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.
Arranging Large Groups. In arranging large groups the ideas and the principles involved in handling small groups should be carried out. In fact you should select the three most important persons and artistically group them. Then add the other figures as you see fit. It might be a good plan to arrange two or three groups of three, and then fill up the vacant spaces with the remaining subjects. It is usually advisable to carry out the pyramidal form. Do not have one head come directly above the other, and avoid having all bodies face straight toward the front. Have some turned slightly to one side, but all turned toward the central figure in the group.
Preserving Congeniality. To preserve congeniality in a group consideration must be given to the most important subject first, and this subject properly posed and lighted, before the other figures are introduced. When the principal subject has been arranged to your liking, then surround it by the others. Place them in such a manner that they will be interested in the principal subject, and if possible give each individual something to do or to look at. In this way their expressions will be far superior to what would otherwise result if they had nothing to think about.
Arranging Full Length Groups. The greatest difficulty in arranging full length groups is in arranging the hands and in placing the feet. Bear in mind that the nearer an object is to the camera the greater will be the distortion. For instance, the feet, as compared to the head and body, will be very much out of proportion when the subject is seated facing the camera. Wide angle lenses (lenses of short focus) will always give this exaggerated effect; therefore you should use a lens of as great a focal length as you can secure; remembering, however, that the longer focus lens requires more room in which to work, and as the average room is none too large for posing of groups it will be necessary in many cases to use a short focus lens. If this is the case, the swing-back on the camera should be used to equalize the distance between the various parts of the group and the camera.
The Hands. Do not show the hands any more than is absolutely necessary, as they very easily detract from the faces of the members of the group, and may ruin what would otherwise be an artistic result. At the same time you must avoid hiding the hands completely, and never have a hand appear cut in two by burying it in the drapery. When possible have the hands fall naturally out of sight. Always have the fingers gracefully curved, and avoid having the hands sticking out straight with the fingers spread.
Arranging Three-Quarter Length And Bust Groups. The same ideas must be carried out for this class of groups as for the full length. It is permissible, however, to have the camera much nearer to the subject, thus securing a larger image; but all the lines of the bodies, the positions of the hands, etc., must be the same as for full length groups, for if attention is not paid to these points the best of results will not be secured. If the space in which you are working is very small, the members of the group may be bunched together. Have all subjects on one side of the center face in one direction, and those on the other face in the opposite direction. This will bring them closer together, but will tend to produce a set formation, which ordinarily is not at all desirable.