This section is from the book "Complete Self-Instructing Library Of Practical Photography", by J. B. Schriever. Also available from Amazon: Complete Self-Instructing Library Of Practical Photography.
400. The photographing of groups of large bodies of men, women or children, or mixed crowds, such as conventions, parades, etc., will occasion but little difficulty to the one who has carefully followed the instruction, in previous volumes, on this subject. With very large groups, however, the conditions are somewhat different. Frequently the photographer has to consider more the question of how to get his picture and how to get the crowd on to the limited space of his plate, than how to get the best lighting or most effective posing.
Groups Outdoors. In such instances, the photographer has little to consider but the question of speed and appropriate surroundings. It is frequently possible to arrange the groups on a sloping ground, or on the steps leading to some large public building. This enables the photographer to get a clear view of each individual. Where this is not possible, the photographer must place his camera on an elevation, by means of an extra tall tripod. These tripods can be obtained up to eight feet and more in height. When an ordinary tripod is employed, a temporary platform may be constructed out of a few wooden boxes, and the tripod placed on them. A big crowd photographed on level ground, with the camera on the same level, will make anything but a satisfactory picture, and would probably result in sales only to the fortunate few in the front ranks. Where sloping ground is available, or large steps leading to some public building, it will be found a good plan to arrange the group with more depth than width, and thus not only give the appearance of a larger group, but you may work closer to them.
The Lens. The lens should be a thoroughly good instrument, covering the plate it is made for sharply to the very edges. A first-class rapid rectilinear, one that cuts to the edges of the plate at f.8, will be a satisfactory instrument, but a good anastigmat lens of any make will, of course, give greater brilliancy and flatness of field. Not much will be gained in speed, however, by using these lenses, as considerable stopping down will usually have to be done to get both the front and the rear of the group in sharp focus.
Focusing. A point a little inside of the center of the group should be selected, and the ground-glass focused with the lens wide open. Then stop down gradually until both the front and the rear figures are equally sharp. A lens of too short a focus will result in the distortion of the faces at the sides of the group - hence a normal-focus lens should be employed. Where the group is arranged in pyramidal form, on steps, etc. - one tier back of the other - the swing-back of the camera should be used to assist in bringing the rear and front of the group into equal focus.
Lighting. The lighting should, of course, be from the side, or rather, half-way between a line drawn through the camera and one joining it at right angles. In other words, the light should not come from back of the camera, nor yet entirely from the side, but between. Late afternoon is the best time of day, if the choice is with the photographer. A cloudy day is the best for all out-door groups, as the light is then softer and more diffused. Failing this, arrange your group, if possible, in the shadow of a building, when similar conditions will prevail. If the picture must be made in the sun, then, with the sun shining from the left of the picture, have the members of the group turn their heads toward the right - or, in other words, away from the sun - when squinting of the eyes is entirely overcome. A broader and more even lighting is then obtained, which, with a softly developed negative, should give a most satisfactory picture.
Photo by T. E. Dillon
Photo by T. E. Dillon
Illustration No. 85
See Paragraph 406
405. The essential points are: Get above the group, or have your group so arranged that each row of people stands higher than the front row; get each individual as large as possible; have sharp definition, and get as good lighting as possible, avoiding harshness on the one hand, and flatness or over-dark faces on the other - artistic effects are seldom desired or wanted for commercial work.