane group photo below:
Posing is very important. I generally prefer my group standing for a variety of reasons. Suits can get wrinkled and bunched up when sitting, standing allows for better cropping options, and a standing group exudes more energy. It’s much faster to pose a group well when standing than if sitting.
Using Space Properly
Give plenty of space between people in the group, but make sure the people overlap. For example, in my group shot above, I’ve positioned the key partner in the center of the group, with two attorneys on both sides for balance. I positioned a row of 6 support staff behind. The people in the back row were not tall, so it’s especially important to create space between the people in the front row allowing the viewer to see the bodies of the people in the back row (not just their heads peering over shoulders). At least this is what I tried to do. Of course, I had to set it up very quickly so it’s not perfect. Standing on a short ladder with the off camera umbrella strobe light high above me, I was able to get a little bit higher than the group, which also helps us see the people in the back row.
Occasionally, if weather permits, and if the client is interested, we will create group portraits on location outside. Below is an example of an outdoor, environmental group portrait that we created for Nellis company in Bethesda, MD. The outside background foiliage works great for a more relaxed, less formal, ties off, casual look.
I didn’t have time to pose each person, but I’m not a fan of the ‘fig leaf’ pose. This is a typical pose where the hands are clasped in front usually just below the waist. For guys, I like a hand in the pants pocket, maybe one hand hanging free, standing at a slight angle. For ladies, I like weight on the back foot, bend a front knee, a slight twist in torso and arms off of the body (is flattering), maybe hands low on the hips or some other way. I don’t have time to go into detail here. Didnt have time to set the ladies up much here.
There wasnt an appropriate location indoors for the Kentlands Long & Foster group photo shown below. The lobby was beautiful, however, very large chandeliers in the lobby impeded the lighting, so we ventured outside on a cold February day. The advantage to the outdoors setup was soft natural sky light, and the steps allowed us to vary head heights which combined well to create a very nice business group portrait.
How Much Time Does A Group Portrait Require?
Make sure you allow plenty of time for your group photo. Of course, the amount required depends on the number in the group and other factors. If time is short, we would use our 9ft background for 4 or less people. This saves time searching for the appropriate background. If you have a large group, and you would like to use your office, lobby or outside, for the portrait, we’ll need an extra hour or so to scout out the best location and get setup. Once we have determined the location, we can setup and test the light before the group is needed. When the group arrives, allow at least 30 minutes to an hour to pose the group and get some great shots.
Cropping | Re-Touching
I took the photos with full body so we can see the feet and plenty of height above the heads, but the half-crop image works best on the website so far. Of course, I’m a fan of helping everyone look their best, so I usually do subtle, tasteful, artistic, image re-touching if necessary.
Take the time to consider outfit colors, and light/dark values, for your group portrait. Too much color, and light/dark variety in attire can distract and diminish the portrait.
How To Get One Image With Everyone Looking Great
When photographing a large group, in almost every image, someone has their eyes closed or has an unflattering expression. In viewing my images, one person had their eyes closed in three out of four photos in a row. Of course, Adobe Photoshop is your friend. If necessary heads can be swapped out, but it’s time consuming, and taking a lot of images will increase the chances of getting an image that will work without swapping heads in photoshop.
Photo Gear, Lighting & Settings
The photo gear, lighting and settings needed will vary tremendously from session to session because they all have different elements. In this example, I used one off-camera strobe light, high center pointed slightly down. I played with my camera and lighting settings to find the sweet spot. In this case, I believe I manually set ISO at 250, shutter 100, and aperture at f5 (for a sufficient depth of field), 35mm using a Nikon 24-70mm lens, Nikon 4S body. My slightly slow shutter speed of 100, in combination with the ISO 250, allowed enough of the existing background lighting to register. I didnt need to setup background lighting in this instance. It was already there. I only had to adjust my settings to register it while lighting my subjects properly with my strobe.
Group Headshot Preparation
For the photo session to be successful, advance planning and preparation is necessary. The night before I must get my equipment ready, tested, charged, with backups, packed and ready to go. Then arrive early!
Group Headshot Prices
Group headshot prices will vary according to how many people are in the group, the location of the photo session, the experience and talent of the photographer, and generally how much time and lighting equipment is needed for the project. GET QUOTE for a group headshot or corporate photography custom quote for your company or if you have any questions. We will be happy to help.
Photography is an art. Everyone has different tastes, and there are many different approaches. Get the basics right, then you can get creative, have fun, and enjoy a variety of great looks. The client will appreciate viewing an online gallery to choose their favorites.
Perhaps the ultimate challenge, of creating great corporate group headshot images, is addressing all the many critical issues outlined above VERY QUICKLY while keeping a fun rapport going with the clients. This is what separates amateurs from the group portrait photographer professionals. The group will not have patience for equipment malfunctions, changes in directions/plans, or anything short of a fast moving, proficient, mistake free and fun photo session, producing professional results.