Better Group Photos: Simple Things You Can Do.

Note: This blog post is being written for a specific audience; Program Facilitators at the Bark Lake Leadership and Conference Centre. As part of their regular duties, the team is expected to create a group photo. This post is meant to help them in that process.

~Joe

Of all the tasks that a facilitator is asked to do, one of the most under rated is taking the group photo.  At the end of the group’s visit, this small unassuming token is presented to our guests.  While the process is fairly simple, creating a truly stellar picture can be quite difficult.  This brief blog will help you to understand the Group Photo process and help you to create amazing images.

Step 1.  Ask yourself “Why”

In this day and age you are probably asking yourself why do we put in the time, effort, and money into printing group photos.  Wouldn’t it be cheaper to just email it?  Wouldn’t it be easier to slap a filter on it?  Wouldn’t it be better to spend the time actually working with the client?

In short:  Yes.  Yes it would.

Ask yourself then, why do we put any effort into doing group photos.  Grab a sheet of paper and brainstorm for a bit as to why we do it (and no cheating by reading ahead).

[Seriously… go and make a list… I’ll wait]

Way back in the 1960’s the American President John F. Kennedy said “We choose to do these things… not because they are easy, but because they are hard.”  Of course, Kennedy was talking about putting a man on the moon, but the sentiment works for our purposes.

Our group photos are proudly displayed in front foyers, classrooms, and yearbooks across the province.  When I visit a school to talk with parents I often hear the younger siblings of past guests pointing out their big brother or big sister in the picture.  The Bark Lake trip is a rite of passage and the group photo is the commemoration of that.

In the Era of Digital Everything, the physical glossy hard copy photograph is rare.  Taking the time and care to actually print a pictures is reserved only for the most important of life-events; weddings, birth of children, and the Bark Lake trip.

… No pressure.

Step 2:  Take the picture.

  1. Turn on the camera
  2. Point the camera at the group
  3. Press shutter.

You have now “taken the picture”.  Congratulations!

Step 3:  Ignore Step 2

Seriously, I should never have included it in the list.  You should never-ever “take” a photo.  Remember the Because (important life-event that will be forever immortalized on glossy paper).

Do not take the picture

Make the photograph

Joe Fortin

Be intentional:

The difference between Taking and Making is the same between a snapshot and a photograph.  When taking a snapshot very little thought is put into the composition of the image.  A quick snap at a party, for example, may capture more than your friends standing around having a good time.

On the other hand, making a photograph involves careful planning.  Where are you going to make the picture, when is it going to happen, where are people going to stand, where are YOU going to stand.  All these things go into composing a great picture.

There are hundreds of books on the subject of compassion, written by professionals who know what they are talking about.  Go read one, they’ll do a much better job at explaining than I can. 

Basic composition:

Set the stage for your master piece.  There is nothing sadder than getting the camera back only to discover that the photo, while technically good, is ruined for artistic reasons.  Get into the habit of scanning the image Bottom-to-Top and Front-to-Back.

Bottom – to – Top:

When checking Bottom-to-To, you are focusing on how the people will be layout in the 2D image.  Have you cut off heads or feet?  Is someone too close to the edge?  Is everyone visible in the viewfinder? 

Don’t forget to leave a margin around the edge of the photo.  Having a good buffer means no one gets cut-out during post-production and we have enough room for the Treatment.  (The Treatment is a layer that is added to the picture in Photoshop.  It has the Centre’s logo, the name of the group, and the date of their visit.)

A properly composed group photo. The Treatment (right hand side) covers part of the empty space at the bottom of the picture.

Front – to – Back:

The name of the game when scanning Front-to-Back is all about distractions.  Imagine making a truly beautiful picture, only to find a delivery truck sitting in the background.  (And yes, it’s happened before.  And yes, more than once.  And yes, I’ve made that mistake before…)  Scanning only takes a moment but can have an incredible impact on your image.

Lighting and Shadows:

The human eye is an incredible lens.  It is able to capture a wide range of lighting levels.  Your eye is able to pick out details in the shadows and in bright spaces.  Your camera (even a super fancy professional camera)… not so much.

When staging your group photo, keep everyone in full sun or in a very well lit room.  It’s that simple.  (Oh, and don’t rely on the camera’s flash.  It isn’t nearly strong enough to be useful.) 

A quick word on sunsets: 

Don’t.

More words making a complete thought on sunsets: 

While pretty and stuff, from a technical perspective, shooting a group photo with the sunset is very difficult.  The term is called ‘back lit’.  The camera doesn’t know what settings to use.  If it exposes for the sunset, your group becomes hidden in the shadows.  If it exposes for the students, the sunset because a blown out ugly mess.  Software like Lightroom can help, but don’t rely on it. 

Sunsets: They look pretty, but can be a real pain to work with.

Step Four:  Printing

There are really only two ways to get your photo printed.  The Right Way and the Wrong Way.  First let’s take a look at the Right Way:

The Right Way (a.k.a The “I’ve been very professional and have planned my time accordingly” Way):

  • Make the photo
  • Give the Camera to Joe / Hang the camera on Joe’s office door knob in a timely fashion (before 4:00pm on the groups second-last day or by appointment)
  • Pick-up your printed and framed photo at the front desk (or maybe even the small dining hall if Joe is being super nice)

The Wrong Way (a.ka. The “I’ve made some choices in my life that will bring a tear to Joe’s eye” Way):

  • Make the photo
  • Struggle to use the PowerPoint / Publisher template on the H Drive
  • Curse and swear about the fact that Joe could have done this in a fraction of the time and he would have been more than happy to do it for you
  • Track down glossy paper and frames (hint:  It’s locked in Joe’s office)
  • Print photo
  • Hang your head in shame knowing that you’ve made Joe cry.

In short:  Do it the Right Way.

Random Odds and Ends:

  • Getting the photo to Joe early means that he can try and use Lightroom to improve the image.  It really doesn’t take that long and can have some amazing results.
  • Do not use your cell phones.  The quality of the image will be less.  Remember the Because:  we are going to be printing this image onto 8.5×11 paper.
  • If you must use your cellphone, email Joe the file in the largest possible size.  A good rule of thumb:  If it’s not at least 5 Mbs, it’s not going to be big enough.
  • Practice. 
Be hold! The awesome power of Lightroom… but only if you give yourself enough time to do the job right.

Taking the Group Photo is a big responsibility.  You are creating a tangible memory.  You are making a Conversation Starter that can add deeper meaning to our students’ time at Bark Lake.  It’s a lot of pressure…

… but that’s okay.  You’ve got this.