19 Apr 2017

From Formal to Crazy, 6 Different Jiu-Jitsu Team Formation Photos

Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu gyms all over the world are universally proud to display their group team photos. A good team photo is a front window to the wider world. But the presentation can vary quite a lot so I thought I'd take a look at the different approaches gyms take when it comes to the group photo and offer some of my own commentary on the topic:

1. The Three Row Line-up
Gyms with large student numbers or an event where there are a lot of participants present a logistical problem when it comes to the group photo. I have been to some events where arranging these line-ups can take almost as long as the seminar itself! The results however display a neat and professional visage to the outside world so it is worth putting the effort in.

Three rows seems to be the right format regardless of numbers. It just looks aesthetically more pleasing compared to two rows or four+ rows. Many of the classic three-row photos have their head instructors forming a smaller break away row in the foreground - thus technically making them four row line-ups although I would still count these within this category. It is also extra pleasing to the eye to arrange the participants according to gi colour.

Fightworx Taunton BJJ. The Three-Row line-up works for groups big or small

Technical thoughts: Most compact cameras should have enough of a wide angle lens setting to accommodate a very wide line-up. One alternative however is to set the lens at a fixed focal length and take several shots while panning across the room. There are plenty of free apps that can then stitch these together. The resulting stitched images show greater clarity and detail, although watch out for distortion and movement in between shots. The way students line up should also be coordinated: taller students at the back standing, middle row are students who are in high kneeling position while the very front row should be in low kneeling posture or cross legged.

2. The Superhero 'V'
This style of group photo provides great drama and power. It is also a convenient way to display a lot of students within a limited width sized room. Ideally I think it is best used when there is a single identifiable 'leader' to form the apex of the 'V' and ideally it works best when everyone is wearing the same gi colour.

Photo by Joshua Halvatzis

Photo by Paul Lukowski
Technical thoughts: one possible problem is a lack of sharpness on the faces of the background people so I wouldn't use too wide an aperture setting (small F-number). It is also advisable to set the camera a bit further back than normal for a linear group photo) otherwise you force the perspective point of view a bit too much. I would set the sightline at eye level or even slightly higher so that the subjects are looking a touch upwards towards the camera lens - this plays on the 'V' aspect nicely. Lighting might also be a problem as overhead lights can vary in brightness across the floor space. Finally, I would avoid any horizon lines that conflict in the background eg windows, wall mats etc).

3. The Band Parade
This line up is handy because it can accommodate a lot of participants and (if people are seated), it doesn't matter if participants are big or small. Assuming everyone is lined up neatly, it is very pleasing to the eye and reminds me of the formation that a band would use when marching and playing. Another way to describe this I guess would be a caterpillar line up.

Photo by Paul Severn
Photo by Colin Nwadike. New Wave Academy/Checkmat Croydon
Photo by Nick Tiscoe / North Shore BJJ Newquay
This style also works for standing up participants (Photo by Wilson Junior)

Technical thoughts: the rigid, military style, structure of this formation requires a little but more planning when it comes to camera placement. The camera needs to be fairly high so that one person's head does not obscure the face of the person behind him. The participants ideally ought to be seated exactly the same and resist the temptation to bob heads to one side in order to be seen. Aperture settings and lighting will also be a concern as with the V line up above due to how far back the subject can go.

4. The Single-Row
Despite my liking for the three-row line-up mentioned in (1) above, the single line of BJJ students can present a less formal but still powerful 'brothers and sisters in arms' style of image. Such images work best when the participants are close together and not forming a linear line, but curving inwards.

Photo by Tarik Bilgiç
A creative variation on the single-row line up is to take the photo from one end of the line, giving the image a nice sense of perspective. This style of group shot can tolerate a lot more variation in the way participants stand and in fact, breaking up the line of sight here is actually a good thing.

Photo by Jessica Stanley
Photo by Aaron Smithies
The photo below shows outstanding art direction and photography skills. It reminds me of a Vanity Fair cover shoot. Despite the participants posing in a variety of body positions, I would still classify this as a single-row line-up photo.

Photo by James Duncalf
Technical thoughts: the straight on single-row image is probably the easiest to photograph. But things change when you aim for the perspective version as members further back might not be in focus, so same as with (2) and (3) above, watch that aperture setting and the variation in lighting. Another thing to watch out for are any horizontal lines in the background (eg wall mats, window line etc) doesn't compete with the eye-line of the subjects.

5. The Selfie-stick
Not everyone has time to arrange and organise a neatly presented group photo. In many cases it isn't required when all one wants is to post an informal end of class group photo. This is where a selfie stick comes in handy to showcase the lighter side of club training.

Mark Andrew Bottom and team from EKBJJ North
Me with my students at Borehamwood BJJ Club
Technical thoughts: selfies offer an instant source of intimacy and informality. But the front facing cameras on many cameraphones are usually poorer in quality so best not used for formal marketing. due to the way they are held quite high, self stick images do tend to all look rather similar as participants peer upwards at the camera. Not a bad thing but best not to over-use this platform.

6. Goofing around
This is a miscellaneous section where participants break away from convention and just do random stuff for the camera. Despite their informality, a bit of coordination does pay dividends with an eye catching group photo.

Dan Strauss nogi after class group photo
Photo by Mišo Guča Gulík
Photo by Harry Mcknight
Photo by Carl Fisher / Checkmat Wimbledon
Photo by John Sibson

Photo by Robert Etheridge / Grapple Cancer symbol
Cobrinha seminar photo I took in 2010. Hands aloft for some reason was a thing!

If there are other team formations you know of and want to mention, please comment below.
My many thanks to members of the UK BJJ Underground Facebook Group for supplying photos and granting premission to use within this blog.


About the Author


Author & Artist

Meerkatsu is the artist name for BJJ black belt Seymour Yang.



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