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.
Introduction. Grouping may be described as the combining of a number of single portraits to produce a harmonious arrangement of the whole. As much attention should be given to each person in a group as when photographed alone, and it is, therefore, necessary that the photographer be experienced in the making of single portraits before considering seriously the arrangement of groups.
505. In addition to correctly posing and lighting the individual subject it is necessary, in group work, to have them arranged properly with relation to each other, so that the whole will give a pleasing effect. As soon as another figure is added to the one already posed, certain complications arise that did not have to be taken into consideration with the single portrait. The lines of composition at once take on a different aspect and the two figures must be arranged harmoniously, and both should receive practically the same amount of consideration.
506. In arranging groups, no matter what the shape or style of arrangement intended, the purpose should be first considered; then item after item added, beginning at the center and working outward, the subject of greatest importance being located at or near the center. As one approaches the edge of the group, in adding the different subjects, the outline must be governed according to the form desired. Ruskin says, "The great object in composition being always to secure unity; that is, to make many things one whole, you must begin by determining that one figure shall be more important than all the rest, and that all others shall group with it in subordinate positions."
507. You will frequently find that out-of-door groups, which so often are only interesting to friends, may in many instanccs afford opportunities for pictures universally attractive.
508. All properly arranged groups can be divided into smaller groups. Usually these divisions vary in size. and when the principal subject is in the larger section, the figures in the smaller group must be sacrificed to the principal subject, either in position or lighting. On the other hand, if the principal figure, or figures, in the small group is entirely separate from the larger, this isolation will prove sufficient for the distinction.
509. It will now be seen that when a group picture is made of three or more persons, one should receive the greatest attention, being the principal subject of the group. This principal subject should be situated in a central position and the other members arranged harmoniously around. Care must also be taken in carrying out the composition of the group, to have the other figures subordinate to the principal figure, and for this reason it is usually necessary to have all figures face toward the center. There may be occasions when it will be advisable to deviate slightly from this rule, but always avoid a formation too set in appearance.
510. Although there are complicated features involved in making group photographs, the general principles employed in regular portraiture apply to this branch of photography. Each person should be properly lighted, and the position occupied by each will depend upon their individual features.
511. You should be able to tell instantly by looking at the face what position any subject should occupy.
512. The pyramidal form of grouping is perhaps the best, as it is possible to carry out individual ideas and secure most artistic and pleasing effects by employing this particular arrangement, no matter whether photographing a group of two, or of a dozen.
513. The object in making the group gives the key to the composition, and at once denotes the principal subject; i. e., in family groups, the father and mother, in class groups, the president, etc. Every group has a purpose which should be told in its composition.