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How to take great group photos outdoors

Step 1

Read the manual that came with your digital camera. Most people don't take the time and they never achieve the quality the camera is capable of. Use a tripod to steady the camera and keep the field of view constant for multiple exposures.

Planning

Allow 15 to 20 minutes for your shoot and make as much preparation as possible ahead of time to keep the shoot on schedule. Practice camera setup and adjustments prior to the shoot and you'll avoid fumbling with the controls when the moment arrives.

Choose a Location.

Select a spot with as little background clutter as possible which still provides provenance to the photo. If you can not plan the time of day, have a second location in mind to accommodate the changes in lighting that will occur.

Pose your group in a relaxed arrangement. If there will be rows, select a location with steps or a curb to elevate the back row. Having some members kneel is a bad idea as it is uncomfortable and causes everyone to want to rush through this important moment.

See the Light!

Before the shoot, walk around the location and note your shadow. A location with mostly indirect light will work best. If shadows are present, make sure they fall away from the camera! (to the rear of your subjects)

If shooting at noon on a sunny day, your photo will have too much contrast. Overcome this obstacle with innovation. Some of your group may have bright dash protectors in their cars. Arrange these along the front of the group to reflect light up onto the faces. If dash protectors are not available, improvise with anything reflective!

Clothing or uniform colors will also affect your photo. If everyone is wearing white, the camera will 'read' the scene as too bright and the photo may be under-exposed. The inverse is true for dark clothing. Keep these issues in mind and follow instructions from the camera manual for compensation. One trick to overcome this is to have the center person hold a piece of poster board of the opposite shade in front when you focus, the drop it out of the frame before you press the rest of the way for the shutter.

Show Time!

Pose you subjects with the maximum space between faces while keeping the group tight. Avoid the zoom feature of your camera. Instead, move the tripod closer or away to fill the frame with the group. Once the group is framed for your photo, ask the group to relax but not to move left or right. Sidewalk chalk may be handy to mark a boundary and keep the group stationary.

Remember, the goal is to capture the likeness of every member of the group. That means the faces are most important. Ballcaps and hats should be removed, as well as shades and goggles. If a team insists on headgear, set the tripod much lower and use a flash fill to capture faces under the shadow of the cap!

Take multiple photos at multiple settings. Digital film is free. The single best trick in your bag is to take many different practice photos using different camera settings while you are still at home. You'll have plenty of time time to study the result and choose the best setting. Don't trust the camera's LCD screen on location in bright sunlight!

Once you have your group stationary, and the camera is set to fill the frame, you should forget about the viewfinder. This is counter-intuitive so you may want to practice before hand. Stand erect and talk to the group as you press the shutter. Don't give a warning, just talk at a moderate volume and continue to press the shutter. This trick keeps everyone relaxed and looking at the you and the camera.

If you feel the need to review photos in the LCD, use chalk as described above so everyone can take a break but get back to their spot if a re-shoot is necessary.

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