View Full Version : How should I do group photo

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04-14-2011, 01:36 PM
I have rather stupidly volunteered to my boss to do a group portrait of the people I work with. This will be the first time I have ever planned a photograph, setting up the conditions rather than taking advantage of conditions. I'm pretty new to both medium format and B&W.

The setup:
I will be using a Mamiya C33 and would like to do it B&W. It will be outdoors, on a stone stairway that faces WNW (camera pointing ESE). There will be about a dozen people. Being in Colorado, it will most likely be clear & sunny to thinly filtering high clouds - f22 to f11. There will be no flash, but I will consider reflectors. I want grainless detail and depth of field without excessive contrast.

The questions:
1) Which lens should I use? I have the 80, 105, 135 and 180. I'm guessing 135.
2) Which B&W film? Kodak and Ilford are easily available.
3) When should I do it? As late as possible in the work day to get the sun around to the quarter front?
4) How big would reflectors have to be to fill in shadows on a group?
5) Would cloud-filtered light be better than bright direct sunlight? How to avoid getting a bunch of squinters?

Thanks in advance.


Oh- I can't express enough how glad I am for APUG, where duffers like me can ask these questions and get serious answers from people who know what they're talking about, without hearing all that crap about white balance, raw, jpg, blah blah blah.

04-14-2011, 02:20 PM
It sounds to me that the sun will be behind the group in the AM and to the groups side in the PM. Is that the case?

04-14-2011, 02:41 PM

btw, I lived in Lakeville/Apple Valley area for 25 years and the intensity of the sun this far south and at this altitude is much greater.

04-14-2011, 02:52 PM
I would use a 400ISO film. Some time prior to the shoot make a test roll with a few subjects placed so they would represent the area that the group will be occupying. Try your different lenses. The results should indicate where reflectors would need to be placed and which lens gives the best composition. Contrast would be affected by the quality of the light and film development time. I prefer cloudy. From what I know about Colorado -- if you don't like the weather, wait five minutes and it will change. Take plenty of film as it is hard to concentrate on twelve faces at one time. Select the one that your boss looks best in!

I once did family pictures (my relatives) with 27 people ranging in age from an infant to one over 80. It was outdoors, overcast and three flash units to get even lighting. Before PhotoShop and digital days so you may be able to run your tests with a digital camera -- I had used Polaroid. I used 2 1/4 and 4x5 and had a friend press the shutter release so I could be in some of the pictures.


04-14-2011, 03:01 PM
I would shoot it in the PM, the 135 lens with a yellow filter, if the sun is strong I would use Ilford PanF rated at iso 25, developed in ILFOTEC DD-X for finast grain (reflector or fill flash depend on how you want shadows, so wont say anything).

Now why ;)
135 - well, I dont want to scare people when i shoot portraits so dont want to place the camera to close
yellow filter - This filter fix skin blemishes when shooting in daylight, which results in soft skin tones. It will also darken the sky a bit, which makes the people to stand out a bit more, and if you have clouds it will make them standing out more (and if anyone is blond it will also intensify their hair...)
PanF+ - Very very small grains, I have enlarged 120 film to 20x24 and still cant see any grains (shoot with a regular hasselblad 80 lens)
ILFOTEC DD-X - With PanF this developer is really excellent, no grains. For me it slows down the film a bit (not a full stop) but you also want the skin tones around Zone 6, therefore I rate the film at iso 25

If its not enough light for PanF i would go with either FP4+ or HP5+ they are great film and give very small grains with DD-X


(Edit: remember to compensate for the yellow filter when measuring the light)
(Edit: http://filmdev.org/recipe/show/5057 PanF+ in DD-X)

04-14-2011, 03:25 PM
I'd visit it at different times of the day and see how the light falls. It's ok to have direct light on people, but you don't want one person to cast a shadow on the other person's face. Each person should be similarly lit.

Some reflector is good as long as it doesn't make people squint. If it's shady you can also use a flash, but how bright you can go with the flash is mostly determined by your sync speed. A slow flash sync shutter speed means a small aperture, which means your flash won't have the power.

I'd think an 80mm would be fine for a group photo. And have the camera up high enough so people at the back don't fall backwards. Too long a focal length will not provide good DOF for a group photo.

I think TMY2 film is fine for anything upto 16x20 with MF for unobjectional grain. A compensating developer will tame bright day contrast. I use PMK. If it's overcast a normal developer might be better. You could use the tmax100 or delta 100 for more grainlessness, but I haven't much experience with it.

Finish off a test roll and then use another one for the actual shoot. Then you can develop the test shots first and see if you need any developing changes to accommodate the scene.

Rick A
04-14-2011, 03:28 PM
Late afternoon with a medium speed color film, or 100 speed B&W. I dont shoot much color anymore. For groups, I use 80-85mm on 35mm camera, 100mm for individuals. Medium format, 105 for groups and 135-150mm for individuals.

04-14-2011, 03:40 PM
I'm no group portrait expert but I think you've put yourself in a difficult situation. If the location is fixed, I would definitely look into fill flash. Assuming you don't have a softbox or umbrella (and don't have a powerful enough flash to use them), I'd consider matte acetate over a flash like a Vivitar 283.

I'd go with the 80mm lens. It will allow you to get closer and therefore get your flash closer without having to rely on stands, cords, or electronic triggers. Plus greater depth of field.

I'd use ISO 400 film as grain is not likely an issue and will allow smaller aperture. Are you doing the film processing? Hopefully not as it adds another variable that you (rather than someone else) needs to control. I don't think it matters much whether Kodak or Ilford unless your lab has a particular preference.

For me, it's hard to get a group photo with that many people where it doesn't look somewhat "wooden". Especially in a business environment. One solution, if it's feasible given the intended use of the photo, is to have multiple photos with smaller groups. Say 3 photos each with 3-4 people having a conversation. Staged? Yes, but certainly no more staged than any other group photo. Or find some other way to have the group interacting.

If it was me, I'm not sure I'd use medium format unless the quality provided by the larger negative was required. While the TLR does give you the advantage of being able to see the group at the precise moment of exposure, you are limited to 12 exp. before reloading. Also, you want to get your camera up high, which is more difficult to do unless you have a prism.

In fact, at the risk of angering the moderator gods, this may be a time to consider a non-analog medium, tether to a laptop, and get immediate confirmation (given that you're new to MF and B&W). You don't want to call them back out the next day.

I would use an incident meter if possible. Or go out the day before with a grey card then adjust for differences in outside light. I'd bracket 1 to 1.5 stops in both directions. Don't forget a good lens hood or other mechanism to prevent flare.

Give some prior thought to how people will be positioned based on their height, business relationship, or whatever. See if there is some way to loosen them up a bit (depending on the group dynamics). Have an assistant that will help make sure that the group is positioned properly and look for blinking, squinting etc at the time of exposure.

04-14-2011, 06:22 PM
Is there anywhere nearby that you could use that is in the shade? Open shade is the best and easiest light to use for portraits. Whatever you do, try to avoid harsh, mid-day sun and shadows. You want to be at least a dozen feet/3.5 metres away from the group. If you can be a bit farther (15-20 feet) it would be better. Choose your lens to comfortably fill the frame from the camera position that works best.

If you can have the group sit on the stairs, you can add to the interest of the image, and more easily avoid the "naval eyed view of the world" that a TLR with a waist level finder tends toward. Try your best to have the camera at or near eye level.

I would use either Plus-X or TMY-2, but those are the films I use anyways. If you are getting a lab to develop and print the results, I would suggest Ilford XP-2.

Can you try a test shot or two?

04-14-2011, 06:26 PM
"navel eyed view" not "naval eyed view"

04-14-2011, 06:59 PM
Matt King - Yes, there is shade nearby, on the same grassy slope not far from the stairs. This has also been suggested by others and is starting to look like where it will be. I plan to develop the film myself and initially do a hybrid work flow, which I know how to do, and then *maybe* use it as my introduction to darkroom work in my new bathroom setup.

This will be right outside the building where we work so there is plenty of opportunity for practice.

There was a general corporate group photo taken on the stairs a few years ago at high noon and it was just awful. My boss's husband did a digital portrait of our small group 6 years ago in this same location that was very nice. The group has grown a quite a bit since then and so deserves documenting. I am hoping that doing it in B&W will avoid comparison with his work.

04-14-2011, 07:39 PM
How big of a group are you going to have?? I've done 80+ people shot and it was not easy.... For one, have an assistant. When you get more than half-dozen or so people together, there will always be some who won't be listening or paying attention. You'd want your assistant to go over there and beat him up. (kidding)

For two, bigger the group, more difficult it will be to ensure everyone is correctly lit. It's much easier if you can line them up under a big tree or something. (that's how I did mine) Mid-day sun on stone stairs will be a problem as it will reflect much more light than people would. You can end up with hot spot if you are not careful.

If you have sun directly lighting faces, sharp distracting shadow can form on faces. (faces are 3 dimensional!) You really don't want to be using reflectors to "touch up" 20 faces at once. (more reasons to use shadowed area) You really don't want back lit situation going either as fill light will be next to impossible.

I don't think choice of film will matter that much. I'd just use whatever you are used to. Same with lens... With larger group, you can even use standard (80mm for MF) lens and not be "weird". You'd be sufficiently away from everybody anyway.

Good luck....

Rick A
04-14-2011, 08:27 PM
I've shot many a group with a Yashica D, you just have to get creative. Shot a family for an aniversary, 14 kids on a stone bridge in a city park, around trees, and on a grassy embankment.Largest group was seventy people at a family reunion, Kowa Super 66 with 80 and150mm lenses, loads of smaller groups and such with great grandma on down. Tripod set up in the back of my CJ-7 and went for it. Make sure you take a short step ladder and get the camera high enough to get decent perspective. Heck, get a camera clamp and a tall step ladder and shoot from the top. I've used tarps for scrims to block harsh light, and 4x8 sheets of foil faced rigid insulation board for reflectors. Since you will be shooting where you work, get a bunch of test shots then make a plan. Someone suggested an assistant, great idea. Make sure you inform the group that blinkers buy the beer.

04-15-2011, 01:22 AM
Make sure you inform the group that blinkers buy the beer.


04-15-2011, 05:48 AM
I'm not an expert in this genre but I would go for a picture in the shade. No shadows under noses or chins to manage, no squinting.
So if you have the front of the building which is in the shade during business hour and is high enough to project a shade to cover the entire scene, I would use that. If there is no adequate place without direct sun illumination I would look for an inner courtyard to get the shade.

EDIT did not notice there was a page 2 and the shade thing had already been widely suggested.

Steve Smith
04-15-2011, 06:21 AM
"navel eyed view" not "naval eyed view"

Unless you're shooting from a ship.


04-15-2011, 11:22 AM
Wow, lots of great advice.

There were two reasons I wasn't going to use a flash. I gave up on it years ago because I just couldn't decent results and never discovered until last night that I have an automatic flash that will cable to the lenses. There will be 3 groups of 8-12 people and it should be powerful enough to light them up, but probably not if the whole bunch get together. So now it looks like it will happen in the shade with fill flash and I'll have to rope a coworker into donating his pickup truck to get the camera a little higher.

Originally this was just going to be an opportunity for me to get the group together and snap a couple of shots with my new toy, but it's taken on a life of its own. With all this help, I got a feeling the results are going to be a whole lot better.

04-17-2011, 09:13 AM
For group or single, studio or outside I have a polaroid back for my medium format that way I can see pretty much what I get and make adjustments. And as suggested have the group interact in someway that way they don't appear as a firing squad. Delta 100 would be my choice.

And have fun with it, if you look like you are having fun then your subjects tend (for me at least) to relax, makes for a better shot.

tim k
04-17-2011, 09:35 AM
I read somewhere to have the group all close their eyes. Then on the count of three or whatever have them open them. That way you have a fighting chance of having all their eyes open at the same time.

04-17-2011, 10:21 AM
Originally this was just going to be an opportunity for me to get the group together and snap a couple of shots with my new toy, but it's taken on a life of its own.

Ah yes, further confirmation that no good deed goes unpunished :laugh:

Sounds like you're managing the hardest part of the project well....the planning and development. Relax and have fun with it.