6 Keys to Shooting Great Group Photos

6 Keys to Shooting Great Group Photos

A Guest Post by Wayne Turner from http://www.21steps2perfectphotos.com

Photographing people in groups is a challenge especially when shooting young children. Understanding the dynamics and a few fundamental steps will assist in shooting group shots of quality. Every one is unique so there is always a challenge. These keys will show you just how easy it is to take a great image.


I am always hesitant to shoot large groups of people for the basic reason that it’s difficult to get everyone doing the same thing at the same time. So, I prefer to shoot a large group divided into smaller, more intimate groups. This has great advantages and enables you to see more of the people in the image instead of tiny faces scattered across the photo.

Here are some keys to shooting quality images.

1. Small is better

As I have just said it’s important to have less people with more of the people in the image. Groups are shot for memories. You want to remember the event and people. Rather have two groups of three of four than a large group of eight. Smaller groups are easier to direct and placing the subjects is far more simple.

2. Planning a shot is essential

Planning is key to any good photo shoot. Become a director like in the movies. Don’t just let people stand where they want to. Move the people around and create a more interesting scene. Be creative and go beyond tall people at the back and short to the front. Group others around the most important person in the image. Know where you want each person to stand in relation to the whole group.

3. Good location is vital

Where you take the shot is very important. Of course there are times where you are limited as to where you can shoot. But always be aware of your backgrounds and the edges of your image. You don’t want elements in the photo that distract from the main subjects but you do want something that will help the group stand out from their background without any distractions. Sometimes it’s great to place the group in their context, for example, a surfing team needs something at the beach and not a wooden fence.

4. Get in close

This principle ties in with our first point. You want to get in close to the group which is why you don’t want it too large. The closer you are the more detail you’ll see in their faces. If the group is large try to get them to get their heads closer together. Excluding body parts is fine but nobody wants to see half a head. Again, you are creating memories not just a record of an event. As the old adage goes, less is more. Fewer people but more detail.

5. Use the multiple shot feature on your camera

This is especially useful when taking shots of small groups but absolutely essential when shooting large groups. Taking multiple shots makes it easier to get the shot as there might only be fractions of a second when everyone is looking at the camera and not blinking. By shooting on continuous mode you’ll pick up dynamics in the group which you may not usually find in a single calculated photo.

6. Be happy

There is nothing worse in a group photo situation than a tired and grumpy old photographer. Be happy even if you don’t feel like it. People feed off the energy of others and a smile or a laugh can be contagious. A smile will most times relax your subjects and make them feel happier. Engage them, tell jokes and above all find ways to relax them. If you are not in a great mood don’t do the photo shoot.

No group is the same as the next even when you’re shooting class after class at the local school. Every group has its own dynamic. What drives it. So find this out and milk it for all its worth. Shooting groups can be a lot of fun if you take the time to get into their world and engage them. Remember that practice makes perfect and the more you do it the better you will become. Happy shooting!

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Some Older Comments

  • david procter July 17, 2010 04:59 pm

    Superb advice! I find it very stressful photographing large groups.
    I had to photograph a wedding collective a couple of years ago and chose to go up and shoot from a roof!
    Worked out well but was spontaneous and I just about got away with it! Planning ahead essential.

  • Josué Plante July 13, 2010 12:02 am

    I need to take a large group shot of 27 persons, with 6 VIP and 3 important persons.

    My best option by now is 3 rows. 8, 9 and 10 persons by row.
    This will allow me to put the people in back between the person in front of them.
    It will give something like this...

    x x x x x x x x x x
    x x x x x x x x x
    x x x x x x x x

    I guess I will have to use a large DoF to make sure everyone is sharp, something around f/10.
    Does anyone have an idea of another standing setup I could use ?
    All advices are welcome !!!

  • Linabug June 5, 2010 02:18 pm

    I am an amature so may not understand all I am reading. But I also feel that smaller groups would be better.
    At my mother's 75th birthday celebration I took pictures of her with groups divided by her siblings; hrer children but not with her and each child.
    Shortly avter her borthday one of my brothers passed away. Although I have several short of him with all sibling and mother and thoes are great. But I do feel that if I had taken a shot of her and my brouther she would have treasured it.

  • Jason Collin Photography June 5, 2010 01:17 pm

    @greg your issue is definitely DoF related. You'd be lucky to get both eyes on one person's face in focus shooting at f/1.8! Are you using a 50mm or 85mm f/1.8 lens? Even shooting at f/5.6 depending on how close to the people you are and how wide of an angle you are shooting at, you risk not getting some people completely in focus. The solution is to shoot at a smaller aperture and to make sure people line up in the same plane as much as possible. Don't let the people at the ends curve in too much.

    Also, I always use single point focus when photographing people. I set that single point of focus on a person's eyes if they are all lined up in the same plane, then recompose how I like.

    @XIII -- great observation! touche!

  • River Junction Olde Tyme Portraits June 5, 2010 05:39 am

    We shoot lots of large groups, but always ask if they want smaller groups of just the kids, just the girls, just the guys...etc... and sometimes just do them while they are getting ready. Have found a lot of times the "non posed" "not ready" shots are the best ones where they are interacting with each other. We do primarily the "olde tyme" sepia but also do Greenscreen for them as well as for traditonal family portraits on location or in studio. [eimg url='C:\Documents and Settings\RIVER JUNCTION\My Documents\My Pictures\our family olde tyme photos\fam best mean.jpg' title='C:\Documents and Settings\RIVER JUNCTION\My Documents\My Pictures\our family olde tyme photos\fam best mean.jpg']

  • XIII June 4, 2010 11:47 pm

    I like how the sample shot contradicts the very first point of the post. ;)

  • Mindy June 4, 2010 03:42 am

    I love the sample shot - it's beautiful, and captures such a good feeling too.

  • Kim J June 4, 2010 03:42 am

    #1 doesn't make any sense. The whole point of shooting a group, regardless of their size, is that they want to be photographed together. It would to stupid to break a larger group up into smaller groups, just because the photographer can't handle a large group. Then even "stupider," the indviduals have to get 2 or 3 photos of the supposed group, which doesnt look like a group any more.

  • Greg June 4, 2010 02:09 am

    Hi there,
    I seem to have a recurring problem when I shoot head and shoulder shots of 2 or more people. I'm usually shooting without a flash so I'm using a larger apeture (1.8). The problem is I get one person in focus and not the other - not a terrible difference but notable. I'm not certain if this is afocus setting issue (21 point autofocus) or adepth of field issue (one person is usually slightly infront or behind the other). Suggestions?

  • Rennie June 4, 2010 02:05 am

    When the group (large or small) is comprised of people of vastly different skin tones, what is the best way to deal with lighting?

  • Wayne Turner May 29, 2010 06:12 am

    Let again try to add some clarification. I am not opposed to big group shots where big group shots are essential. You don't want to divide a soccer team up. This is more in reaction to those huge family and friend shots where everyone is in it but you can't identify anyone. Maybe the title could be Better Ways to Make Great Group Memories:-) Anyhow it's great getting some discussion going. That's what I love about this site, no one is an authority and yet everyone is an authority. I love the input.

  • Jason Collin Photography May 29, 2010 01:00 am

    @Robbie Lopez

    You did a nice job with that group shot. If you wanted to brighten it up at all you can just increase your shutter speed next time or simply dodge some of the areas using PS.

    I also bring a 3 foot (1m) step stool with me for all group and formal shots, offering a landscape, portrait, then from above landscape and portrait choice to the clients. For my own style I like to shoot from a low angle also for portraits.

  • Amir Paz May 29, 2010 12:24 am


    a very small group, consisting of my 2 kids in a dog show

    this picture shows rules 2 and 3 in action

    hope you enjoy :)

    we enjoyed making it, so i guess rule number 6 also applies here :)


  • Flores May 29, 2010 12:00 am

    Seeing the picture above. That's my problem for so long already. How to make the background clear a.k.a not blur? With my P&S camera, all background are clear but with my Nikon DSLR, all background are blur. I want to see background coz it is the reason I took the picture that is to say that I was in this beautiful place or landscape. Greetings!

  • Robbie Lopez May 28, 2010 03:12 pm

    Group shots are most definitely a challenge. Just looking at the size of Jason Collin's group made me cringe. A few months ago though, I was given a similar problem as I had a group to shoot, at night, in a closed space. Fortunately, the place had a balcony, so it worked out nicely for me, but groups of large size definitely make me nervous; although, I have considered starting to carry a small foldable ladder to get the higher ground.


    The shot I am referring to:

  • Jason Collin Photography May 28, 2010 06:18 am

    @killian Thanks...I recently did an even larger group but have not posted it yet....

  • Killian May 28, 2010 05:45 am

    @Jason -- I love your shots from that wedding. Beautiful! The group shot is really quite good, despite the size. Kudos!

    I do sports teams too, and I find it easier to "talk about" the shot before setting it up. We decide ahead of time if it'll be a "smiling" shot or a "serious" shot. (Apparently, U15 boys are too tough to smile!) I tell them of the arrangement before I have them get there -- the front row will be on their left knees with their right knee propped and their hands on the propped knee. (Just an example!) It allows them to just get into position and spend as little time "posing" as we can. Kids are notorious for fidgeting, no matter what their ages, so quick is better in that realm.

    I love getting in close too; I'd rather not have a lot of space around the team. Funny story -- I shot the aforementioned U15 boys on weekend, with the coach having sent out no less than 2 emails warning the team that they needed to be there early for team shots, etc. I showed up, they showed up, and one player was missing. He never called or emailed the coach, just blew off the game. The coach waited til after the game to do the team photo just in case he showed up, to no avail. So he shrugged, and we shot.

    After the prints were back and emails sent out with information on purchasing, the coach got an indignant email from the missing boy's parents, demanding to know what WE were going to do about the fact that he was not in the team photo! They wanted us to shoot him solo and PhotoShop him into the team shot. Unbelievable.

  • Jeremy Hall May 28, 2010 02:11 am

    These are great tips overall, but I think a clarification of point #4 is needed. I agree as a general that you want to "get in close" to the group to get as much detail on individuals and expressions. Obviously you want to include the scene as you mention in #3. I think this can be misinterpreted though that you should be physically close to the group and use a wider lens, which is (most often) the opposite of what you want to do. You will get better compression of the subjects going further back and zooming in (or using a longer lens), getting the sizing of the people more accurage and also a better compression of the background.

  • Shkhin May 28, 2010 12:48 am

    Well my friend, I totally disagree with you. While breaking the groups work, it does not work in more than ONE situation. Breaking the group results in STRAYING people as I may call it. That is why I recommend editing your article.
    With Regards,

  • Jason Collin Photography May 28, 2010 12:17 am

    For a recent beach wedding the wedding party and guests all wanted a shot together. So I did the best I could with my single off camera strobe for a group of ~35 people!


    I just tried to get everyone's head visible as much as possible before taking the shot. Was working against the clock as had to photograph the bride and groom in front of the sunset.

  • Earlsy May 27, 2010 07:56 pm

  • Earlsy May 27, 2010 07:54 pm

    [eimg link='http://www.flickr.com/photos/earlsy1/4520337376/' title='Everyone in the Garden' url='http://farm5.static.flickr.com/4065/4520337376_8c6b9c1c8c.jpg']

  • Earlsy May 27, 2010 07:53 pm

    I took a picture recently and was surprisingly pleased with the result. I had grand parents siblings from both sides of the family. They were all in different parts of the garden and I just saw a cool picture in my mind.

    This is the result:

  • jamesdon May 27, 2010 07:22 pm

    are my eyes failing me or is that sample photo totally out of focus?!

  • Wayne Turner May 27, 2010 03:49 pm

    Hi Guys

    Thanks for the comments. Sorry for not making it clearer. I was more focused on the amateur photographer who shoots family and friends rather than a team or a large staff shot for a business. Those big family group shots trying to get everyone in the shot don't always work. Shooting more for memories. My father was one who liked to disappear in a large family group shot. Now that he's gone I wish I shot smaller family groups with more of the person in the image. I have seen so many family and friend shots that you need a magnifying glass to see their faces clearly. So there are are pros and cons and I do agree with some of your comments. I just like smaller groups and seeing more of a person.

  • Victor Augusteo May 27, 2010 11:11 am

    agree with the rest of the comments, size of the group doesn't really matter.

    people are much more lively when posing in a big big group.

  • Andy MIlls May 27, 2010 08:51 am

    Big groups or small groups - if at all possible, why not do both types and give the client a choice?

  • 365 Photography Tips May 27, 2010 08:23 am

    Don't agree with you, mate. Big groups photos in my opinion are usually better due to the diversity of gestures, their different facial expressions, etc. It's more entairtaining to observe them all in one piece..

  • bev May 27, 2010 07:35 am

    I find myself having to take the kids' sports team photos (and class photos). Typically you don't have a lot of options then as to time of day or location (or group size). I try to make sure I have a flash on hand in case I need a fill flash to counter harsh day sun (soccer fields often don't have any shade!). I also look around to see if I can move them to a background with least distractions (nice green hedge behind) or something topical like the goal or Golden Gate Bridge in background (the field had a great view!). You definitely have to direct them to have kids at various heights. I also try the trick of having everyone close their eyes and only open them when I finish the count down - limits # of closed or squinting eyes. We also usually do a "goofy" photo and a serious one - some of the kids are going to goof anyway so sometimes they'll cooperate more if you get it out of the way.

  • David May 27, 2010 07:22 am

    All very well saying to shoot less people but, for a start I dont consider groups of 8 to be in any way excesive but also very often people dont WANT smaller groups, e.g. a class photo, the class want their photo to contain ALL the children in the class not just a handful, whats the point of a class photo that only have 4 children in it when there are 30 in the class? and certainly no parent is going to buy 6 or 7 photps of a class to stick them all together and make 1 group picture, they want the photographer to do that for them!

  • Robert May 27, 2010 06:43 am

    Photo isn't working.