The key to good group photos is all in the planning. How big you plan to use the photo can make a big difference in the planning.
We don’t hang wristwatches on the wall because their faces are to small to tell time. In a normal family room, a three-inch clock face is easy to read the time. But a larger clock face is needed for a classroom.
For people to be recognizable in a wall print, use the clock face size as a good example to understand if the face in the photo can be recognized at normal viewing distance. The more faces in the photo, the larger the photo needs to be for recognition.
If your group photo is really a glorified ID photo, then getting everyone as close together where every face is recognizable. If you run the photo in a newsletter with every face recognizable, you’ve done your job.
If the photo is more about creating a mood for a hip-hop band poster, shoot much looser by spacing people apart to establish body language mood.
As you can tell there’s an ongoing strain of showing faces and creating the mood in the size of the final use of the photograph.
For concept/mood photos I like to spread people out and put people at different heights (relative to their faces). I like to think in triangles. If you were to connect the dots (faces) between people, do they make triangles?
Create depth by having people close and some further away from the camera.
If you go to the music store to check out CD covers, you can see some of the leading work done in the industry. Try copying some of these until you get the hang of it.
If you’ve pre-visualized the various sizes and composition of your subjects, you will move quickly through the process. If you don’t it goes slow and may fall apart due to the lack of attention span of the subjects.
Scout out the locations for the best scenery. Check the time of day for the best light. Some locations will not work due to conflicting subject schedules.
I have found if homework is done, i can shoot any group photo in 10 to 15 minutes. You may get there much earlier, but the people in the photo should be able to be placed into position quickly. Then you’re just looking for good expressions.
One last thought, have a laptop or TV on location to view the images as you shoot. Most digital cameras will plug into a TV, allowing you see the image big enough to make adjustments to positioning. It helps to see it larger than through the viewfinder.
Check the framing, closed eyes, and odd smiles. Avoiding those small items will make everyone happy.