Sooner or later, every photographer is sure to be asked to take a group photo, either at a family get-together or a reunion of friends and/or classmates or colleagues. It’s a daunting prospect and the larger the group you have to photograph – and the more diverse their ages – the more intimidating it can become. Here’s how to handle it and produce a well-admired group portrait…

Essentially, there are two problems to deal with. First, you must arrange the group so that each person’s face will be visible in the shot. Second, everyone has to look reasonable. We’ll deal with them in order.


Taking a sequence of shots in quick succession provides you with enough options to compile a group portrait that should satisfy most, if not all, of the subjects.

‘Herding Cats’

Arranging groups of people for a group photo is a lot like herding cats; different people have different wants, needs and attitudes and you are expected to accommodate them. Some are happy to sit in the front row, while others want to hide; one person may want to be next to a particular individual, while another may prefer to be as far away from somebody in the group as possible.

Being well prepared before you bring the subjects to the shooting site will help you to minimise potential chaos. Start by establishing where the shot will be taken. Open shade is usually good for portraiture, although a well-lit interior can also work well.

Check the lighting and make sure the entire area is evenly lit. A patch of sunlight straying into the scene can produce blown-out highlights if the brightness range in the scene exceeds the camera’s recording range.

Indoors, mixing fluorescent lighting with incandescent, halogen and/or daylight will almost certainly result in inaccurate colour reproduction. Even the most sophisticated white balance systems won’t be able to handle these combinations. Flash fill is probably the only effective solution.

You may not be able to avoid all these problems so be prepared to do the best you can with the situation that confronts you. Set up your camera on a tripod ““ or if you plan to take the shot with the camera hand-held, mark out your shooting position.

Make sure you have enough working room to enable you to cover the group with a single shot, using a moderate wide-angle lens. Lenses wider than about 28mm can introduce unwanted distortions and should be avoided.

Next arrange sufficient seating to allow at least one third of the subjects to sit down. Placing a row of chairs in front of a veranda will allow you to arrange the group in three tiers: on the chairs, behind them and lined up along the edge of the veranda. When there are children in the group, they’re usually happy to sit on the floor in front of the seated adults.

Once your subjects arrive, act quickly and decisively. Organise them into groups and tell them where you’d like them to sit or stand. Clear directions, politely but firmly expressed can help you to cut through dithering and obstruction. The quicker you have everyone in place, the easier the next step of your task will be.

Taking the Shots

Once everybody is positioned, act quickly. If you dither, your subjects will become bored and restless. They’ll begin talking and stop paying attention to you and your chances of getting a shot in which everyone is looking at the camera will be reduced.

When dealing with your subjects it’s important to act in a friendly way, without being either bossy or patronising. Speak loudly enough to be heard but keep your voice low enough to make your subjects pay attention to you. Be specific when giving commands or asking anything of your subjects. There are plenty of ways to get people to look as if they are smiling, including the time-honoured ‘say cheese’. But, since they often produce unnatural expressions, it’s better to just say something that will make your subjects laugh (or smile).

Take a sequence of shots in rapid succession ““ at least four; preferably six. Then, if you would like to change your shooting position, move quickly, repeat the exercise and take another sequence of shots. (Don’t use the camera’s burst mode as it will probably be too fast to ensure sufficient differences between shots.)

Processing and Editing

We’re now at the most challenging step in the production process: combining the best parts of several images. Start by identifying the image with the fewest problem areas and note which ones can be fixed by replacing them with selections from the other images you’ve shot.

Now scan through the other images you’ve taken, looking for ones in which the problem areas are not so difficult. These images will be used to source replacements for the areas you have identified. Open the replacement image and enlarge both images, setting your editor to display them side-by side.

The Problem


The problem areas in this image are circled. They include people looking away, faces partly hidden and unattractive expressions, all typical issues you could expect to encounter.

> STEP 1. Replacement


The two images displayed ready to take the replacement area from the right hand image and use it to cover the problem area on the left. Using the lasso tool in the toolbar, carefully select the area from the right side image. Copy this selection.

> STEP 2. Paste


Now paste it onto the original image and move it to cover the problem area. This gives you two layers, the upper one being the replacement. You’ll probably find a few areas that don’t coincide perfectly (such as those outlined in the illustration). Don’t worry; they can be dealt with in several ways.

> STEP 3. Erase


One way is to erase part of the overlapping image to reveal the image beneath it. This only works when subjects haven’t moved and backgrounds haven’t changed. Use a relatively small brush and set the hardness to zero when you use this strategy. When the replacement area has been blended in to your satisfaction, click on Layer > Merge Down to apply it to the image below.

> STEP 4. Transform


The next problem is the subject looking away from the camera. There’s a better shot of the person in front of her so we’ll copy and paste an area containing both from another shot. Once the replacement area is positioned, you can see a slight difference in the positions of the subjects in the lower half of the replacement area. This can be adjusted by Transforming the replacement area. Click on Edit > Transform > Warp.

> STEP 5. Transform 2


When you see a grid overlay on the replacement area, adjust its shape by pulling on or nudging the intersection points in the overlaid grid. This strategy can be combined with erasing areas where you can’t get a good match. Merge down when you’re happy with the end result.

> STEP 6. Adjustment


For the next replacement, it’s easier to replace four faces than one because there’s a lot of overlapping. Positioning the replacement area is tricky, but tweaking the opacity slider in the Layers dialog box to the left allows you to see how it fits over the base layer. This can help you to adjust the replacement for the best fit.

> STEP 7. Copy and Paste


The last replacement involves a straightforward copy-and-paste with just a little warping to adjust for slight movements in the subjects covered by the replacement area. The final image is shown on this page.

> Final


The end result after replacement of the problem areas with areas from other shots taken at the same time.


This is an excerpt from  Photo Review Issue 53.

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