Posing individuals is challenging. But it’s a cakewalk compared to posing multiple people together in the same scene. The more bodies in the picture, the more difficult posing becomes. So how do you arrange multiple people effectively for a more visually appealing group photo?
According to Crystal Tseng, a Maryland-based professional portrait photographer, there are two primary paths to follow when posing groups. The method you choose will depend largely on the nature of the group, the number and sizes of the people in the picture, and how much time you’ve got to work.
The first approach to consider works best when time is short, and when all participants are roughly the same height—or at least not widely varying heights. It’s also best for a medium sized group of, say, four to six people. Too many people in a lineup like this and the horizontal composition will turn into a very dramatic panorama that isn’t often ideal for a large group photo.
“Simply place all the participants in a line,” Tseng says. That could mean having participants seated or standing. “Find the center of the group, and then have both sides of the group facing toward the center, turned about 30 to 45 degrees toward the middle.”
Facing people on each side of the group slightly toward the center is good policy no matter the composition. It helps to unify the group by having them acknowledge each others’ presence in a visually subtle way.
If the heights do vary a bit, turn the lineup into a slightly tighter composition that approaches the next step (more on that in a minute). If you’ve got five people and two are taller than the other three, line up the three with slightly larger than typical gaps between them, and then stand the two tall folks behind the row with their heads in the open spaces between the shoulders of the people in the front row.
The lineup approach is quick and effective. It works especially well when time is short or when participants are not willing or able to sit, kneel or take other steps to create a more relaxed composition. In an ideal scenario the photographer would have a little more time to work and to pose the group in a more relaxed composition. To do that, try this next suggestion.
The Triangle Method
For larger groups, or situations when a less panoramic and more relaxed composition is preferable, consider using the triangle method.
“Another approach is to place subjects at different heights to create an invisible triangle,” Tseng says. “This type of pose calls for more practice and creativity, but it can create more visually interesting images. You can use a couch or chair to help with posing, and if you have 10 people or more in the group, consider splitting them into two groups to create two or more triangles in the picture.”
The triangle method involves looking at any three heads in close proximity to one another and determining if they approximate the three corners of a triangle. If they’re more linear than triangular, reposition people based on height until those heads form a triangle. This ensures that heads are not aligned rigidly in the vertical or horizontal orientation, and the heights and positions of the people in the group photo will be more visually appealing.
You can adjust head heights not only by moving people from one place to another within the scene, but also by seating some and standing others. Anything that changes head heights is fair game. This is why stools, seats, benches, apple boxes, rocks, logs… Anything a person can sit on at different heights is incredibly helpful in a group photo.
The triangle method can accommodate more than three people, of course. In fact, you can keep making triangles and accommodate as many people as necessary. As long as all of the heads are not mostly at the same height (which is what the triangle method ensures) you’ve got a good looking group going. Then you can turn your attention to helping each person look their best.
“It’s also important to pay attention to the pose of each individual in the group,” Tseng says. “Make sure ladies have their legs close together, with one leg slightly bent if they’re standing. For those in a sitting position, make sure the bottom of shoes are not facing the camera. And if it’s a family portrait, avoid sexy poses.”
In the end, groups posed with the triangle method can be formal or casual. The more variety in pose and height and posture, the more relaxed the group will appear. More symmetrical compositions, though, will tend to make the group look more formal.
To see more of Crystal Tseng’s work, visit her website at crystaltsengphotography.com.