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How to Photograph Groups Like a Pro? (Part 1)

Written By mela armono on Sunday, July 7, 2013 | 9:23 PM

Although the majority of professional photographers I have had the pleasure talking to enjoy taking photos of individuals and couples, there are situations where photographing big groups is unavoidable.

Wedding and event photographers, for instance, need to master this skill if they wish to be perceived as a reliable brand which translates into having a successful business.

Even if today I specialise in working with women who wish to feel great about themselves and be irresistible as a brand, I started my business as a general photographer. It's easy to guess that it wasn't very practical from the marketing point of view, however I managed to gain a precious experience any theory can't compare to.

Therefore I wish to share with you, what I have learnt over the years when it comes to photographing groups and, in a word, I would describe it as follows: be prepared, be well-organised, be creative, be funny, be a good communicator and be confident.

Looking at this in more detail, today I will stress the importance of preparation, when it comes to photographing a large group of people.

1) Prepare and pack your equipment one day before the event
The last thing you want to do on the day, is charge your batteries, clean your lenses and format your memory cards. You want to be well rested and relaxed so that you can do your work efficiently. A tick list is an easy and free way to keep everything under control.

a) Your cameras and lenses:
The best idea is to have at least two cameras with appropriate lenses attached. Juggling costly lenses in stressful and busy environments isn't practical nor pleasant. You want to have a DSLR (I assume that everybody uses digital gears these days) with a lens for portraits and other camera with a lens suitable for shooting all sorts of images, including groups.

As a "Canon girl", proud owner of Canon EOS 5D Mark II, I would definitely recommend the Canon EF 70-200mm F/2.8 L IS II USM Lens for portraits, and the EF 24-70mm F/2.8L II USM Zoom Lens or the Canon EF 24-105mm f/4.0 L IS USM Lens for photographing other stuff including group shots.

b) Your flash gun:
Whenever I can I use a natural light, but there are situations where I like to support myself with a flash gun. I personally use Canon Speedlite 430EX II Flash Unit and I'm pretty happy with it.

A useful tip for you: if you can visit the venue beforehand, please do so and it will pay off. If for any reason it's impossible, I would advise that you arrive early enough to check on the venue, its lighting and possible places for posing people indoors and outdoors.

I must confess that when I first started my business, I felt a little bit dizzy while researching the prices of a professional photographic equipment. Well, looking back it was money well spent.

c) Your batteries:
Have your spare batteries with you for both, your camera and your flash gun. Most professional gears display the battery life bar, however semi-pro equipment might not have that option. Make sure your camera doesn't let you down.

d) Your memory cards:
This is obvious, you should have a couple of spare memory cards. What's less apparent is that most professional photographers prefer to have several memory cards of smaller capacity like 2MB or 4MB. Why? Because it's less painful to lose 100 photos from that important, one-off event rather than 1000 (ouch!).

e) Your backup equipment:
If you know you will be photographing all day long, you may want to have a laptop or another device which allows you to copy your photos onto it. You can leave it in your car and make a back-up of your photos when guests are eating for instance.

2) Always wear clothes appropriate to the occasion
Even if your profession is highly creative, it's necessary to remember that you are a part of someone's special day or the event gathering very important people. The way you look, directly reflects on your brand and indicates your professionalism as well as respect for your client.

3) Make sure you have valid insurances
Public liability is a must-have for any professional photographer. Some wedding photographers and working pros for instance, like to protect their businesses with the indemnity insurance as well. By the way: make sure that you understand what type of responsibility your insurance covers, for both you and your assistant (if you are planning to have one on a day of a shoot). You can get these type of insurances at most well-known companies such as DirectLine.com

It's also worth having your equipment insured. Necessity of unplanned expenditure of £2k to replace a broken lens might be a bit unpleasant. I personally value AAduki.com, the UK based company which specialises in insurances for photographers.

4) Take care of yourself
Taking photos requires physical activity and you must make sure your energy is at a reasonably high level. Have some snacks, drink plenty of water and carry money with you. Also make sure that you recharge your creative batteries after every event. If you are self-employed your business doesn't earn money if you don't work.

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