One of the followers of this blog wrote and asked for some tips about shooting group photos. In the next few days I'll go through my files and see if I can come up with a good "posed" group portrait to write about, but in the meantime I came across this candid (obviously!) shot taken at Mystic Aquarium and thought it illustrated a good point about candid group shots: choose your moments carefully.
I had been watching this small group of people interacting with a Beluga whale and thought it would make a great shot provided I could get everyone--including the whale--to look attractive and do something interesting at the exact same moment. Considering that I didn't know any of the people and the whale probably wasn't going to pose for me, it was a tough situation. Every time that I had the whale in place, one of the people would step in front of someone else or just make an awkward gesture, etc. And when the people were looking good, the whale was no where to be found.
I finally decided that the best thing to do was just be patient and wait for the shot with the exposure and focus set in the manual modes. I had the lens in the manual-focus mode so that I could prefocus on the whale during a trial exposure since he kept surfacing (at the commands of the trainer--the woman on the left) in the precise same spot. I set the camera down on a flat rock surface (at the edge of the pool) with the people pre-framed where I wanted them and I tried to look at the scene through my viewfinder as little as possible and just watch the scene with my naked eye and fire when the shot moment looked good. If I could have the camera on a tripod (not allowed there) I would have.
There are a few reasons for using your naked eye instead of constantly peering through the viewfinder (it was too bright to use an LCD, even if my DSLR had had Live View and it didn't). For one, you can see things that you can't see through the viewfinder--like the whale underwater, about to break through the surface. And also, you're more in touch with the moment when you're not stuck behind the camera. I tried to watch the scene like a cinematographer, just waiting for the best moment and it worked.
This technique can work at home or family picnics, too. Even if you're photographing your kids on the swings in the backyard, for example, if you set the camera on a tripod and pre-frame the scene, you can just talk to your kids face to face and use a cable release or a remote (I was using a cordless remote--$15 from Nikon) to fire the camera. With the focus and exposure on automatic (I often use the Program mode for shots like this), all you have to do is watch, wait and shoot.
9 hours ago