How to Take a Good Group Photo in 15 Minutes or Less

The key to group photos is planning — and how big you plan to use the photo can make a big difference in your planning. We don’t hang wristwatches on the wall, because their faces are so small you cannot tell time with them. In most family rooms, you could have a three-inch face clock and tell the time. In a classroom, you might need a 10-inch face. The clock face size is a good rule of thumb for determining whether someone will be recognized in a wall print at a normal viewing distance.

The more you show in a photograph other than people’s faces, the larger the photo needs to be to recognize the people, because their face size will diminish. If your group photo is more for identification, then getting everyone close together where you can see their faces should be the primary goal. Then you can run the photo in a publication and people can tell what everyone looks like.

On the other hand, if your photo is more about creating a mood for a poster of, say, a hip-hop band, then you will shoot much looser and space the people out and let their body language help establish the mood. For these concept/mood photos, I like to spread people out and put people at different heights (relative to their faces). I like to think in triangles. If you were to connect the dots (faces) between people, do they make triangles? Create depth by having some people closer to the camera and others further away. This will give it a more three-dimensional feel.

If you go to the music store and look at CD covers of music groups, you can see some of the leading work done in the industry. Try copying some of these until you get the hang of it and can come up with your own concepts.

If you pre-plan and have a good idea and have taken into consideration people’s sizes, you will move pretty quickly through the process. If you don’t, it goes slowly and your photo may fall apart — because you will lose the attention and interest of the people in the photo.

In scouting locations in advance, you are not only choosing a location because of the scenery; you are also ensuring you are there at the best time of day for a group photo. Having the sun right behind the group isn’t the best technical photo. Sometimes, a location won’t work simply because the group isn’t available at the right time of day to make the photo.

I have found that if you have done your homework, you can pretty much make any group photo in 10 to 15 minutes. You may get to the location earlier, but the people in the photo should be able to be placed into position immediately — and then you are just looking for good expressions.

One last thing that can make a great impact on the quality of your photo: either have a laptop computer or TV on location to view the images as you shoot. Virtually all digital cameras will plug into a TV and let you see the image big enough to assess the smallest details — enabling you to move people only inches and improve the final product.

[tags]group photos, photography tips[/tags]

4 Responses to “How to Take a Good Group Photo in 15 Minutes or Less”

  1. this has been very helpful...but the problem I seem to have with the group shot is getting everyone in the photo to be sharp and focused. Any suggestions on lens or settings would be great. I would love any input I could get on this. thanks
    kim bolyard

  2. The key to getting everyone in focus is depth of field, which is controlled with aperture. Close your aperture to f/5.6 or f/8, or even smaller if need be. To minimiz

  3. The key to getting everyone in focus is depth of field, which is controlled with aperture. The smaller your aperture, the larger your Depth of Field ("DOF", which is the area which appears to be in focus, both in front and behind your focal point). Close your aperture ("stop down") to f/5.6, f/8, f/11 or even smaller if need be; take test shots and examine them on your LCD with the image "zoomed in" to check focus throughout the image. Note that most dSLR's start losing a little sharpness when stopped down beyond f/11 to f/13 or so, though the slight loss in sharpness may be negligible for your purposes. Also, most lenses seem to be sharpest in the f/5.6 to f/8 range, assuming that is enough DOF for your shot.

    The trade off for a smaller aperture (which is numerically larger because it is the denominator of a fraction, i.e. f/8 is like 1/8 which is smaller than 1/2), is a need for more light. To minimize the need for greater DOF, for instance if you don't have a lot of light or you want the background out of focus, try to keep everyone in about the same plane. If you do have rows, or subjects are at different focal lengths, focus on someone in the middle of the range, because DOF extend both in front and behind your chosen focal point.

    Lastly, some lenses (probably all to some degree) have some field curvature, which means that the area that is "in focus" (the DOF) isn't a flat plane, but is curved. This means that as you move from the center of the lens toward the edges, the DOF curves, and subjects near the edge of the frame may be out of focus (for most lenses this isn't noticeable and even for "problem" lenses, may only be noticeable at larger apertures).

  4. I have been asked to photograph a large group, of 150, and wanted any suggestions for equipment and settings. This would be for a large company, and I have never done something like this before. I have photographed large groups like this, but just for my church. If the day is nice, we will be outdoors, if not we will be in a hotel shooting. Also, the company is wanting 100-150 8x10's and the digital image. What should I charge for a project like this?

    In addition, I have been asked by a friend to photograph a band of 8 musicians for their promo. I have some ideas for this shoot, but would welcome any outside ideas as well. I am also wondering how much to propose for this project. They will need 10 8x10's and will need the image as well.

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