Perfect Group Photos Without a Cameraman
A guide to ditching the selfie stick, featuring my beautiful best friends.
My favorite part about being the self-proclaimed “photography friend” of my group is all of the weird antics I can get away with in the name of getting a good shot. I have scaled cliffs, climbed trees, laid in the dirt, and hopped fences I shouldn’t have to get us a group photo worthy of putting in a picture frame. It’s a life of risk and adventure and today, I am going to share my secrets so you too can be the awe-inspiring, self-proclaimed photography friend.
The photo above was taken in 2015, at the beginning of my creative phone-docking days. I chose this old photo because it means a lot to me. This is a picture of me and my 2 best friends at a park in Hamilton, Ontario that we came back to many times over the years.
As we grew into adulthood, we followed different paths and all ended up in very different places. This was the first time we spent the day together since one of us moved away. That meant this day was all about getting a good group photo. Of course, we didn't have an extra person to take the picture for us.
It took some shared creativity and a few rounds of trial-and-error, but we snapped it! Our ideas from this day have gone towards years of great photos that are all over my house. Getting creative with what you have around you is a great skill to have. You never know when it may come in handy. Here are my top 3 tips.
1. Harnessing the Power of the Sun
Understanding at least a little bit about how the sun can affect your photos will save you tons of time and get you more quality pictures to share with your friends and family.
Harsh lighting can break your photo if you don’t know how to work your way around it. It can cause harsh shadows, overexposure, and will likely induce dramatic, unpleasant-looking squinting in all your subjects. Work with the sun, not against it. Watch for dark shadows covering your faces, or brightness that washes out any details. You can often save yourself these difficulties by simply rotating your angle.
Even after editing, you can still see some shadows on our faces in the photo above. We likely could have fixed this if we had been paying attention to the light instead of our crazy phone docking methods (more on this later).
After some practice you’ll be posing people like a professional. They might find that annoying, but they’ll thank you when they see the masterpiece you’ve shot of them. And then they’ll display it in a place of the highest honor: the fridge.
2. Getting the Perfect Backdrop
If there’s nothing specific that you need to have in your picture, look around for a minute and think about how your surroundings might improve or distract from the photo. There might be a way better background a few feet to your left!
In the photos below, you can see what a difference a simple background makes. These pictures were both taken on my 23rd birthday. We were getting ready to go out to the bars and decided to run outside for some photos because, guess what, the 3 of us were together again!
The business of the street behind us in the first photo gives your eyes way too much to take in. You'll probably notice that you're looking around at all of the cars and buildings around us. The second photo, however, uses a solid background to keep the focus on us. There's nothing else to look at.
This all depends on where you are. If you're on a trip somewhere cool and new, of course get as much in the background as you can! Even with interesting landmarks though, you'll find that other background elements can distract from that as well. Be thoughtful in your angles. It's fun, and it makes for great photos.
3. Creating Your Tripod
If there is one piece of advice you take from this article, let it be this: Nature is your tripod. Wherever you are, whatever you’re doing, there will be some way to set up your phone for an optimal picture. You just need to get creative.
If you can’t find anything tall enough to fit what you want into your frame, start stacking bags and wallets to give you the extra height you need. If you want an angle, balance some things. Use your coffee. I usually wedge my sunglasses between my phone and whatever surface it’s on to make it sit the way I want it to. It will work if you want it enough.
During our day at the park, we had the innovative idea to use a tree branch. A tree branch that was about 10 feet off the ground. A tree branch we had to climb to get to.
As our self-proclaimed photography friend and a lover of adventure, I happily volunteered for this exciting climbing opportunity.
Once I got up there, I set the timer for 10 seconds. In this 10 seconds, I blindly flung myself from this tree, ran into the grass where my friends were standing, fixed my hair and struck a pose so casual you’d never know that I just pulled a very irresponsible and dangerous stunt.
I did this about 10 times because of course, you never get the shot you want on your first try. I’d like to take this moment to officially advise you to be safer than this.
Bonus Tip: These days, phone cameras have multi-shoot options. When you use your timer, turn on multi-shoot. This will allow you to avoid doing ridiculous things like climbing the same tree 10 times in a row. Also, if you have a smartwatch, there is likely some way to use that as a remote shutter. Look into how to do this, and do it! It’s life-saving technology.
Being able to bring home amazing photos of your outings without excluding anyone from the picture is a great skill that anyone can learn. It’s amazing looking back at old photos and not only remembering the day and the people, but also the creative and hilarious methods you used to get the photo. Our time climbing trees and fixing our phones are some of the most vivid memories my friends and I have of that day we spent together, and I love that. It creates memories on top of memories, and that is priceless.
The “super-extra-self-proclaimed photography friend” may not be the hero you’re looking for, but it’s the hero your friends need.
And it can be you.