What is the first thing you do when you get a secret organization of people together, be they heroes or villains? After all, this is supposed to be something that no one else can know about for various reasons, so you can't have matching uniforms, and secret passwords can be cliche.
Of course! You get everyone in one generalized location and throw a party of some sort. Maybe the heroes have some laughter and drinks to celebrate a victory, or the villains get to glower at each other.
Then somehow everyone is called together for a group picture that gives away the connections between every member at a glance, from a glowering glance to a fond smile, and the professional photographer says "Cheese!" They even stick around long enough that everyone there can get a copy for their nemesis, children or investigators to find!
These often crop back up at plot points, either as a method of finding the next 'clue' or a hit list by the group's enemies.
- One appeared in episode 14 of Tiger & Bunny, showing Barnaby's parents along with several other scientists (including the Mad Scientist who comes to play an important role in the last few episodes of the series) and Barnaby himself as a child.
- Every graduating class of X-Men takes such a picture in uniform. While the X-Men do wear uniforms, they are generally considered a secret society because the world at large has no idea who they are, where they come from, and where they go. And they are not a recognized superhero group like The Avengers or the Fantastic Four.
- League of Extraordinary Gentlemen: The League that comes together at the beginning of the series doesn't do this (that we see), but their headquarters has a group portrait of an earlier League.
- When Batman is investigating the Court of Owls, he finds several hidden lairs, all with photos taken of Court members with their latest Talon. Though everyone's wearing masks, so it's probably okay.
- In the first Grandville, Inspector Lebrock finds an old photo that contains the (then) future French Prime Minister, his main Corrupt Corporate Executive supporter, his (then) future ministers of military and secret police and the Gadgeteer Genius whose death Lebrock was investigating. It is one of the main pieces of evidence that ties the case together. In this instance, the photo was from a hunting party where a group photo would be a logical thing to happen. It just happened to contain all main players of the conspiracy.
- Alan Moore's Providence has a photograph of the Order of the Stella Sapiente taken by Ronald Underwood Pitman. Pitman notes that he was chosen by the group because he was a man of discretion (he has enough ghoulish secrets of his own to hide). The people in the photo are Garland and Leticia Wheatley (as a young girl), Edgar Wade, Henry Anneseley and at the center of the picture, Van Buren (aka Whipple Van Buren Phillips, Lovecraft's maternal grandfather who helped raise him) and next to him, a travelling salesman with an English accent identified by Pitman as "Winston something" (he is in fact Winfield Scott Lovecraft, HP's Dad).
- In Rough Riders, Thomas Edison uses the photo-op moment to test out one of his motion picture cameras with the team not really understanding that unlike a regular camera, it's not selective of the moments it captures, polluting the promo with bickering and missed cues.
- In the film A Series of Unfortunate Events, there was one as well. The children find it while looking through Aunt Josephine's album.
- The initial seven agents who dealt with NBE-1 are shown in photographs on Sector 7's walls in the first Transformers movie.
- This becomes the huge reveal of the movie The Village.
- In Atlantis: The Lost Empire, the expedition team pose for a photograph in front of their spoils. The next scene reveals that the whole thing will be covered up. There is also an earlier photo of the team that found the Shepherd's Journal.
- Used in The Ghost Writer together with Everyone Went to School Together to help the Ghost connect the dots.
- In The Facts in the Case of Mister Hollow, an Occult Detective and his eponymous source correctly presume Hollow's Spooky Photograph depicts a Mystery Cult operating in Ontario, but the atypically rustic environs, the jocularity of some of the figures, and several odd details heavily hint not only at its membership, but also its typical practices and methods of worship, including Human Sacrifice.
- The film of Watchmen loves this trope. During the opening credits alone we see a sepia toned photo of the original 1940 era Minutemen, the photograph taken at the first Silk Spectre's leaving meal and a picture of the new generation of Watchmen standing in front of an American flag.
- In Hellboy The Professor and the army personnel all take a photo with the title character even though he is later denied to exist.
- At the end of Now You See Me 2, when the Horsemen are welcomed to the secret headquarters of the Eye, Dylan finds a framed photograph of two of the Eye's senior members. By this point, it's no surprise that Dylan's father is one of them; the identity of the other is rather more of a revelation.
- An early scene in Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy features Smiley visiting a retired colleague who has an old picture of the team from the Circus.
- Michael Collins gets hold of a picture of the Cairo Gang—a team of plainclothes British intelligence officers targeting the IRA—that helps to identify them for later assassination.
- The Order of the Phoenix in the Harry Potter series has one, though its members were openly against Voldemort, and only their location was hidden.
- Vitals by Greg Bear has one of these. Late in the story the main characters find an old photo of the evil secret society that's been pursuing them. Cue shocked recognition, as one of the other main characters is in the photo and is revealed to be part of The Conspiracy.
- In Robert A. Heinlein's To Sail Beyond the Sunset, a photographer takes a photograph of Maureen Johnson, her daughter, her granddaughter, her great-granddaughter, and her great-great-granddaughter at a family wedding. One of the Howard Family Trustees points out that it could endanger the Howard Families' Masquerade if a photograph of five suspiciously young looking generations of the same family were leaked to the press.
- In Lemony Snicket: The Unauthorized Autobiography, members of the V.F.D. pose in a picture during the Second Annual Code-Breaking Picnic.
- Throughout The X-Files, Mulder found one or two photos of The Syndicate, which also featured his father, motivating his quest for the Truth. This is partly justified by the fact that the group that became the Syndicate existed as a relatively benign government agency well before it turned evil, and all their photos come from that time.
- There was also the group picture 'hit list' in Heroes. That one seems to have even been made in duplicate, making one wonder if they were handed out as Christmas gifts that removed all chances of plausible deniability.
- The 1974 Dharma Initiative group photo in Lost.
- One clue that leads Dexter to the Big Bad and his gang of rapists/serial-killers in season 5 is an old childhood photo showing all of them together, even though some of them denied knowing each other. Kind of justified as only someone who knew them anyway could identify everyone as children.
- In A Series of Unfortunate Events (2017), there is a group picture of members of the secret society V.F.D., including the Baudelaires' parents.
- In the animated series of Men in Black an episode focused on the founding members of MIB. The photo is both this and a of the founding itself, since it shows them meeting for the first time and experiencing First Contact. It's used as a reference for Jay, who is on the trail of someone who is using time travel to kill the founders before they can get together.
- Played with during two issues of the Young Justice tie-in comic, Cold Case and Hot Case. The team finds a photograph of the suspects for framing Nathaniel Adams for the murder that got him court-martialed during the Vietnam War— including his own lawyer. It turns out to be a conspiracy, and everyone in the photo was involved in both that and the trial. The photo belonged to the medical examiner. The only people connected to the trial who weren't in the photo and in on the crime were the judge, Wade Eiling, who later married Adams' wife and raised his children, and Adams himself... right? It turns out that Eiling wasn't in the photo because Eiling was the photographer, and no one was any the wiser.
- During The Wild West era, one gang decided to get a group picture taken. The copy displayed by the photographer wound up allowing the detective following them to find the gang.
- During The War on Terror, some of the American military staff at the infamous Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq had the bright idea to photograph each other inflicting Cold-Blooded Torture on prisoners. This came back to bite them in the ass once these photos ended up aiding the prosecution during war crime trials.