How to take group photos?

Perhaps it may seem trivial to do a tutorial on how to do group shots, but think about it, doing a good portrait is already hard enough and doing a group photo multiplies the difficulty by the number of people who appear in the photo.

You have to avoid common mistakes, such as caring for the expression, one person looking the other way or a figure overlapping the other, to more technical things, such as how to properly choose the focal length or how many people will make up the group.

What you must consider

You must have several factors in mind as that will increase your chances of success:

  • On the first place, as in all the photos, planning counts. The more information you have before taking the picture, the better you will do.
  • Second, the lightning. You have to know if you will take the picture indoors or outdoors, if you are going to need some padding, a focus, a flash.
  • Third, the composition. You need to know what focal length you will use, and how you will place it in regards to the group, depending on how large it is, and how you will distribute it.
  • And also you must give special attention to focus, because it is very important in portraits.

Let’s work on an example, as it is easier to explain.

Imagine that you get an assignment of taking pictures to all classes in a school. You know that in every class there are 25 children. You choose a site, preferably with an open shade, so that the light is soft and the sun does not shine directly into their eyes so that they don’t close it. Keep in mind that all children have to appear the same size, no one can be twice the size than the other, so that they all are in focus and, if possible, that all look at the camera, but the photo can’t appear excessively forced.

What lens to use

It’s not worth using angle lenses. An angle lens will force you to work very close to the front row and the back row will be far away. Then the children of the first row will be much larger than the ones of the last row. You should ideally use a 105 mm lens or a 70-200 mm zoom lens, this will force you to work around a distance of 8-10 meters of children.

Preparing the photo

When you are doing the planning, you should consider whether the project will last a day or more. That’s why we said before to look for a site with an open shade, meaning to find a place that, whether is cloudy or sunny, it has a day light level similar to the previous day. It’s important that the work is consistent, as it is not acceptable to review a job where there are pictures of a cloudy day or photos of a sunny day, when it is always the same groups of children.

Once we have made the composition and see that all children fit well, let’s say that you organize three rows to accommodate all children, and then choose a medium diaphragm aperture, such as 5.6 or 8, and focus on the children who would be in the middle row. This will ensure you that the depth of field will cover the first and last row.

Shooting the photo

The next thing is to make a test shot and correct exposure. It is advisable to do a lot of photos in burst because it is very difficult, and in the case of children, for all of them to look at the same time to the camera, for none to close their eyes, and none that cover the face of the other. I usually mount the camera on a tripod and do twenty pictures of the group. In post-processing I change some expressions and at the end you get a picture all with children looking at you with a relaxed expression.

Other examples

Imagine that you’re at a wedding, in which there will be two types of groups: the bride and the groom and their families, and then other groups, such as friends or other relatives, who will ask you for unplanned photos. For the first group the advice we have given to you before is useful, as it’s better to use a telephoto lens or a lens of more than 50 mm because face proportions won’t look so deformed.

Remember, if you use flash and you have to place several lines of people, it is important that you get away as far as you can. The flash light will be more powerful for the people in the first row than the ones in the second row in the event that you are very close, that’s why if you increase the distance to the group, the flash will light everyone more evenly.

As for impromptu photos that you obtain, you must give more importance to making the portrait more casual. You don’t have to worry much either if you are one meter closer or farther, expression should prevail and it should be implied that these people are at a party. You can’t even take any angle shot. But if you want to make it a more formal group, you can use a 50 mm lens and win more distance from people when you’re going to take the picture.

Note that all this is to obtain a correct group picture. Group photos of bands, dance companies, orchestras… are made by professional photographers who will possibly overlook all these rules, as they know them but they deliberately choose to ignore them. But that is a type of production that most people like us don’t really have access to, with assistants, lighting and everything you would need to develop a project like that. Of course, these pictures are carefully planned; everything on set to be shot, everything is written and planned well in advance.

Do you usually do group shots? what problems do you often get? If you have any doubts or question… leave it in the comments section below 🙂

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