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Group Photograph: The Unexpected



In early one August afternoon, my assistant, Danny, and I headed south to Cape Cod to photograph Rick Burnes and his extended family. The photo was for The Boston Foundation’s Annual Report. Rick had thrived in the tech sector, actively worked for Boston Foundation programs and he and his wife, Nonnie, are generous donors. Rick and Nonnie are also role models for how donors can make a difference. I knew there would be 8 people in the photograph at the Burnes ‘camp.’ The Burnes’ have 3 grown children and all of them were visiting with their wives and kids.

 In group photos, there are many approaches, each posing different technical and editorial challenges. When I can, I like to layer the group. Rather than having everyone on the same plane, I set them atdifferent distances, arrange them, let them sometimes overlap. That was my plan with the Burnes’. I also had to be aware that the photo was destined for a two page spread, with a gutter running down the left side of the right quarter of the image. No people in that space.


We arrived on a beautiful late afternoon. Everyone had recently returned from the beach. There were many children on the scene. I chose the location to give a sense of place and depth. Then while the little kids were playing elsewhere the adults gathered and I began placing them, with Rick and his wife at the center. Finally everyone was in place. The fill lighting was set to go and I started shooting.

What followed were little adjustments of each part of the picture and an ongoing effort to engage everyone in the process. Then the something happened. One of the children was loose, running around the house. Unaware, he zoomed by the light stands toward the set and suddenly realizing his mistake, he stopped in his tracks. He looked at me. I saw the possibility and told him to keep going. He took off and, in the end, he made a good picture much better.

Good photography is about control and technical skill. It also begs for openness and acceptance of theunexpected.

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