Managing a Successful Group Photo

A group photo is like a piece of performance art

I personally find group photos at once terrifying and exhilarating.

If you have never observed a professional photographer organize and capture a group photo, let me outline the stages so that remark makes sense.

The Stages of a Group Photo

  • Your photographer arrives early to get ready. The set is empty.
  • People gradually assemble and make small talk. There is amiable chaos.
  • Your photographer encourages people to pay attention, and starts to arrange people by height so faces aren’t obscured. (This stage is often humorously described as “herding cats.”)
  • Chaos gradually diminishes and the group quiets down.
  • Your photographer fine tunes the placement of subjects.
  • For 5 or maybe 7 minutes there is an splendid sense of order.
  • After the last exposure, people mill about, resume conversations, and gradually drift away. Chaos resumes.
  • The set is empty. Your photographer packs up and departs.

It’s predictable, and yet it’s magic every time I witness it.

Why would you want a group photo?

University reunion groupFayFoto is called to do groups for, among other things, College and University reunions, graduating classes, professional organizations, business units, award recipients, and workshop attendees.

What can you do to ensure that a group photo goes smoothly?

Advance Planning makes all the difference. Following are some key areas to consider when planning and preparing for a group photograph.

Suitable Location

college group photographed outdoorsIs the space you plan to use large enough for the people you expect?

Ask your photographer to make a site visit in advance, especially if it will take place inside.

If it’s inside, supplemental lights are required. Are there electrical outlets, located in places where people won’t trip over the power cords?

If it’s outside, where will the sun be? Plan to scout the site with your photographer at pretty close to the same time of day the photo will be taken. Don’t forget to consider an alternate location if the weather is bad.


workshop group on stairs outdoorsIf the group is more than about 5-7 people, you don’t what everyone in one long, awkward row. You’ll likely need multiple levels so people aren’t obscured by other people in front of them.

Steps (indoors or outdoors) are ideal if the setting permits. If stairs aren’t available or aren’t suitable, risers in back and a row of chairs in front helps a lot for interior settings. (In a pinch, if risers aren’t available, a back row standing on another row of chairs can work, but that depends a lot on your group membership and input from your organization’s liability lawyers.) If appropriate, are members of your group willing (and able) to sit on the floor for another level?

Feature important people

professional organization group on stairs indoorsThink ahead regarding whether it matters who is in the front row. If you need to have certain people front and center, be sure to let the photographer know or, even better, have someone from your organization designated to gather and arrange those key people. Unless we know otherwise, we’ll arrange people by height.

Stick to a scheduled time

Make sure the time has been publicized, and that everyone knows it’s important to arrive on time. People have things to do and they don’t appreciate being asked to wait.

Corporate and business group photos are different than social organizations or reunions. In the former case, everyone is there for the photo and they need it to go quickly. In the latter case, they are not there for the photo: they are there to catch up with friends.

Assuming the time has been announced, don’t take the photo early! Someone is bound to show up right at the announced time and not a second before. Although it can be done, inserting late-comers with Photoshop is time consuming, costly, and sometimes doesn’t look natural.

Communicate the end product

group photographed from overheadWill this image only be used on your website? Will you want to make and distribute prints? If so, what size? (A 4×6 print is more rectangular than an 8×10 print.) Will room need to be reserved for a title later?

Some things are beyond anyone’s control. You can’t control rain, or wind, or power outages for example. Considering our suggestions ahead of time will, however, greatly improve the odds of ending up with an amazing record of a significant group of people.

FayFoto Boston has lots of experience photographing groups of all types, large and small (see examples elsewhere on this website). If you have an upcoming need to preserve a record of a group, let us know what you have in mind and how we might be able to support your effort.