16 Do’s and Don’t to Photograph Large Groups

As we head into summer and the season of family reunions and gatherings, many of you may be asked to photograph large groups. I come from a HUGE family where taking photos of our gang in never a simple task! Over the years I have been the designated photographer for our family reunions. I just returned from our reunion in Southern Utah and wanted to share some things I learned! Here’s some quick do’s and don’ts to photograph large groups.

DO:

1. Do bring along your tripod and a handheld remote.
This is especially important if you plan to be in the group shot. A remote is much easier than using your self-timer on your camera because you can take multiple images (set your camera to continuous shooting mode) one after another, rather than running back and forth and trying to time it just right. A tripod also gives everyone a central place to look.

2. Do use a wide-angle lens.
This will make it easier to fit everyone in the shot without having to place your tripod too far away. The closer you can get to the group, the more detail you will have in faces.

3. Do scope out a location ahead of time and bring props like chairs or stools for level changes.
A location with natural level changes like rocks or a hill is always good too. (For my family photo this year we couldn’t bring props because we were all traveling)

Choose a location that will not distract from the people in the photo.
There’s already a lot going on with that many faces in the photo. A vast open landscape like a field or a meadow with no houses or buildings in the background is great. For weddings and events look for an area with the fewest distractions and the most even lighting. When choosing your location, consider what your lighting will be like during the time you will photograph the large group. For our family shot the sun had just set behind the mountain in front of us, which left us with nice open shade and indirect light as we faced the setting sun.

Sometimes it’s also great to place the group in their context, like a sports team on the field, hikers in the mountains, or in our case, the red mountains of Southern Utah symbolized home to us all, since that is where most of my family was raised.

4. Do shoot in the evening and in the shade.
This will prevent your group from squinting into the sun. You can avoid those crazy shadows under the eyes and nose by not shooting when the sun is overhead. Evening sun just before sunset is soft and warm and much more flattering. If you have no control over time of day, seek open shade. If it’s getting late or if the sun is behind your group, use a flash.

5. Do set your aperture at f8 or higher.
You want to get everyone’s faces in focus.

6. Do take multiple shots.
You can swap heads in Photoshop if you need to, or simply to have more images to choose from. When you photograph large groups you most definitely will have some people looking off, blinking, looking at each other, or kids wiggling/making silly faces. It’s nice to have a variety of shots to choose from to find the best head or set of non-wandering eyes to use for the final image.

7. Do have everyone wear solid colors.
This will help make sure the attention is drawn to the faces, not the clothing. Tell your group to stay away from big logos and bold stripes as well.

8. Do make sure every head is showing.
Tell them, “If you can’t see me, I can’t see you!” And make sure complete heads are showing, not just eyes.

9. Do group people according to families and/or couples.
Make sure everyone is standing near his or her family members. This makes it easier for Grandma to show off her posterity in family groupings, rather than trying to find who belongs to whom.  And if the event is centered around one or two people, put them in the center of the group. I put my parents in the center, since this was a shot of their posterity!

10. Do remember to shoot some close ups too!
Mix it up and do some fun, huggy type close ups along with your longer distance shots if you are shooting individual families or smaller groupings.

DO NOT

1. Do not take a long time posing everyone, and be cheerful!
You will lose their attention and cooperation if you are flustered and take too long. Dads and kids generally don’t like family pictures (mine don’t anyways!) Keep them focused by being fast with the whole process. You can do this by pre-planning posing for the amount of people you are shooting. Don’t be afraid to take charge, communicate what you want, but remain relaxed. If you are relaxed and having fun, your group will be as well!

2. Do not shoot heads in the horizon line.
Hard lesson learned with my family this year.  I did two of my sibling’s families this way before I realized it was harder to see their faces with the busy mountains going through their heads! Either shoot from below your group and put their heads in the sky where it’s a solid color, or shoot from above by standing on something or placing them in a sitting pose while you shoot down at them. Or change their position completely so their heads have a non-distracting background behind them.

3. Do not let another person with a camera shoot over your shoulder.
Your subjects won’t know which camera to look at, which will result in wandering eyes in your photos! If someone wants to help make kids smile, have them stand above you or right next to you so the subjects are looking in the direction of the camera.

4. Do not let the details go un-noticed.
For example, a tangled necklace, a dirty face or shirt, hair in face, or awkward hand placement. First set up your posing and composition, and then look at each person individually just before you take the shot…but try to do this quickly!

5. Do not waste time getting too creative when you photograph large groups.
Unfortunately, with large groups attention spans dwindle if you are not prepared with a quick pose in mind. With my huge family the objective is is simply to get a shot where everyone is seen, has a decent expression, and looking in the direction of the camera! Save your more creative shots for the smaller groupings.

Some pointers on posing large groups:

- Put taller people towards the back and in the center, shorter people in front and on sides, if you are doing a standing pose.

- Try not to make the group too deep. This will keep all faces in focus.

- Chins up slightly for no double chins.

- Have adults hold wiggly toddlers and babies.

- If you can, shoot from above your group (i.e. with a ladder or chair) to make all the faces more visible.

6. Do not shoot under tree branches or near large objects that will cast shadows or scattered light on skin or clothing.
The goal is to find soft, even light. When in open shade, turn your group toward the sun (if you have that luxury in your location) to help get more light/detail in faces.

Ok, that sums it up. Please feel free to add any others that I forgot in the comments section!

I’ll leave you with a shot that will keep you smiling. It was the best out-take of the day…of me and my kiddos and hubby. This is what happens when we attempt family pictures! Everyone goes crazy and suddenly becomes silly and uncooperative. I love the baby toes in my son’s nose, my husbands face, and me getting all P-O-ed! Better luck next time…ha ha!

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I am a photographer from Salt Lake City, UT. I enjoy shooting food, travel, macro, and lifestyle portraits. I have been in and out of the photography business since 2005, juggling the demands of motherhood (four kiddos) with my love of photography. I feel it is a true gift to be able to express who I am and my everyday through my lens. I find much joy in learning and improving, and in helping others grow. I also love a good sweaty workout, shopping alone, house boating on Lake Powell, sauteed mushrooms, salty & sweet together, and un-interrupted afternoon naps! Looking forward to sharing my knowledge and learning with all of you this year! Website/Blog | Facebook My Camera bag: Nikon D700 | Nikon 85mm f/1.4G | Nikon 24-70 f/2.8G | Nikon 35mm f/2D | Lensbaby Composer Pro| SB-910 Speedlight Flash

Comments

  1. Oh man, THANK YOU for these! And #2 on the “Do Not” list — brilliant! I hadn’t thought of that and you just saved my bacon! :-) Thanks!

  2. Bahhaaha! Love this outtake! It’s awesome how happy the kids are and you guys are so stressed. (especially the hubby – he looks like he wants to run! lol)
    Great tips and family shots – huge family!
    ToDoListMom recently posted..Wordless Wednesday: Cheeky

    • I love the out take you posted … this is an example of true photography. Having the ability to capture every day moments in a way that shows the emotions of its subject in such a beautiful manner is an art is hard to achieve. It is this that draws me to photography at such a high level. I have only started doing pictures for other people in the last few years but it is something I am passionate about. I have a goal of being able to help families that like mine growing up who aren’t able to afford professional pictures. I hope to be able to provide high level photos of times like this everyday scene for them to have as memories for years to come.

  3. great tips can’t wait to try them out

  4. These are simply fantastic tips! I honestly hope I never have a group THAT big, but you never know. ;)
    Kim recently posted..How to Add Lens Flare to Your Photos with Photoshop

  5. THis post was meant for me! I’m also in charge of taking the big group family shot at my family reunion in a few weeks. My family is just as big as urs and I’ve been stressing about how to make it more than just a picuture of everyone cramed together. This was a good reminder. Thanks!!

  6. Great post! Really well thought out and helpful :). Now if I could just have a ladder on me at all times…. :) thank you!!

  7. avatar Heidi Terry :

    Thank you for this post! I have to take our Family Reunion Picture this summer in St. George–49 people! And I’m not a photographer! Yikes! Would you suggest that everyone wear the same color (like black in your picture)? Would it be too overwhelming to have coordinating colors? Also, is this picture shot in St. George? Any ideas on a great location would be very appreciated. Thanks so much!

    • Everyone doesn’t have to wear the same color. If you want to coordinate your colors that looks fine too! As long as they wear solids it should look good. For our large gang it was easier to tell everyone to wear black. I’ve done it in the past with everyone in various colored solids and it looked good… just a bit busier. I liked the black because it drew your eye to the skin tones. I don’t recommend white because it can be contrasty and difficult to meter without blowing out details. Yes the pics were taken in St. George. This was at the mouth of Snow’s Canyon (by Tuacan) right before the toll booth/entrance to the park. Email me if you want more info!
      Jennifer recently posted..Good-bye to this blog!

  8. Great tips! My husband’s family reunions are in southern Utah as well! Your images are great!

  9. These are GREAT tips! Thanks! What camera do you shoot with? What remote do you use?

    Thanks!!

  10. These are great tips! So didn’t think about the horizon, ever.

  11. Nice Job Jen!

  12. What do you do, when they ask you to just shoot in the back yard some where and there is not any shade?
    and there is distraction all around?

    • avatar Jen Bacher-Contributor :

      Look for something plain like a fence or grass, flowers are good too for color. Fences provide a solid background and add texture well. Move any toys or items sitting around out of the way. If it’s still too busy, pull your subject as far away from those distractions as possible (greater depth of field) so they will be blurred more. If you can’t find shade, shoot with the sun behind your subjects (backlit) and spot meter on their faces for correct exposure or use a fill flash if you don’t want to blow out your sky. If the sun is straight over head and you have no shade, there’s not much you can do to avoid shadows on faces. If you are shooting a group in overhead sun just watch where the shadows are hitting on people’s faces and move them slightly till it looks better.

  13. That last shot of your family is the best family picture ever. It shows who you are and you can feel the love you all share. Awesome pics. Going to keep these tips in mind next time.

  14. This post entered my life with perfect timing: I offered to shoot my babysitter’s prom pictures on Saturday. It evolved from her and her boyfriend to her, her boyfriend, and ten of their closest friends. Teenagers are disasters to begin with, and this high school teacher knows that trying to make a group of them do anything is like herding cats! I’m definitely going to reread this post right before I shoot them this weekend. Wish me luck!!

  15. These are such helpful tips. We will be having a family gathering this summer and inevitably there will be a group shot. Thanks to these really simple but useful tips (never thought of the horizon line as competition, but the b/a shows the real deal). I love this site!!
    *anna
    *anna recently posted..Asparagus…fresh and roasted fast! A simple recipe

  16. Such great tips, especially to shoot top-down to avoid distractions. Brilliant!!

  17. avatar Mama Monkey :

    Awesome post! I always have trouble having everyone in focus, no matter what aperture I use. Any suggestions? Where do you place your focus point? I normally shoot with a Canon T2i, 18-135mm lens. Thanks!!! :)

    • A few things that might help keep everyone in focus: 1. Use a tripod to avoid any shake. 2. Use a shutter speed of at least 1/125 (go as high as you can given your available light) because although your camera may be steady, your subjects probably aren’t! 3. A prime lens generally is known to be sharper than a zoom (if you have one). 4. Make sure you don’t stack people too deep like I mentioned in the post.

      I’m not familiar with your lens, but most zoom lenses have a sweet spot where they are sharpest within a certain focal range. If you know what that is, focus your group at that distance, then set your camera/tripod in that spot. Good luck!
      Jennifer recently posted..Good-bye to this blog!

  18. avatar Stephanie Ribeiro :

    Thank you so much for this post, this has been an important question of mine…. Thanks

  19. great tips! also, i totally went to h.school with bj (awerkamp). that’s cool.

  20. Oh, Jen,

    Thank you for including the outtake of your family as it is so wonderful. I love the look on your face! That makes me feel better as photographing my own family is the hardest thing! Your work is stunning. Thanks for the tips, and I will be adding this to my Pinterest for sure.

  21. I see you don’t recommend white, but it seems to be a popular color for a beach pic. What color do you rcommend for a beach shot? We have6 people: Kids are 17, 14, 10, and 7, my husband and myself.

    • White is ok if you are not in bright sun in the middle of the day when it can be very reflective. I did our family pictures on the beach a couple of years ago and we wore white, blue (navy & sky blue) and tan. They looked great and the white was fine because they were taken at sunset when the sun is soft and warm. Any natural “earth tones” look great or nautical is hot right now…navy, white and yellow. Hope that helps!
      Jennifer recently posted..Good-bye to this blog!

  22. Oh how I wish I had seen this post earlier. We just got back from an extended family trip to the beach in which I was the designated photographer. It went smashingly well–note the sarcasm. My nephew needed a potty break and had to poop in the bushes. My tripod broke so we resorted to flipping a trash can infested with hermit crabs over to set the camera on. My MIL wore all black with a black beach hat and black sun glasses that she forgot to remove–picture the “Grimm Reaper”. And, unbeknownst to me, my camera fogged up from the humidity and so the pictures came out less than sharp. We laughed through it all though, and in the end came out with a halfway decent shot. I’m looking forward to trying again though with a greater depth of field, solid colors, and an above angle (with my newly superglued tripod). Thank you so much for the helpful tips.
    Tiffany M recently posted..Alyvia’s Gotcha Day

  23. avatar Anna Carmen :

    i am a wanna be photographer and this help me alot.. no need to pay for those photography class.. thanks again.. :)

  24. Thank you so much for this post ~ I still need practice w/ grouping for big families. Very helpful, really appreciate it!

  25. thanks thats a very usefull list… very practical tips :-)

  26. Very helpful tips…love the last family shot! Which lens did you use?

    • Hey Beth!

      Jen replied below – “Thanks! I used my Canon 24-70mm f/2.8 lens.” Have a great day!

  27. Thanks! I used my Canon 24-70mm f/2.8 lens.
    Jennifer recently posted..Good-bye to this blog!

  28. Lots of great tips. Will be trying many of them for the upcoming family holidays.

  29. So I think your blog is great. I just came across it via pinterest. I have a suggestion however. I was looking at pinterest on my phone so maybe the font shows up funny but on the bottom of the photograph it has your web address. It took me a few seconds to realize I was mistaken, but I thought the c and l in the word click were actually a d. Maybe I’m the only one who has ever seen it that way but I thought I’d let you know.

  30. Wow. These are great Do’s and Do-Not’s! I will make sure to use these. I love the last shot with you and your family. Real shots like that always make me smile more than posed. :) Thank you for posting these. Love your website!

  31. Great post! I just love the beauty of Southern Utah! I miss it so much I was born there and have alot of Family there still!

  32. Amuzing and informative…with pictures. Perfect!

  33. Your tips are so wonderful! Thanks for taking the time to share!

  34. avatar Photography by Leann Davis :

    you are an inspiration :)

  35. You are amazing! Thank you so much! I needed this help! WOW. I feel much better~ AND relaxed!

  36. Thank you! Thank you! Thank you!! This is a fantastic post! Very helpful!

  37. Wonderful tips… thanks! I am not a photographer, but I do play. A friend has asked me to do a family shoot of around 25 people…. I’ve only done one for 9 before…. and this will be in Dec & it will be freezing here with possible snow (New England) …. my other problem is they may wear traditional clothing, which is Hmong Chinese clothing…. so varying colors. Should I discourage this, or work with it?
    Thanks for any advise!

    Jeananne

  38. great advice. thanks for sharing.

  39. Taking a nice photograph of a large group is not simple as you have to coordinate & organize so many people. I particularly liked your concept of not keeping the heads along the horizon line because the second photograph is looking much better. Thank you so much for these useful tips.

  40. I really needed this, THANK YOU! Very well written and great photo examples.

  41. Hi Jan…Thanks for posting that…I’m taking a family photo today for a friend…I absolutely love the photo you posted that makes you smile…It makes me smile too…Friends of mine want those kind of photos, but I don’t know how to get them to do this…We can “try” to “act” it out, but it didn’t seem to work with a family I was taking pictures for the other day…Thank GOD they are my friends and understand I am not a professional…

    Any tips you can offer would be appreciate…
    Lord Bless…
    denise
    Denise recently posted..366:330-338

  42. avatar Carmela Gersbeck :

    Great tips! I’m usually the designated photographer for the group shots and these tips come in handy. Getting prepared before gathering everyone goes a LONG way. And I hate when other people take pictures behind me, also. Makes everyone’s eyes go in different directions!

  43. Thank you for posting this…I have a shoot with 35 people in 2 days!

  44. Some great group photography tips in here, I will share them with my Twitter followers. Love the out take at the end, I know that feeling all to well :-)

  45. More than once I have messed up a large group photo by not changing the aperture (Do’s #5). A very important point. Thanks for the article. I’ll be doing a large family in a couple of weeks and your advice will be helpful.

  46. Great tips! I am shooting a large group (12) in about a week. I am nervous since it is my first time doing so. This is the first site I stumbled upon when doing a search for “photographing large groups”. Thank you for sharing your insight – it was extremely helpful!

  47. Brilliant! I am shooting groups on Wednesday at the boss’s leaving party so this is really helpful.

    I will probably have to use fill flash for some as it’s in the evening and there won’t be enough light for f/8 outside or inside. I don’t have a soft box but do have a cheap diffuser thing. Indoors I can bounce of walls/ceiling but not outside. Any tips on how to achieve best lighting outdoors? I presume I only need low power from the flash.

    Thanks very much for posting such a great and timely blog. I’m now feeling much more confident :)

    • Carolyn,
      To get the most of your available light in the evening (if the sun has set) I would have your group face the direction of the sun or use it as side light. Even if the sun has set, it still provides a little light until it is dark outside. If there’s flexibility on time, try and do it just before sunset and you shouldn’t need a flash. Yes you could use a fill flash at low power and diffuser like you suggested if you need more light. If the sun is still up, use it as backlight to your group and use your flash as a fill.

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  51. Thank you for the helpful article!!

  52. HELP QUESTION:
    I’d like to learn how to shoot smaller groups & later stich them together on a 8″ X 16″ Panarama print from my Kodak ML-500.
    Do anyone know where I can learn this technique weather it be a person, organization .etc
    Please advise?
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    Zip

  53. Hi Jennifer!

    This blog post is super helpful! I agree with so many of the things you mentioned. I am a very amateur photographer, in charge of my extended family’s Christmas card two years running… 19 of us, on Thanksgiving, will be taking a picture. The first year we were on porch stairs and it worked well. I am scouting locations and have just one question for you – if you’re still looking at these comments!! – If I’m using my tripod (really just a cheapy from Target to go with my Canon Rebel T4i) and that is still not high enough to do a shot from overhead, how do you elevate the shot and still have yourself in it? I’m just trying to think of what we can bring along to put the tripod on top of for the shot so I don’t have that horizontal line in the background. If I get on a ladder, I’m clearly not going to be in it. :) Thanks so much and I can’t wait to check out more posts!

  54. This was a great refresher post as I get ready to photography my first family session ever, with seven kids 13 and under :O lol, the horizon line tip was great and probably one I need to keep in mind. :)

  55. I’d frame the very last one. But then, I love shots with personality.

  56. Hi my friend! I want to say that this post is amazing, great written and come with almost all important infos.
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    Eva A. Faller recently posted..Eva A. Faller

  57. Thank you so much for this article. I struggle with posing large groups and this was a perfect post on it! Love the tips and the explanations!

  58. Your family picture is my favorite one, love the natural pics.

  59. Dear Jen,

    Thank you for posting this wonderful tutorial. I am a photographer in South Dakota. I have taken many different assignments over the past 5 years, from food to real estate. I consider my self more of a “technical” photographer who is developing his artistic side (slowly, for now). I found your article to be quite helpful and so, I wanted to pass along my gratitude to you for posting it. Take care and best regards.

    John

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  61. Great tips! I’m shooting a group of 28 people tomorrow with several little kids. I’m a bit nervous because I really dislike large group shots but these tips help. Thanks so much!
    Ashley S. recently posted..Surprise date

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