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How to shoot expressive group photos

For festive occasions such as weddings, birthdays, anniversaries and the like, a group photo is part of the memory of the special day. Depending on the number of people, however, even more experienced photographers may find this a real challenge. Are all of them in the picture? Does everyone look into the camera or has someone blinked or looked away? With our tips on equipment, camera settings and group formation, you are guaranteed to succeed in creating the next group picture.

Camera and Lens

Considering the various setting options, a system camera or SLR camera is of course best suited. The adjustable parameters, such as f-number, exposure time and ISO value allow you to better compensate for the prevailing lighting conditions. This is only partially possible when using a compact camera or smartphone. In good lighting conditions, however, they can also achieve good results.

For a camera with an interchangeable lens, it is best to use a standard lens with a fixed focal length of 50mm or a light telephoto lens if the group is large. The use of a wide-angle lens is not recommended as it causes distortion and unnatural proportions in the group picture.

Use a tripod

A tripod is almost indispensable for an impeccable group photo. It makes it possible to take pictures without introducing shake and you can easily align the camera to the desired section of the picture without having to search for it all the time. Especially for larger groups you can select a higher camera position with the tripod, so that all persons fit into the picture.

For spontaneous group pictures on the go, small travel tripods are suitable, which are usually lighter and easier to transport. If you have an elevation available along the way, for example a bench or a wall, you can also use it to stabilise the camera for the group picture.

Choosing a suitable scenery for group photos

In addition to the group itself, the background is decisive for a successful group photo. The background should be calm and, if possible, in muted colours in order to emphasise the group as the main motif of the picture. A moving cityscape as scenery or bright lights in the background are less suitable as they are very distracting and let the group drown in the picture.

Family photo in the garden

When the sun shines brightly, shade provides good lighting conditions for floodlit group photos.

Furthermore, an outdoor setting is more suitable than closed rooms because the lighting conditions are usually better. You should avoid bright sunlight such as at midday. The midday sun casts hard shadows, which can be seen on the faces of the people in the picture. In soft sunlight, you should make sure that it falls on the sideways onto the persons’ faces, as this will appear most natural in the picture later on. Direct light from behind or from the front would cast unwanted shadows of the group or the photographer. A slightly overcast sky or a shady spot is ideal for well-lit group photos.

If you want to take a group picture in an indoor space, you should use the flash to better illuminate the group. Windows and lamps can be a great help. If possible, use white walls and bright surfaces to reflect the light.

Positioning the group right

When arranging the people, make sure that they are as close as possible to each other. On the one hand, this ensures that everyone fits into the picture and, on the other hand, it creates a better group atmosphere in the photo. For large groups, a slight ascent towards the back or a staircase is helpful to ensure that the rear rows are also clearly visible. Experiment with different heights and poses of the persons for a dynamic image effect or consciously create a clear symmetry for an expressive group photo. In order to aesthetically stage the faces, it helps if everyone raises their chins slightly and stretches them upwards.

Try out different perspectives to create an exciting photo motif. Depending on the scenery and space, you can photograph the group from above or from a frog’s perspective. In order to achieve a well distributed image sharpness, you should always concentrate the focus on the middle of the group. For unusual group pictures you can of course experiment with focus and image framing and, for example, focus on a certain detail or only capture the people’s shoes.

Excerpt of a group of men in suits with colourful socks sitting on a wall

The detail of the group picture, in which only the shoes are to be seen, creates a funny and unusual motif.

 

Camera settings

As is so often the case, the required camera settings vary greatly depending on the lighting conditions of the selected scenery. In order to determine the perfect values of the individual parameters, you should try out different combinations. Basically, you should close the aperture a bit further (larger aperture value) in order to achieve a higher depth of field. In combination with a slightly longer exposure time, this is especially important for large groups in order to be able to sharply display the rear rows as well. But the exposure time should not be too long, because otherwise small movements of the subjects will cause distortions in the group picture. You may also need to increase the ISO value according to the aperture value in order to achieve uniform sharpness in the image. If the ISO value is too high, you will notice unwanted image noise.

 

Group setting in which everyone is placed behind one another

The depth of field is not sufficient in this setup. The persons in the back and front are out of focus.

When taking a group picture indoors, it is also recommended to adjust the colour temperature using a colour filter. If daylight entering from windows mixes with artificial light, unpleasant colour casts may appear in the image, which can be compensated for by changing the colour temperature.

Continuous shooting, interval timer & more

In addition to the various setting parameters that ensure a well-lit subject, the shutter release also plays an important role in group photography. To catch the perfect moment, we recommend the continuous shooting function. Here, the camera shoots several photos in a row as long as you hold down the shutter-release button. Some cameras also have an interval timer that takes pictures at set intervals.

If you are the photographer and want to be in the picture yourself, you can set a timer or self-timer for almost all cameras. A wireless shutter release is recommended if you want to be in the picture without hectically running into position. This lets you conveniently press the shutter button when you and the rest of the group are ready.

The right timing

An impressive group picture is a matter of timing. Especially with large groups, it is not easy to get the attention and the best smile of all people at the same time. To make everyone smile into the camera at the same time, many photographers use the usual instructions such as “cheese” or “smile, please”. This is where the aforementioned continuous shooting function comes in handy to capture the perfect moment. But somebody almost always blinks. There is a little trick for this: Ask all persons in the group to close their eyes and only open them again on your instructions, because after opening their eyes there is a short time window in which nobody will blink unintentionally. It is best to count down to three and then give the instruction ” Eyes open”.

Group photos will always remain challenging motifs. However, with these tips you are well prepared for the next photoshoot with your family or friends.

Black silhouette of a landscape with a castle under a starry sky

Avoid rookie mistakes: Photographing stars correctly

During a daytime photo tour, the hours and minutes can fly by, and all of the sudden it’s dark. This seems like a great opportunity for a few night shots with a sky full of twinkling stars. For successful shots of stars or the Milky Way, however, a few things have to be considered.

We will explain to you how to capture an impressive night sky effectively and which mistakes to avoid.

Mistake no. 1: Looking out of the window to get a weather forecast

Almost every passionate amateur photographer is tempted to go outside with their camera when the weather is good. But while nice weather during the day makes for good photos, other factors play an important role in star photography. The moon phase has a decisive influence, since during a full moon, many stars are over-illuminated by the light of the moon. Consequently, the four days before and after new moon are best suited for impressive night shots. You can find out the moon phases by looking at the lunar calendar, which you can find on numerous web pages and apps.

Furthermore, you get a better shot of stars in cold air than in warm air, as it is clearer. After rain, which also provides clear air, there is also a particularly good chance of photographing a beautiful night sky. If, however, cold, clear air is added to a snow-covered area, this can become a problem. The white snow reflects light and the stars in your photo will be hard to see. The months of March to May and September to October are particularly suitable for nocturnal photo tours.

Mistake no. 2: Mysterious astronomy

As already mentioned, it requires some background knowledge about the moon and its phases to catch good conditions for star photography. Knowledge about the constellations and the Milky Way is also very helpful for an impressive image composition. That’s why it’s always useful to bring a star map with you. The most practical way to do so is using an app on a smartphone. For example, the free app SkyView® (iOS / Android) shows both the locations of different constellations and the locations of the sun, moon, planets and even satellites. In addition, this app has a search function that leads you to the specific position of a constellation or another celestial body.

Screenshots der App Sky View: Startbild, Live-View-Modus und Such-Funktion

The image shows the live view mode and the search area of the SkyView® app. The two images in the middle show the current position of the moon and a nearby constellation.

Another very useful app is called PhotoPills (iOS / Android). This app is not free of charge, but offers a lot of helpful functionalities. It gives you exact information about the course of the sun, the moon and the milky way at your specific location, which you can view in Live View mode. The app also shows you the phases of the moon and sun as well as the golden and blue hour. To plan individual photo sessions, you can use a planner that shows you precisely in which hours it is particularly worthwhile to take pictures outside.

Independent of star photography, this app offers a large selection of cameras, so that you can adapt the uses specifically to your own camera. With the help of this tuning, the app can give you numerous tips for different settings options with regards to exposure, depth of field, object distance and much more. For better understanding, the app provides operating instructions and YouTube tutorials.

Screenshots der App PhotoPills: Übersicht der Anwendungen, Live-View-Modus der Milchstrasse, Planer und Startbild

This image shows a short overview of some different uses as well as the course of the Milky Way in Live View mode and the planner in the PhotoPills app.

Mistake no. 3: There are stars everywhere

The statement “There are stars everywhere” is technically true and yet they cannot be admired from everywhere. Especially in big cities there is a lot of light pollution due to the many lanterns, traffic and also the illuminated advertisements of countless shops. This means that it never really gets dark. That is why you should go to a place far away from the city to photograph stars. The less ambient light, the better the conditions for a successful shooting at night. On top of that, a higher point, such as a hill, a mountain or a starting point, helps to get a clear view.

Mistake no. 4: Taking pictures with Autofocus

Before we start with the settings, some questions regarding the equipment have to be answered. Full-format cameras offer the best conditions for taking pictures of the night sky because of their large sensor, which has fewer problems with noise behaviour at high ISO values. However, this doesn’t mean that a good shot cannot also be taken with a camera with a smaller sensor, such as an APS-C sensor.

But the body of the camera does not do the work all by itself. The lens plays a significant role. Above all, the lens should be as wide-angled and powerful as possible and allow an aperture of four or less. Autofocus does not play a role when choosing the lens for star photography, since the focus in star photography is set manually anyway.

Photographs of the night sky are always taken with an open aperture. This means that the smallest aperture available is chosen to capture as much light as possible. The most complicated step is to focus on infinity. With some lenses, the infinity sign is shown directly on the focus ring, which makes the adjustment much easier. If this image is not available, it is possible to focus on a very distant object during the day in order to then place a mark on the lens yourself. This is only possible with lenses that let you rotate the lens ring infinitely, though.

The Live View mode can be useful to check the focus. Since this can be magnified tenfold, it is easier to see whether the point has actually been focused. If this is not the case, you can readjust the focus in a few small steps.

Eine Strasse und ein See bei Nacht. Der dunkle Himmel zeigt die Milchstrasse.

This collage shows two pictures taken at night, in which the Milky Way is perfectly staged. These two photos were taken with a Sony Alpha 7 II and a 24-70 mm Zeiss lens. The following settings were used to take the pictures: Focus on infinity, ISO value between 4000 and 8000, aperture 4, exposure time 25 seconds. ©Andreas Franke – www.andysign-fotografie.de

The ISO value in photography should ideally be kept rather low to avoid noise in the image. When photographing stars, however, you should use quite high values in order to get the best image effect. Depending on the camera model, ISO values between 1600 and 8000 are used. Therefore, it is even more important to shoot in clear air as this reduces noise considerably.

Once all settings have been adjusted, the image can be captured with an exposure time of 15 to 30 seconds. However, do not expose for more than 30 seconds, as the circular stars will turn into stripes. Due to the long exposure time, using a tripod is recommended. In addition, a remote shutter release can be a great help to prevent shaking caused by releasing the shutter.

Mistake no. 5: Only aiming the camera at the sky

The starry night sky and above all the Milky Way are extremely impressive. Nevertheless, a picture that only shows the sky can quickly become boring. The right tension can be created by bringing in other image elements, such as a tree, a street, a building or the silhouette of a landscape.

Silhouette einer Landschaft mit einer Burg unter einem Sternenhimmel und die Silhouette einer Bank unter der sichtbaren Milchstrasse

The photo on the right shows a bench illuminated by the light pollution of a city and the visible Milky Way. This motif shows how the scattered light of a city can be used to design images. ©Andreas Franke – www.andysign-fotografie.de

Conclusion

Photographing the starry night sky involves a number of preparations, but considering them will produce impressive results. So be experimental, play with ISO values and exposure times, and include objects and stray light from streets or cities in your image design. Practice makes perfect.

We would like to take this opportunity to thank Andreas Franke, who not only impressed us with his incredible photos, but also helped us create this article with valuable advice.

Merken

Swiss flag in nature

Image rights in Switzerland

Every day, numerous pictures are posted, linked and shared on blogs and on social media. This can involve certain risks – both for the author and for the people depicted on them. We explain what to look out for when distributing images on the Internet.

The right to one’s own image

In Switzerland, the right to one’s own image is understood as part of the general personality right. This means that each person can in principle decide for themselves whether and in what context images of him or her are published. It is regulated in the first part of the Civil Code and in the Federal Act on Data Protection. A ruling by the Swiss Federal Supreme Court in 2010 stated that the right to one’s own image can be contractually regulated. Other rights, however, such as the right to physical integrity, are non-negotiable. Strict contractual provisions are made, for example, when working with models. A so-called Model Release regulates, among other things, the purpose of the photographs, compensation and copyright.

The dilemma of photographing in a public space

It only becomes problematic if no agreement is made between a person depicted and the photographer. This is often the case, for example, in street style photography. The point here is to photograph passers-by with a particularly individual look in unaffected everyday situations. The shots look especially natural when the subject does not even notice that they are being photographed. If they notice they are being photographed, the authenticity of the photo is often compromised. However, the photographer has the obligation to obtain consent if the person can be clearly identified as the central object of the photograph. Thus, photos should not be published without the consent of the person concerned, although it is a legal grey area and ultimately an individual decision.

Street Style Fotograf bei der Arbeit

No agreement is required, however, if the person is not the specific focus of the shot. No personal rights are violated if several people are photographed together, for example at public events or in crowded tourist locations. However, if a person stands out optically from the crowd, the photographer must obtain consent in order to obtain legal protection.

Konzertbesucherinnen in der Menschenmenge – von hinten abgebildet

Unintentionally published on the Internet – What now?

Anyone who feels that their right to their own picture has been violated should first try to talk to the person who published the photo and ask them to remove it. If this doesn’t work, a consultation with a lawyer helps to clarify to what extent an interest worthy of protection can be asserted. In this case it has to be decided to what extent the photo can put the person on it in a bad light. It is also weighed whether the photo shows a public, private or even intimate area of life. It makes a difference whether a person is photographed on the street or in a private home.

In some situations, on the other hand, consent is tacitly assumed on the basis of gestures, facial expressions or occasion. This is the case, for example, when someone clearly poses in front of the camera or lines up for a group photo. Especially when dealing with social networks, it is advisable to read the general terms and conditions carefully. Facebook, for example, reserves the right to utilise the uploaded photos of its users according to its own interests.

Finally, a complaint is only recommended in the case of really serious violations. Litigation is often costly and lengthy. However, no one should feel encouraged to post defamatory photos of other people on the Internet. When dealing with social media, decency and respect should have top priority.

Copyright in Switzerland

Copyright covers the creator’s right to their individual intellectual work. In Switzerland, photographs must be marked in a certain way in order to signal copyright. This includes the copyright notice with the © symbol and the name of the copyright holder with the year of first publication. While in Germany, for example, almost every picture is protected by copyright, in Switzerland it is not so easy to claim it. The prerequisite here is that a work must be an intellectual creation. The photograph must have something unmistakably individual about it, such as a specific staging or a special photographic technique. Finding unambiguous criteria, however, is often problematic in jurisprudence.

Nevertheless, applicable copyright law must not be violated in Switzerland either. No one is allowed to download photos from Google at will in order to use them for their own blog or social media profile. The search engine protects itself legally by pointing out that the material may be protected.

So-called Creative Commons licenses facilitate the handling of image material on the Internet. This allows the authors themselves to decide under which conditions their images may be used on the Internet. A certain symbolism indicates to both the user and the search engine to what extent a photo may be used for commercial purposes. In addition, there are picture agencies, such as istockphoto, which offer licenses for your stock of pictures for sale. However, these are also subject to certain terms of use.

Please note that this article is intended for informational purposes only and does not constitute legal advice in the strict sense. The content of this publication cannot and should not replace legal advice that addresses your specific situation. In this respect, all information provided is without guarantee of correctness and completeness.

Folders help when sorting out your files

Managing and protecting your photos

Thanks to modern digital cameras and a nearly endless availability of disk space, our computers end up with a lot of photos saved on them. Very often these snapshots are archived and forgotten about while still taking up space on your hard drive. This quickly leads to you losing oversight of all of your photos. With a few simple tricks you can avoid this and you can save your photos from disappearing amongst the chaos. We’ll show you what measures you should take in order to organise and manage your photos in a sensible manner. If you put these tips to good use, you’ll be sure to bring order to the hurly-burly of your photo collection.

Less is more – sorting out unnecessary image files

Your holiday is over and there are countless photos on your camera just waiting to be downloaded to your computer. Thanks to modern advancements in photography and almost limitless storage space, many people tend to photograph the same motif multiple times from different positions and vantage points. Very quickly people end up with a collection of similar photos. But, is it really necessary to save all of them?

Our tip: look at all of your photos closely and decide which ones you really want to keep. Blurry, fuzzy, over-, and underexposed shots can be deleted right from the get-go. You can also immediately delete any photos that just don’t catch your fancy. Deliberate whether the photos might be able to serve a purpose at a later point in time. To go through your photos, you can use a free photo browser such as IrfanView or FastStone Image Viewer. These programs help you save time by showing you thumbnails of your photos with corresponding information and they also allow you to turn your photos around into their correct positions. If you do not wish to install any extra programs, you can also just use the built-in functions of the internal file browser on your computer.

Being organised makes life that much easier – a sensible folder system for your photos

After you’ve sorted through your photos, the next logical step is to save them on your computer. When downloading your photos, make sure to use a detailed file system. This will help both you and others looking at your photos to keep a general overview. Make sure to keep your job-related and personal photos separated. It is also a good idea to create a new folder for photos each year. Collections of photos from a specific event should be sorted into their own subfolder. Here, a combination of dates in year-month-day format and a short description of the photos provide a good title for the subfolder. For instance, for photos from your summer holiday in France in July 2015, you could name the folder something like “201507_Summerholiday-France.” Putting the date in year/month/day format will help keep your photos in chronological order.

If you need to edit your photos at a later point in time, it’s always best to use the raw image files. To keep organised, the raw image files should be kept in a separate folder with a similar folder structure.

A clear and organised file structure for managing your photos

Use names and tags for your photos

You’ll have to decide for yourself if it’s worth your time to rename every single photo. The fact is that this can turn out to be a lot of work when you have a heap of photos to go through. It might be more sensible to use tags. By attaching keywords to your photos, it makes it easy to order photos according to a certain theme. For example, you could tag photos from your holiday in France with the tags “summer holiday” and “France.” If you take photos of some sights, you could add the name of the monument as well as the name of the city where the photo was taken. Tags provide you the advantage of being able to save time by searching through your photo files by just using the corresponding keywords.

Managing your photos – pros and cons of using filing software

Many of the tips and tricks we’ve already mentioned above can be even simpler to implement by using the appropriate software for managing your photos. There are various programs available, either free or for purchase, that can help you. Several worth mentioning are Google’s Picasa, Photoshop Lightroom from Adobe, as well as ACDSee.

The advantage of using this kind of software is that it makes it much easier to keep an overview of your photos. Tagging your photos is made much easier and the integrated search filters provide you with countless ways of searching through your photos. Advanced viewing possibilities allow you to peruse your photos according to the date they were taken or to view them on a calendar. High-quality programmes like Photoshop Lightroom even offer built-in functions to edit your photos. This makes using other photo-editing software unnecessary.

Backing up your photos on an external hard drive, for instance, protects against data loss

Securely store your files – solutions for backing up your photos

Many beautiful memories are attached to our photos. This makes it that much more tragic should some of our photos be forever lost. Photos taken with your smartphone are especially at risk since smartphones can quickly become lost or damaged. In order to avoid losing precious photos, it’s important to think about backing them up. There are numerous ways to do this.

A simple way to backup your photos is to regularly burn them on a DVD and store them in a safe place. With a high number of photos and the constant need to add more photos to your collection, however, this can quickly become a pain and lead to an organisational nightmare. Something else to consider is the fact that fewer and fewer laptops are being manufactured with built-in disk drives, which can make viewing photos saved on a DVD that much more difficult to view in the future.

For these reasons it’s a better idea to backup your photos on an external hard drive which can be kept up to date concurrently with your computer’s files. Yet another possibility for securely backing up your photos is using a cloud. There are many providers that offer free or low-cost online storage space. If you use Picasa from Google, for instance, you can save an unlimited number of photos for free. This kind of method of data backup is one of the most secure and you also have the added benefit of being able to access your photos anywhere an Internet connection is available.

No matter what kind of method you use for backing up your photos, make sure to keep the backed up files up to date. It’s also a good idea to save multiple copies of your most important files. This will help further ensure you don’t lose important data.