How to Shoot an Annie Leibovitz-style Group Portrait with Affordable Gear

One way portrait photographers like Annie Leibovitz light large-scale group photos is by lighting smaller groups by themselves and then compositing everyone together into a large group. Photographer Barry Harley recently employed this technique with relatively affordable gear for a group photo with friends while on vacation.

Harley, his wife, and a group of friends were on a week-long vacation at Duns Castle in Scotland. The ancient site was the perfect location for an epic magazine-style group photo.

In Harley’s camera bag was an older Canon 5D Mark II DSLR (~$600 used these days), two Yongnuo YN-560 II flashes (which currently cost about $75), a PocketWizard, and a 43-inch Westcott bounce umbrella (~$20).

The group had brought along outfits specifically for the photo shoot, and upon arrival, Harley decided to shoot the portrait on the main entrance stairway of the castle.

After planning out everyone’s positions and fixing his camera on a tripod, Harley first shot some test shots and photos in which he properly lit different portions of the background.

Next, Harley lit and shot different groups of people using the flashes and umbrella mounted to a C-stand — some were small groups and some were large groups lit multiple times in different ways:

Once he had photographed all the group members, Harley began compositing the people onto a background photo he shot of just the stairs.

After some more grading and retouching, voila: the group portraits were done:

You can find more of Harley’s work on his website, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and Tumblr.

Image credits: Photographs by Barry Harley and used with permission