We have all seen those family photo albums where every photograph looks the same. Where people stare straight into the camera with forced smiles. Where sulky children stand rigidly to attention as dad screams at them to keep still. Wedding groups where some of the bodies are obscured by big hats or lost in a sea of faces.
As the photographer this is not an easy task to undertake. You need to compose the picture, pose the individuals and get the lighting spot on. If just one individual moves at the wrong time or one of the children throws a tantrum you are in trouble. Group photography has so many things that can go wrong to spoil a picture from the human content to the lighting and weather. You can't account for everything but you can use a few tried and tested techniques to get the best results.
The word group signifies something working together for a set purpose. There may be many individuals in that group but they are one entity. Your task is to bring out the individuals within the photograph but keep them as a united group. With a wedding photograph it is a priority to have the bride and groom prominent in the picture but what about Aunt Agnes who is at the back of the group hidden behind Uncle Tom who is rather well built in all directions! You can't work miracles but you can juggle people around until you have everyone's head in the photograph. Keep the group tight without making the end result look as if they are being corralled in a sheep pen. On the other hand don't allow the picture to be too loose. Everyone should look comfortable and happy with their position and not as if they were the long lost relative no one wanted at the wedding.
Once you have the group where every face is visible and you are happy with the overall result take your photograph. Remember the people are in front of the camera and you are behind it. They cannot see what you can see. You are the only one who can say if it is working or not.
You meet a couple who have travelled over from Japan to enjoy your wonderful city. They have taken photographs of everything and now would like you to take a photograph of them in front of the local harbour. You take the camera, they stand in front of a lamp post so it looks like it has grown from the heads and you take the photograph. Would you do that? Hopefully you wouldn't, you ask them to move to a new location so the lamp post doesn't spoil the shot.
It is the same every time you take pictures of couples. It is your task to take best photograph you can and so you have to pose the couple. A couple has something that joins them together. They could be husband and wife, brother and sister, grandma and grandpa but there has to be a connection.
If they are in an intimate relationship then anything from holding hands to arms around each other's wastes brings the pose together. We are not showing two people in a photograph as if in a mug shot, we want to convey their relationship. Relationships should be warm and friendly and you need to express this in the photograph. Body contact has to be the best way to show this. You want a tight composition. One of the best ways to create that intimate feeling is for the couple to lean their heads towards each other.
If you are photographing a wedding and survived the group shot you will need shots of the bride and groom. There are probably millions of photographs out there where the bride and groom are standing side by side in the church doorway looking at the camera. All this type of shot says is 'here is the obligatory bride and groom shot'. These are two people who are going to spend their lives together and they have not married the camera they have married each other. They should be looking at one another not at the camera, their bouquet or a dog wandering through the churchyard. They should be engrossed with one another, or at least appear to be so.
Make it dramatic. If the groom has the bride in his arms he is not showing how strong he is. He should be looking down at his bride as she is looking up at him. Nothing else in the world matters, they are together.