Posing Guide for Bands & Group Photos
Ever notice how the camera just seems to LOVE certain people, but the rest of us end up with triple chins, mysterious red blotches, and half-closed eyes? Yeah, I feel your pain.
Getting a halfway flattering portrait of one person is often a challenge, but when you compound the problem by attempting to capture an entire group of people in one good shot...well that can be darn near impossible!
Fortunately, I've managed to pick up a few posing tips & techniques over the years that have really bailed me out of a number of tough situations. The good news is that most of these techniques work equally well, regardless of whether you're shooting a family portrait, a band promo, or perhaps even a group photo for some company executives.
So without further ado, let's get on with the good stuff...
Tip #1 - Assess relative heights
The first tip I want to go over is usually my starting point when working with groups, and that's to figure out how tall each person is relative to the others. This is almost always my very first step, regardless of whether I'm planning to shoot the group members standing, sitting, or kneeling (or all of the above), because it helps me begin to pre-visualize the best way to fit everyone together.
Normally I have everyone line up shoulder to shoulder, and then I'll just rearrange the group members until I have the shortest on one end and the tallest on the other. This lets me know exactly what I have to work with in terms of height, and gives me immediate insight into the best posing arrangements for my subjects.
Tip #2 - Make triangles
If I had to pick just one technique in this entire list to learn, this would definitely be the one. It's one of those things that once you learn how to "see" it, it'll become second nature, and your group photos will improve quite noticeably.
You'll also begin to recognize this technique being applied in other photographers' work, whereas in the past you probably wouldn't have been able to put your finger on exactly why a particular shot just worked so well-- why it seemed so harmonious and balanced.So here's the tip: try to arrange your group members so that if you were to draw imaginary lines between their heads, you'd end up with little triangles everywhere.
Here's a good examples of triangles in action:
Another way to approach the triangles technique is to simply switch your group members around until you don't have two people of the same height standing next to one another, like this:
You can also try using perspective to your advantage-- just move certain members backward or forward from your camera position so that they appear shorter or taller. In the photo below, even though the two guys in front look taller, they're actually about 6 inches shorter than the guys in back:
Anyway, I think you get the point......triangles are your friend. I use this technique in almost every single one of my band photo shoots, and I recommend that you keep it in your back pocket as well.
Tip #3 - Use props
Sometimes no matter what you do to arrange your group members in a visually pleasing manner, you just can't seem to find anything that works. For these situations, you might need to get a little resourceful. Look around for anything in the area that you might be able to use artificially "adjust" one or more of your group members' heights.
I've used items such as rocks, tree stumps, and sidewalk curbs when working outdoors, and when I'm in the studio I always keep footstools and small blocks of wood around for this purpose.
So here's an example....although you can't see it, the guy on the right is actually kneeling on a small stool. I asked him to tilt his head toward the middle to create a more interesting angle-- otherwise his eyes would have been on the same level as the guy next to him (something you should generally avoid):
You can also use furniture as a prop to help you find interesting posing arrangements. One day while location scouting I came across this small trash dump and thought it might be cool to arrange the furniture into sort of a "homeless man's living room." The band really dug the concept, and we ended up with this:
Tip #4 - watch the hands!
In the realm of portrait photography, more photos are ruined by poor hand & arm placement than any other factor, in my opinion. The reason is simple-- when posing for a picture, nobody ever knows what to do with their doggone hands! This especially true of men, and since you'll most likely be dealing with more males than females in band photography, you really need to know how to deal with this issue effectively.
So what do you do? Well, assuming you're not an expert in the art of posing, my advice is simple-- if you can't get your subject(s) to do something with their arms & hands that actually adds something to the picture, then do everything you can to take the focus off of them. This is the easiest approach.
If you're not quite sure how to accomplish this, try the following:
1) Crop - whether you do it with your camera or in post, try to cut your subjects off at the forearm or middle of the upper arm (avoid cropping at the elbows or wrists).
2) Control your light - by using grids, gobos, and other modifiers to direct the light onto your subjects' faces and upper bodies.
3) Adjust exposure in post - by darkening your subjects' arms/hands with Curves, dodge & burn, Exposure, Levels, etc.
With that said, I definitely don't want you to think that you should just avoid dealing with this challenge altogether, because that will severely limit your creative options down the road. Honestly, I wish I could give you a nice, straightforward list of hand & arm poses that would work for all of your subjects, but sadly that's not possible-- what looks great for one person can look really awkward for another. Instead, what I'll do is share with you how I learned what I know.
First of all, I keep a digital scrapbook of any/all well-posed band photos I come across. This serves as a great source of inspiration when the "idea well" begins to run dry. Secondly, I've watched a number of fashion/glamour posing videos, which has helped me understand not only how to position various body parts, but also how to interact with subjects to put them at ease. Thirdly, I've gotten some of my friends to be "guinea pigs" while I tried out new posing ideas (it's amazing what a pizza and a six-pack will get you ). And lastly, I've done lots of shoots, which has given me the confidence and experience to find a way to make things work in almost any situation.
Here are a few examples from my own portfolio where I think the hand/arm posing turned out pretty well:
Tip #5 - photoshop is your friendSometimes you'll find yourself in situations where you'll want to achieve a certain kind of look, but it'll be much easier to accomplish in post than it would in real life. For example, in the photo below, the band was looking for something to put on a business card.
We all agreed that the final result would be much more pleasing to the eye if each band member appeared to be the same size & height. Could I have accomplished this by using wooden blocks and/or footstools to even everybody out? Absolutely. But keeping the lighting exactly the same for each individual band member would have been a nightmare.
It only took me about 10 minutes in Photoshop to create a solid black rectangle and drop everyone in. Here's the result:
Here's another Photoshop composite that would have been much more of a hassle to create in real life, for the same exact reasons as the previous example:
Hopefully now you've got a much better understanding of the posing techniques I use for most of my band promo shoots, and you'll be able to hit the ground running at your next shoot with a renewed sense of confidence.
With that said, if there's anything you'd like more information on, or if you've got any suggestions for future articles you'd like to see me write, please sound off with a comment below.
As always, thanks for reading, and please share!