How to take the Perfect Group Photo with your Dog
Kerri contacted me to organise a fabulous surprise for her husband's 50th Birthday. She wanted a beautiful custom portrait featuring all four of their children, to hang as a large mounted fine art print in their kitchen of their home in Glen Waverley, Melbourne. Austin is their sweet, beloved Boxer - very much the fourth child of the family - and his three siblings are Blair, Andrew and Fraser. The family style was described as classic with a twist, so I decided that a strong and simple approach was the way to go. Definitely a monochromatic photograph (for that timeless touch), but it was so important to inject some energy and joy into the portrait since staged group photos run the danger of looking stiff.
Fortunately I was in the company of three very sweet "assistants", who had no trouble laughing and being themselves whilst Austin lapped up all the attention. Their down to earth style complemented the natural backdrop of Jells Park in Wheelers Hill wonderfully. Austin is very clearly a "Mummy's boy" though - in the end we had to have Kerri hiding behind a tree (sorry Kerri!) because Austin just got too plain excited everytime he saw his Mum! Nawwww!
"Austin is getting older (and greyer by the minute). I would like to take the opportunity of my husband's 50th to surprise him with a really special, natural and candid shot of the kids and Austin with the lovely, natural backdrop."
"Austin is largely motivated by love and affection. He's a bossy, fun, excitable clown who makes us laugh every day . . ." ~ Kerri R.
Now, don't be misled by picture of perfect that is portrayed by this group photo. Whilst the Robertsons really are an outrageously good looking bunch, group photo perfection is attainable by us mere mortals as well ;) The secret?
DON'T SHOOT FOR THE GROUP
I know that seems like weird advice for a group photo, but I approach my groups a little differently to typical photographers.
The first step is to compose the image (decide where is everyone sitting - Mr Bossy had to be front and centre of course!).
The next step is to loosen up. I shoot during this stage, but I already know that I am going to dump the first few minutes worth of photos as soon as I get home. So why bother shooting at all? Because people (and pets) need a bit of time to get used to the camera. The temptation when someone initially points a lens in your face is to freeze and grin, but I'm searching for natural, genuine smiles. Once everyone gets over the "freeze and grin" stage, we start to laugh and have a little fun.
These four photos were combined to create the finished portrait
Now, what do I mean by "Don't Shoot for the Group"? I mean, aim to capture the perfect portrait of each individual, rather than trying to capture one single okay photo of the group. Armed with expertise in post-production, you can safely focus on each individual knowing that four photos (taken within the minute) can be combined in Photoshop later.
For example, I captured one photo where Austin was looking at the camera with this happy look of utter contentment on his face and his typical, pant-y smile. Right in that split second, his three siblings happened to be glancing down or away. Their expressions are ok - but not perfect. To combat this I could have requested that they all look at the camera - smiling at all times - during their session. But if I did that, I could never have captured Blair mid-laugh with her eyes twinkling, Andrew grinning at the tail-end of his own cheeky quip or Fraser quietly smiling - small but so sincere. So while I photograph, my mind & eye is concentrating on each person individually, and I won't stop photographing until I know I have their own unique expression captured.
I'll admit it: this is NOT the time-efficient method. I know plenty of photographers who would criticise this approach, since time=money and the costs by necessity cut directly into a photographer's profits. However, when you are working with animals and groups then I think it is worth sacrificing some time in post-production for the perfect portrait that a family will cherish for years and years to come.
Thank you to the Robertson family for involving Ragamuffin in your surprise. It was such a pleasure to work with you all!