Having a photograph to remember your entire family reunion group, your graduating class or your wedding party is priceless. But if you’ve ever tried taking a large group portrait, you know it’s not easy. To successfully photograph large groups, professional photographers prepare well in advance.
Choosing your setting carefully and choosing the right backdrop or props will add to your photographs. A simple background and well-thought-out props, like bridesmaids’ bouquet will enhance your portraits rather than detract from them.
Additionally, you need good lighting. A built-in camera flash will not properly light a large group. If you want to take a professional-quality photograph of your group, you’ll want to know some professional terms. The more you know, the better your photographs are likely to turn out.
For example, is your camera digital or optical? What is your ISO (sensitivity to light?) You are taking professional grade photos, and you will be learning from professional photographers whether in person or online.
If you are not sure what a term means, you can click here for help. Now, let’s get started on your journey to the best picture you will ever take.
Do’s for Successfully Photographing Large Groups
Do use a wider angle lens
You may be very good with a standard camera, but they are not designed to take professional photographs. If you do not have a professional grade camera, consider renting one. Depending on the size of the group and the camera you are using, a lens with a minimum focal length between 18 and 35 mm will give you the best results.
Do visit the photo location in advance.
See what you have to work with and what you have to work around so you can plan and be prepared. If your location is in a wooded area, or other crowded location, you will need to find a place where there is room for the group.
Do communicate regularly with the organizer of the event.
What are they looking for? How many people will be in your groups? If it’s an indoor location, will you need to bring supplemental lighting?
If they want outdoor portraits, what is the expected weather? Do you have an alternative in case the weather is bad?
How will you pose the groups? Are you going to need seating? Are there steps or other natural posing aids available? Do you need to bring a stool or ladder to stand on in order to see the whole group?
Do increase your shutter speed
Your goal is to get a great shot. In order to successfully photograph a large group, most pros use a shutter speed of 1/200-1/250. Anything slower and you may risk camera shake or subject movement, leading to blurry photos.
Do use a tripod and a cable release
A tripod and cable release will keep your camera perfectly still. No matter how good you are, for a still photo, you need a tripod. You are still human and it is not until you review the photos that you realized you moved a bit while taking the picture.
Do consider your lighting needs
If you are photographing on a sunny day, you may have to pose your group in the sun. If this is the case, pose them with their backs to the sun. This will be more comfortable for your subjects and fewer people will be squinting.
If you have a choice, try to schedule your photographs in the early morning or late afternoon/evening when the sun is lower in the sky. The position of the sun makes photography more flattering and more comfortable for your subjects.
Before taking the photo remind your subjects that if they can’t see you, you can’t see them.
This is a common problem in large family group portraits. It seems like there is always someone trying to hide in the back because they aren’t happy with their appearance. Be sure you arrange your subjects and stagger your rows so you can see everyone’s face clearly.
Do pay attention to your background.
If your group chooses their location for the scenery or the background, pay attention to how it will look in the finished photograph. Make sure you can see it behind the group and make sure your background is level. If your background is not attractive, consider what you can do to minimize it in the photograph so it does not distract from your subjects.
Don’ts for Photographing Large Groups
Don’t set your camera once and assume it will be the same for every photograph.
Check between every pose or group change to make sure everyone and everything is in focus.
Don’t take only one picture.
You got the perfect photo on your first try? Even so, at least 2-5 more. With a large group, you’ll want to have several images to choose from. You may not notice someone closing their eyes or turning their heads. . And there’s always one joker in the group, making bunny ears or silly faces. The larger the group, the more shots you need to take. For example, with this group, we took about a dozen shots, knowing that a head swap or two may be likely.
Don’t be afraid to take control of the session
You need to stagger the people in the photograph to make it look more natural. Your subjects aren’t likely professional models. You need to tell them where to stand and what to do to get a great group photo. Also, if you notice someone’s shirt came untucked, or a zipper down, you have to speak up. You can do it discreetly, but if you don’t speak up, they will be unhappy with the finished photo.
Don’t just form one straight line
Using stairs, to create more than one row, or staggering heights by having some sitting and some standing make a more interesting photo.
Before you agree to photograph a large group, take the time to learn about the mechanics of photography. Learn how to use a camera and its features. Spend some time studying other group portraits ahead of time to get ideas for posing and lighting.
If you take your time and do your homework, you will be able to successfully photograph your large group, and make everyone happy with a photo they can treasure forever.
To find my equipment and gear recommendations for group photography, visit my Amazon Photography Store here.