There are lots of occasions when you may need to photograph a group of people, and plenty of times when that group will be large, too. Anywhere from three to thirty people can cause issues for you when you are trying to take their picture, and it can happen in plenty of situations – family portraits, weddings, events, and so on.
It’s tough to photograph a group and get it right. You might end up with people looking in the wrong direction, or closing their eyes. The dynamic could be odd, with some people grinning and others looking serious. You might have an uninspiring composition because you are just focusing on getting everyone in the shot. You might also come up against the worst problem of them all – an image in which half the group is out of focus.
But it doesn’t have to be this way. Here are our top tips for getting those large group portraits right – and keeping them all in focus!
Image is courtesy of Shannon Squires Photography – Edited using the Chasing Rainbows – Sky Overlay and Photoshop Action Collection
Large groups can be fairly disorganized, so it’s up to you to make sure that everything is going as planned. You will likely need to shout, so keep your words clear and precise. Tell them exactly what you want them to do. If you need someone to move, try pointing or adopting the pose you want them to try, so that it is easier to understand what you want. Try to be as clear as possible and get things done as quickly as you can.
A crowd will lose more and more interest over time, so if you spend ages getting them into the right places, you may find that you now have to go back and correct other people who have drifted or forgotten what you told them. If you’re in a busy situation like a wedding, you will also need to get these shots taken as quickly as possible so that you do not get in the way of the event.
Don’t be afraid to lose your voice or ask people to listen to you. They will appreciate that you need to get the photo right, and that you know what you are talking about!
This is really important, and it will help with taking control as well. The time constraints mentioned above can be a real hindrance if you do not know what you are doing. You have no time to stop and think about how you want the image to look – you just need to tell people where to go and when. This is why it is so essential to plan things out ahead of time.
Where do you want them to stand? What kind of light will be hitting them? How would you like to arrange them? How will you make sure that you can see everyone’s face? Do you need to get to a higher position so you can see everyone properly? Put these plans in place ahead of time and you can create something much more exciting than a group of people standing in a line.
Image is courtesy of Shannon Squires Photography – Edited using the Butterfly Whispers – Overlay and Photoshop Action Collection
Don’t just take one photograph, pause, and check it – you will lose your group. Instead, switch your camera into continuous mode and take a large amount of photographs in quick succession. Three to five should be the minimum for any given group set-up. This gives you the chance to capture people with their eyes open! If someone blinked in the first shot, then by the third, they should be alert and normal again. It also means that if you get the dreaded moment where every shot has a closed eye, you can composite the images easily as nothing else has moved in the meantime.
So what about that focus problem? Well, this can arise from several situations. Sometimes you have people formed into a U-shape, so that the ones on the edges are closer to the camera than the ones in the middle. Sometimes with a larger group, you have more than one row of people in the frame. Even if you think that you have your aperture open to the right number – which is very important for setting up the shot correctly with a wider depth of field – you might still not capture everyone.
The reason for this is that you might not understand the basics of your depth of field. No matter what you set your aperture to, the way your camera works is that around a third of the focus is in front of your focal point, with around two thirds behind. Again, it doesn’t matter whether you have a very small depth of field or a very wide one – this is all about the percentage. So what happens if you focus on someone in the middle of your U-shaped group? That one third of your depth of field might not cover all of them.
Readjust, and try focusing on the person closest to the camera instead – likely someone on the edges. Now what happens? Instead of trying to cover every one in one third of your depth of field, now you have two thirds to play with. That’s double the distance! If you still can’t get everyone in focus, there are two options – firstly, ask them all to straighten up a bit to reduce the challenge. Secondly, change your settings so that your depth of field is wider.
If you’re focusing on someone in front but losing people in the back, then you have another option besides those two which might work. You can guesstimate where the thirds of your group work out to, and focus on someone a little way back from the front who will still be in that first third. Now you are using the whole of your depth of field to cover the group instead of just a little portion. It’s as simple as that!
Have you struggled with photographing groups before, and come up with a way to make it work? Let us know your personal tips and tricks in the comments!