Should You Avoid Group Shoots?

By Roger (16 November 2014)

Shooting a single subject with a group of photographers can be less than ideal. At times, it can seem like you're in in a photography mosh pit. Sometimes, you're shoulder to shoulder with other photogs, everyone trying to get a decent photo (you already know it isn't going to be unique). But there are times where the advantages outweigh the disadvantages, and the group shoot may be worth a try.

Combat photography?

Combat photography?

If you find yourself in this situation, you're probably at some sort of organized event. And, although you may wish there weren't so many folks crowding your space, keeping an open mind may still result in a nice photo.

WWII Japanese Zero

WWII Japanese Zero

So, why would you ever subject yourself to this kind of scenario? Well, going to an organized event can give you access to subjects more easily than you could get otherwise. The Zero, above, was taken out of the Commemorative Air Force hanger, in Atlanta, for our workshop. Moose Peterson (link), a highly-acclaimed warbird (and nature) photographer led the workshop and was there to help with technical solutions and ideas. We spent the entire day with several World War II aircraft. The planes were moved out of their hangar and put in several different positions, so we could get better photographs. We, also, had access to the pilots who flew the planes. A reasonable trade-off, in my opinion, for a crowded shoot.

Contrast that with my recent trip to the Military Air Museum (link), in Virginia Beach. It only cost me the ticket price, but I had to shoot this B25J Mitchell bomber in the hangar, with other aircraft too close for me to get a clear photo of much more than the nose art. The docents were very helpful and gave me unfettered access to the aircraft. They even let me bring in a tripod! For some reason, however, they wouldn't move the planes around for me. ;-)

Organized model shoots, like the one below, sponsored by Westcott Lighting (link), are another example where you may want to join a group shoot. When you are just starting out, you may have a hard time coming up with all the ideas and resources they use. They show you what is possible with their great lighting products and a staff of set designers, stylists, and make-up artists. Even if you have some experience using lighting and sets, these group shoots can be fun to walk up to; snap a few shots; and take away a nice photograph and lots of ideas and inspiration.

Westcott Photoshoot Clown

Westcott Photoshoot Clown

Different Sets from a Westscott Model Shoot

Different Sets from a Westscott Model Shoot

These group shoots are also great for variety or trying new types of photography.

I am not, and never will be, a bird or nature photographer, but, in a group shoot with The Raptor Conservancy of Virginia (link), I got the opportunity to give it a try. The RCV rehabilitates and releases injured raptors back into the wild when possible and cares for the birds that can't be released.

These birds are put onto a branch, near a stand of trees for a natural background. I tried to frame the photoss so that viewers couldn't see the tethers that keep the birds close to the handler. Where that isn't possible, I'll have to take a trip into Photoshop to make them look more natural. Ideally, I would like to photograph them in the wild, but – let's be real – I am not going to spend hours hiking out into the woods to find these birds in their natural habitat. And, with the birds so close to my camera, I could use my 70-200mm, rather than renting or buying a long, expensive lens. For a small donation to the RCV, there were eight raptors easily accessible for our small group of photographers. We had plenty of time to try different angles, and the handlers were very helpful and informative. It was certainly worth an hour of my time to give it a try.

Saker Falcon

Saker Falcon

Barn Owl

Barn Owl

I would much rather make more unique photos, in a setting of my own choice, but, from my point of view, there are times where group shoots are worth the inherent disadvantages they present. Your mileage may vary, so you need to make your own choice of which group shoots, if any, you want to join. They can be fun for variety and ideas, and that is the guiding principal for my photography.