How do I take control of group shots?


Q. I really struggle with group poses – I get panicky and everything becomes messy. Any ideas on what I can do to take control? – Gerri, Glasgow, UK

A.Hi Gerri, Firstly I really like this photo you sent (below):


So, the only issue I think you have is the fact that you become panicky – and if you can stop that, then the other issues will sort themselves out.

Once you slow everything down, the actual shooting becomes easier because you give yourself more time to look at what you are doing and work things out. Feeling nervous and panicky really holds you back because you just can’t think straight when you are worrying.

How to stop panicking!

1. Remember that your subjects are likely to be even more nervous than you are.

But it can be a bit overwhelming when you have five people staring at you, waiting for your direction, and this can make you panic.

Try to feel confident! Easier said than done. But if you remember that they have booked you because they like your work, and they are looking to you for direction then it may make it easier. Try to think of this as working together rather than you having to perform.

The more preparation you do, the more confident you will be.

2. Prepare before actually shooting.

I don’t get my cameras out of the car until I’ve spent around an hour with people, having coffee, chatting, looking at backgrounds and clothes first. This helps you to break things down and show people you are working together. It relaxes them which in turn relaxes you too.

In the first shot above, the mother looks nervous and self-conscious – probably because she is! Spending time wandering around looking at backgrounds and clothes etc. should help to relax her. If they are already wearing clothes you like, then look for clothes for the next shots you are going to do – plan it all out with them before you start shooting. Then say, “Ok, lets go with the first look and see what happens”.

I always say: “We are all going to work together to get some good shots, so if I keep changing things, don’t worry, I’m just working out where you all look best”.

Otherwise they sit there thinking, “OMG I’m not good enough, I don’t know what to do, I will look fat, etc.”. You have to constantly reassure people by saying, “lets try this” and “that looks great”.

3. Separate them.

It’s also really good for the parents if you photograph the kids first – so they can watch and get involved. Get all the kids together and then get their parents to do stupid things to make them laugh – so you all join in the fun. You will laugh too and it will relax you!

The parents will see that you are moving the kids around until they look good and this will help them relax and realise you know what you’re doing (even if you don’t!!). I often haven’t a clue how they are going to look at this point – I just position them and move them around until they look good to me, shape wise, then I get them all to look at me and ask them to say “bananas” or something equally stupid.

I say: “I know it sounds daft but it looks good!” so they know this is a technique to get them looking good when they smile. If you say “smile” they will often give you fake smiles. If you get them to say something stupid like “bananas” they will tend to laugh naturally.

I think if you slow down and try the things I say above, you will find it a whole lot easier not to panic. If you feel nervous, they will feel nervous. Relax, have coffee, look at backgrounds and clothes and slow the whole thing down.

Think of it as something you are all doing together, not you performing for them.

4. Look for backgrounds together.

Grab your coffee and wander outside with the people – ask them to show you around. Check out backgrounds; enthuse about places which you think might work, to give them the confidence that they have some great places, because they will often think they have nowhere.

5. Spend time looking at clothes.

When it comes to clothes, I often have no idea which clothes will look right either! I just make it up, and I get a few things out which look good together, ask the people what they usually wear with what, and experiment. This part of the shoot takes a lot of time, and it’s worth every second – it slows things down, helps everyone work together, and makes people more relaxed.

Please send me some more shots when you’ve practised doing it this way – I would love to see them!

Kind regards,
Annabel x