Large Group, Small Space

group portrait composite-6

Last week, I was hired to make a group portrait of 15 people. The client and her 4 siblings wanted  this as a special gift for their parents upcoming anniversary. Such a great idea! The original plan was to shoot the group outside, but with arctic temps and fierce winds, typical February in New England, we had to bring the project inside. No problem…until I saw the space.

Due to the layout of the house, the largest and most open space was the finished basement, but it was still small and there was not a decent background. None of this was the clients fault. They had a really nice house, but finding space even in the open basement to group 15 people together for a pleasing portrait was going to be a challenge! Of course a wide angle lens would be able to fit everyone in the shot, but it’s not a very flattering focal length and the distortion would make the final photo look odd.

The best option for this situation was to shoot small groups separately and them composite them all together later in Photoshop. I set up a white backdrop, a couple of flash units and we were finally in business! The nice thing about shooting a large group this way is that you only have a couple people at a time to manage poses, smiles, and non blinked eyes, especially when kids are involved. Plus, it’s fun for everyone waiting for their turn to get the ones in front of the camera to loosen up and smile naturally.

When the white backdrop is not directly lit with the flashes, it turns gray. Once in Photoshop, the gray makes it easier to select the subject and remove them from the background. Next comes placing each group, now on their own layer, together to form the final photo, and adding some fake shadows so that it looks real. The new solid white background gives the photo a crisp, cheerful feel, and the panoramic 8″ x 20″ print when framed will make for a very special gift.

group composite-4

group portrait composite


3 thoughts on “Large Group, Small Space

  1. I’m about to do a video version of this type of shoot and probably with more people. My concern is that of perspective and eye contact. Typically, you want people on the sides of the frame to be slightly different than those at the center. Specifically, they need to be looking slightly to the side if you want everyone focusing their gaze at the same point. Plus, there would also be some slight lens distortion affecting them. And finally, we would see slightly more of one shoulder than the other. I know I’m being OCD, but that’s part of how we gravitate to these professions. Has anyone had experience pulling this shoot off with cheating the angles? I assume one creates an assigned spot for everyone ahead of time and cheats the camera accordingly as much as the room will allow?

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