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One Light Group Photo, the easy way

Photography, Group shot with one light (Profoto D1 and a Profoto 5 foot softbox Octa)

I must admit, group shots are not my favorite thing to do on assignments, but many clients wants one, and to say no would be just stupid.

Sometimes, when there are more than five persons in a group, and/or the room/place offers no really good distance, background or lighting condition, I play it safe and tell the client that the group shot probably will be a bit boring. And sometimes the simplest solution is the best solution, lighting-wise.

Small room and tight schedule


This group shot was part of an assignment were I took portraits of jury members during a break they had in their meeting. I had a couple of minutes with each person in another photo station I had set up nearby, but the group shot had a time limit as they were having a presentation in the same room ten minutes later.

And that is almost always the case with the assignments that contains a group element, it is shoehorned into a already tight schedule, which I can understand. Why not take a group shot when the photographer is already there?

Use one light on-axis with the camera

Instead of rushing things too much and having to take down the lights during their presentation, I chose the easiest way I could. By placing one of my Profoto D1’s with a Profoto 5-foot softbox Octa right behind me, as high as I could (not really high at all, to be honest), I wouldn’t need to worry about people casting shadows on each other or anything like that.

Thinking of it now, I might have improved it a bit by placing the group nearer the wall behind them, or right up against it. The camera was set quite low, so the shadows on the wall from the group would not have been much of a problem at all.

That way I would have had a much cleaner background (just the wall), I think they could have fitted in between the two openings on either side of the group, but, at the moment I didn’t think of that. I just wanted to have as much distance between the group and the wall, behind the camera there was a column that stopped me from moving the light and the camera further away from the group.

Always limitations

I would love to plan a group shot better, be able to light it properly and work a bit on how to place the people in different positions in a room, and really use the room and everything a lot better.

But, that is wishful thinking, mostly. 99 percent of all the group shots I have done end up looking a bit like this. If there are more than five people, the easiest way is to line them up like a class photo, light it as flat as I can and hope that everybody keep their smiles wide and their eyes open.

At the same time.

As a photographer, I tend to get stuck on the limits of how I can do group photography. It annoys me a bit that I can’t make it as good as I want it in the short time I am allowed, or in the room I can use. Et cetera.

Finding this really easy way of light a medium sized group without any problem makes it much easier for me to say “sure”, and accept the limits. Because this is exactly what most of the clients want, a clear picture of everybody in the group. Eyes open, nobody talking, no strange faces and everyone attending.

So why make it harder? I don’t know, better for me to focus on the individual portraits and just deliver a group shot that is easy to take. Without any complaints.

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Tony LUJIEN January 24, 2012, 02:14

    sounds about right your comment on please the client and trying to be creative in a nick of time.
    Did you already knew the place ?

  • karen Logan January 24, 2012, 03:25

    Very useful info. Everyone wants a group shot!

  • Alex January 24, 2012, 07:32

    Great post Stefan. I’m the go to guy at work when it comes to shooting our group portraits and it’s a nightmare in terms of finding enough space and avoiding it being overly boring. I feel your pain.

  • Stefan Tell February 2, 2012, 13:56

    Tony: Yes, I did. Have been there a couple of times, but only for single portraits. I don’t think any more scouting would have made it better, the low ceiling and not so interesting backgrounds make it hard to improve.

    Karen: Indeed.

    Alex: Thanks, and I feel yours 🙂

  • Tom January 14, 2013, 20:25

    Great post. Gave me more confidence for the group shot that I’m doing today, it’s also a pressed for time shoot. I think I’m just going to do the same as you with my 5ft octobox.

    Out of curiosity, what kind of light setup would you do in the same space if you had the time?

  • Stefan Tell January 17, 2013, 00:53

    Glad to hear,
    and regarding how I would have done it if I had more time, but the same space, probably not so much different. Maybe tried to fit a light to separate the group from the background better.

    One rim light from either side might have worked good, hidden outside the frame shining in through the openings in the background wall you can see on both sides.

  • Tom January 17, 2013, 23:47

    Thanks for the reply.

    I can definitely see how a rim light would help, but considering the number of people, would a rim light on only 1 side work?

  • Stefan Tell February 18, 2013, 13:32

    I think, if I had more light with me, I would have place one on either side. There are openings on both sides were it would be easy to hide the outside the frame. But this works well too.

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