Groups & portraits

When you understand the many techniques for portraying a person in a picture, you will expand your creative options in the world of people photography.

In general it's easier to take group pictures outdoors so if you have a choice, move everybody outside. If this isn't an option, then follow our suggestions for indoor group pictures.

Outdoors—Take your straightforward record picture of people arranged in rows. If sunny, position the group so the sun is lighting their faces. If cloudy, no special care is needed.

  • Consider using a car, a tree, or a swing set as a device for arranging your group.
  • Have the group strike up varied poses: some looking directly at the camera, others looking to the side; some standing, some holding onto something and leaning.
  • Try to create two or three different small arrangements within the bigger group. One or two loose triangles of three people each works well.
  • Use a plain background that doesn't distract from the group.
Indoors—Arrangement of indoor group pictures will be based on using a flash. Its limited range also limits your creativity.

  • Keep the group inside the maximum flash distance range.
  • Position the group so they are no more than two rows deep.

Who knows you better than you? And who will be less embarrassed by you than you? And that's why a self-portrait may be the most fun and creative picture you'll ever take.

  • Unless you have very long arms, make sure you know how to use your camera's self timer. Or use your camera's close-up mode. Simply hold the camera and point it back at yourself.
  • If your camera has a zoom lens, use its wide-angle portion.
  • Be playful with the environment you photograph yourself in. In the car, at work, at the breakfast table, on the phone, or hugging the cat
  • Decide what you want to say about yourself: serious, introspective, playful, or lonely.

Semi-formal portraits
Truly good people pictures seldom happen all by themselves. They take planning. Even casual-looking people pictures are often planned. Some planning is purely technical, such as selecting equipment and lighting. Other planning may include choosing your subject's clothing, hairstyle, pose, and setting.

The hallmark of a portrait is that you take control and leave little to chance. Will a portrait simply be a flattering likeness or a glimpse into your subject's personality? When you know what you want to achieve, everything else should work toward that end: the setting, the clothing, the props, the pose, the lighting, the composition, and so on.

Consider these tips:

  • Use soft, diffused lighting—such as cloudy-day lighting or indirect window light—to reveal your subject's features in a flattering way.
  • Keep the background simple to avoid distracting elements, but make it relevant to the portrayal of your subject.
  • Move in close for an above-the-waist or head-and-shoulders composition; for a less traditional approach, move back to show the entire figure.
  • Position your camera at or slightly below your subject's eye level.
  • Pay particular attention to the position of hands and the angle of the head. In a portrait, hands and head can easily look awkward.