If you work in commercial portrait photography long enough a client is going to ask you to photograph a large employee portrait. Very few photographers get the opportunity to photograph large groups of a 100 or more people on location, so the information you might find on how to approach this will be all over the place. There is no magic bullet for shooting these type of images. It's going to come down to your ability. Large group photos are a logistical feat to put together, and a challenge because there are so many variables you and your client have to manage.
Here are the 3 of most important elements you should consider if you are ever tasked with a photographing a large group photo. First, logistics (where and how are you going to shoot the photo, how is the shoot going to flow from start to finish?). Second, weather conditions, most of the time clients want to shoot outside (on the day of the shoot how are the conditions going to affect your shoot, will it be hot, cold, windy…). And last are you good at directing people? (are you a vocal photographer and command attention?)
If you’re lucky enough to have a reliable crew or an assistant that will make your equiptment logistics easier to manage. Set up and breaking down for situations like group photos is a challenge and a lot of work for one person, bring supportive help. Large group photography is overwhelming no matter what your skill level is. If you lack any technical or management experience it is going to show in your performance and final image. Having extra hands on deck who technically support you will ease your workload and stress.
Hot or cold, weather is going to affect your shoot. Weather will affect your equipment, how your photos look, and the people you are photographing. Most people don’t like to stand out in the sun for long or be cold when they are standing around waiting. The key to avoiding long wait times is to be prepared to shoot when they arrive. Your photo should take no longer than 5-8 minutes to make. Your total focus should be on the alignment of the shot and controlling the expressions as much as possible so you don’t make a photo full of “mean mugs,” sad or mad faces.
Herding a hundred plus people into a space is a pretty difficult task because people are generally talking to each other and not paying attention to you. As the photographer you have command their attention. How you do that depends on you, but if you are shy, mono-toned, or reserved then photographing large groups is going to be a challenge for you.
In order to successfully photograph large groups on location you should have a firm understanding of lighting and your technical abilities, you should be good at planning and managing resources, and be a problem solver. You will need good people skills and patience. Interfacing with people onsite such as a facilities or maintenance personnel can be your best resource on a shoot when you need something done quickly, so be as friendly as you can. In addition to the latter, you should fully understand the conditions you are going to make the your photo in and how they might affect your outcomes.
A final thought:
Managing the movements of a large group of people can be frustrating especially if you don’t have a lot of time to shoot the photo. That frustration can throw you off your game, and since the "shooting window" is so short your recovery from a mistake in this situation is almost non existent. As the photographer your job of recoding the image is actually a small and simple task and that how it should be. The hard part is the application and execution of what you plan to do. Don't leave anything to chance, try to anticipate as much as you can and you will be successful.
Keith B Dixon is a Professional Freelance Photographer in the San Francisco Bay Area.
Keith is a Professional Freelance Photographer specializing in corporate event photography, executive portraits, and editorial assignment work in the health care, computer technology, biotech, and real estate. Keith’s work regularly published in print ads, various magazines in the San Francisco Bay Area, Sacramento, and Nationally.
Keith's work can be viewed at www.keithbdixon.com and keithbdixon.net