Photographers love symmetry. We like things neat and we like horizons straight. That’s great for landscapes and products, but when you photograph groups of people you need to rein in your symmetry bug and set things a little off-kilter.
If you line up faces side by side with eyes and mouths at the same level it looks static and the people don’t look cozy or comfortable. Sometimes you can solve this simply by tilting the camera a little bit, which will misalign their eyes and mouths and it gives the image more energy. A rule of thumb is that when photographing couples you should line up the taller person’s mouth with the shorter person’s eyes, as in the couple below. Especially if you shoot vertically, this composition helps fill the frame with interest points.
When you’ve got multiple people, try to stagger them into little groups of three (as discussed in this article) and make sure faces don’t line up vertically or horizontally. One of the most static arrangements you can make is to have mom and dad sitting side by side each with a kid on their laps directly under their own faces. This square of faces looks really empty in the middle and you should avoid it. Have I done it? Of course I have! And then I always regret it when I review the pictures later.
Lastly, I’d recommend getting the adults all set up first and then add the kids. This gives you time to adjust the people without using up the limited time you get while kids are being well-behaved. Here are a few more examples of getting the faces out of the symmetrical grids we can so easily fall into.
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