The Group Shot
By Erik Gould
Most people would assume that when you make a group shot of a collection of objects such as a coffee or tea service that you would arrange them just as if were setting a table. In reality, that sort of arrangement rarely looks right in a photograph.
When laying out a group of objects, you have to keep in mind the one-eyed single point of view of the camera. Understanding the differences between the way we see and the way a camera “sees” is of course fundamental in photography, and it becomes very obvious when taking on this type of task.
In this case, I was asked to photograph a 14-piece coffee set. I started with the key pieces—the coffee pot and the sugar bowl—and then built the shot around them piece by piece. When we were photographing on film, this would involve many Polaroid test shots. Now the digital camera is connected directly to a computer, and I’m able to view a live video image on the monitor. Each element is placed and adjusted to give each object its own space, and where overlaps occur, I make sure that happens in a clear and un-confusing way. There are no hard rules for this; I’m looking to create a balanced composition that is also simple and descriptive.
This is a set-up constructed to look good only from one point in space. Seen from above or behind, the placement can seem quite odd and often surprising.
Meissen Porcelain Manufactory, Partial Coffee Service, ca. 1760. Bequest of Susan Martin Allien