Jenna Caplette
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Jenna CapletteJenna Caplette migrated from California to Montana in the early 1970s, first living on the Crow Indian reservation, then moving to Bozeman where she owned a downtown retail anchor for eighteen years. These days she owns Bozeman BodyTalk & Energetic Healthcare, hosts a monthly movie night, teaches and writes about many topics.

While out hiking recently, twice I’ve been asked to use someone’s iPhone to snap a group photo (Well, okay. One time I offered). Both times I wanted to take a good, memorable photo, capture the group’s delight in being with each other, but wasn’t sure how to achieve that with an iPhone (or even an unfamiliar point and shoot if I’m handed one). 

So I asked folks at F-11 Photographic Supplies for some basic tips for helpful things to say and do when you ask someone to take your group photo while on your next outing. 

First, it’s self-evident that these types of photos are posed. That in itself creates a challenge. Ask people to hold still and smile while you fiddle with getting everything just right with a camera and their smile disappears just as you snap the shutter. Become familiar with whatever camera you are using before you start. Spontaneity makes great photos. If you talk with them, or ask them to interact with each other, you‘re likely to do much better. Watch for the right moment and the next right moment. Photograph them all. Remember. It’s just pixels. You can afford to be extravagant. 

Take a couple moments to check the background of the shot. It can be a distraction, or a feature if you’re being asked to incorporate a particular mountain/tree/landmark/monument. Be careful. A photo of a child with a tree sticking out the top of their head is memorable but probably not in the way you want. Bright lights in the background, particularly when your subjects are standing in subdued light or shade, can also be distracting.

To separate your subject(s) from the background of the image, get close to them or have them move closer to you. All the while your central focus needs to be the subject’s eyes. If the camera has one, use a telephoto lens to blur the background, leaving no question as to what the image is about. With an iPhone or iPad, use the focus box and expand or contract it by moving your fingers on the screen out, or in. To focus on a particular face, tap it and give the camera a moment to adjust. This also sets exposure to the face so that it’s not silhouetted.

If everyone will be patient with you, experiment with camera angles and perspectives – take a shot from above, or one kneeling and shooting up. Get closer, fill the frame, and then back up.

You won’t be able to control the time of day. These shots happen whenever and wherever. But if you can plan an outdoor shot, shoot during “the golden hours:” the two hours after sunrise or before sunset. Photos taken when the midday sun glares will seem hard, or harsh, with not much texture or interest, because the light comes from directly overhead. Learn  how to turn on the camera’s flash and let it help to soften deep shadows under eyes and hat brims. 

Embrace overcast days and those with rain and wind. They offer an opportunity to capture a different feeling – grasses rustle at your subject’s feet, their clothes billow out, water clings to eyelashes. These details give character specific to the time and place, perfect for remember-this-moment photos.

Now, when the roles are reversed and you ask someone to take your photo, tell them everything they need to know in order to capture the image you want, including what background to incorporate (or not) and how to get some light on people’s faces. 

And here’s the most essential tip of all: before the party breaks up and you hand the camera back (or after you are handed yours) check that there is at least one picture with eyes open and good expressions on people’s faces.