On location group photos

Hadia Habibi & Al Nar Bellydancers

Working on location outdoors can simplify matters especially if you’re photographing a group.

A well-chosen location and an equally well-chosen time of the day  can free you from having to set up a seamless or Muslin background if your subject is a group of more than 5 or 6 people.

You see, the problem with photographing any kind of group is deciding what to use as your background.

What lens to use? Wide angle lenses make everyone smaller, introduces a lot of clutter in the background and has too much depth-of-field. I used the 80mm setting on my 80-200 zoom. The downside? I have to step way back from the group and that means if you’re soft-spoken, you’ll need a bullhorn. The other problem?  How do you position your light without it showing up in the picture? Since your light will be closer to your subjects than you are physically, that may mean using a boom to raise the lights out of the frame. I got away with moving my light just outside of the frame on the left. Marvin, my assistant, was also holding  a reflector on the left to kick back the directional sunlight coming in from the right.

Unless you plan on cramming everybody so close like sardines, the bigger your group, it follows then, the more space you’ll need.

Realistically, once you have about 8 people, you’re almost assuredly out of space indoors in most studios. And even the biggest seamless paper or Muslin background hung on the long side up will not be enough.

So, location shooting is a good alternative then.

It can free you from having to re-create the ambience of a great location from scratch in an otherwise  sterile-looking studio.

Depending on where you choose to shoot and its appropriateness for your group, this could save you from having to schlep in huge sets and fake props.

The key is to make sure everyone dresses the way they should and arrives, without getting lost, on time.

But the outdoors has its perils for photographers’ gear.

That’s why it’s usually a good idea to bring along help on such occasions.

That extra set of eyes if they are disciplined enough to not be distracted, just kidding Marvin. 😉 , can help you keep an eye out for wardrobe malfunctions, flying hair, distracted/daydreaming tendencies when people are in a group setting.

Marvin Sesuca, my former student & graphic designer, was kind enough to help me out on a recent outing.

In fact he was kind enough to share some behind-the-scenes pictures which you can see at the bottom of this post.

Hadia Habibi & the Al Nar Bellydancers– The wind was picking up as I shot this using 1 800Ws White Lightning Ultra with its reflector.That’s why even though I had shoot-through umbrellas, I didn’t use them. I decided I didn’t want the whole light stand to come crashing down if a gust came by. Those are the downsides of shooting outdoors. Sandbags are often necessary but having an assistant is the safest.

The Shoot

Hadia Habibi and her troupe of 7 Al Nar Belly dancers met us on location.

I arrived about 20 minutes before 6 pm to set up and to figure out my best shooting positions.

Even in the  age of Smartphones, GPS units and Google map URLs, expect that not everyone will be on time.

Make use of this wait to test some ideas and setups.


  • Portable Vagabond battery from White Lightning
  • 1 800 watt/sec White Lightning Ultras
  • 2 lightstands
  • Canon 40D with 17-35 zoom, 50 mm, 80-200 mm lens
  • Canon 430EX Speedlight
  • Canon STE-2 transmitter
  • Cybersync radio slaves also sold by White Lightning
  • Reflectors
  • Step stool for the vertically challenged person that I am

Racing against time–Working at twilight, has its downsides. The window for great light is very small. So having some ideas beforehand helps. I was ready to call it a night. I decided to feature Hadia more prominently, so I brought her closer to the main light and filled the shadow area of her face with my 430EX Speedlight.

Hadia Habibi & Al Nar Bellydancers

Professional bellydancer Hadia Habibi and her troupe Al Nar Bellydancers photographed on location for promotional flyers. All photos by Marvin Sesuca.



3 thoughts on “On location group photos”

  1. Hi Peter,

    The behind the scenes shots are great. Almost as good as being there. Thanks for sharing them with us.

Comments are closed.