Taking candid group photographs is all about timing — and patience. You have to choose your moments carefully.
I was at Connecticut’s Mystic Aquarium and had been watching a small group of people interacting with a Beluga whale, and I thought it would make a great shot. Provided, of course, that 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 I had the whale in place, one of the people would step in front of someone else or make an awkward gesture. And when the people were looking good, the whale was nowhere to be found.
Watch, Wait and Shoot
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 pre-focus on the whale during a trial exposure, since he kept surfacing (at the commands of the trainer) 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. I just watched the scene with my naked eye, ready to fire when the shot moment looked good. If I could have had the camera on a tripod, I would have — but they’re not allowed there.
I took a similar approach in photographing the children below at a beach in Titusville, Fla. I waited until all three kids were gesturing in an interesting way before shooting. (I then edited the image in Photoshop to create a watercolor look.)
There are a few reasons for using your naked eye instead of constantly peering through the viewfinder. For one, you can see things that you can’t see through the viewfinder — like when the Beluga whale is about to surface, for example.
Just as importantly, you’re more in touch with the moment when you’re not stuck behind the camera. I try to watch the scene like a cinematographer, just waiting for the best moment. All you have to do is watch, wait and shoot.