I put together these tips for taking sharp group photos because I remember feeling uneasy going into family formal or wedding party photos at a wedding. Honestly, I used to just guess and jack up my aperture to see if I could get everyone in focus.
There are a few key components you will want to watch for when you are taking large group photos and I will break them all down for you today.
Imagine drawing a straight horizontal line in front of you, this would be your “focal plane”. Technically, if you place a group of people along the line and line up their feet, they should all be in focus.
Often times, when you place a group of people in a line, the people on the ends feel a bit out of place and tend to create a “U”. Reminding them to all keep their feet in a line will make a world of difference.
Where to Focus
As a continuation of the focal plane, it is ideal to have one line of people. If you are forced to have multiple rows, you will want to lock focus on the center subject closest to the camera. Aperture works in a rule of thirds. If you have an aperture of f5.6 and you are focusing on the center subject closest to the camera, 1/3 in front of the subject will be in focus and 2/3 behind the subject will be in focus. The more distance in front or behind of the subject needing to be in focus will require a higher aperture.
Another note about multiple rows…make sure to remind the back rows to get uncomfortably close to those in front of them to ensure they are in focus.
Your initial thought may be to crank your aperture up as high as you can get it without making your image too dark. BUT I usually keep mine around f5.6. I have been doing this for almost 10 years, and still don’t like going lower than f5.6. There are many photographers that will stay around f4.0 but I like to err on the side of caution.
If you have more than one row, you may want to adjust your aperture to account for this. As mentioned, the back row will want to get uncomfortably close to those in front of them.
Most lenses have an “optimal sharpness” point. It is usually around f8.0-f11.0 so if you are still uncomfortable, you can hang around these numbers to ensure you will have the entire group in focus.
There is a general rule of thumb in the photography world to set your shutter speed, no lower than 2X your focal length. So, let’s say that you are shooting with a 50mm 1.2 lens at an aperture of f5.6. The rule says that you shouldn’t go any lower than 50×2 = 100 = 1/100.
It is rare that you would see me shooting a family session at 1/100. Why? Camera gear is heavy, and my hands shake too much. At a shutter speed of 1/100, you would end up with some blurriness from my hands shaking. I wouldn’t actually go any lower than 1/200. That would be the lowest I would go. Typically, I would try to stay around 1/400.
If you are shooting weddings or family sessions, it’s unlikely these photos can be reshot. You will want to make sure that whatever aperture you choose, all subjects are in focus and their eyes are open.
When I choose to zoom on the back of my LCD screen, I have it set to zoom right into the subject’s face. This allows me to see if each subject is in focus and if their eyes are open. You may feel that it’s taking you forever to go through each person in the image but you will thank yourself later for checking. If you have no photos with everyone in focus, you then have the time to adjust what you need and take a few more images.
I really hope that these tips for taking sharp group photos help you during your next session and alleviates some of the stress that may come with it.
If you want to learn about “How to Achieve a Blurry Background in Your Photos“, check out this blog post.
Once a week, I send out photography tips in my newsletter. If you would like to be on the receiving end of these tips, sign up here!