Assignment #24 – Group Portraits

Due on May 11.

You must take two different photographs of three + different people utilizing the techniques listed below.  If they are of fellow students, they WILL be sent to yearbook and count towards the yearbook photography assignment for the year. (For those who have not already completed their five for the year.  Please let your subject know!)


Two photographs with at least THREE + people in each photograph.  They can not be the same THREE people in each photograph.

each photograph MUST utilize the following techniques:

  • uncluttered background
  • must see everyone’s face
  • adding depth with subjects
  • creating a triangle shape, or V, W, M, ^, or \  with subjects
  • At least one must be of a fellow student.

Email all photographs with your name, date and assignment information from your school email.  CC yourself as a record.

Due May 11.



look to open spaces and uncluttered backgrounds.There are two reasons why simplicity is even more important with a group shot than with any other kind of portraiture.

  • First, by its very nature, a group shot is cluttered. With so many different faces and competing outfits, your group shot can end up looking very messy if the background is also complicated.
  • The second reason is that, in order to keep your entire group in focus, you will need to shoot at a higher number f-stop than you would for a single portrait, so you won’t benefit from the blurred background that you would when shooting wide open.




This photograph has the heads at the same level as the horizon line, creating a distraction.


The muted backgrounds create a nondistracting background.


If you’re stuck shooting in the middle of the day, avoid harsh shadows by shooting in open shade such as beneath the canopy of a large tree, or in the shadow of a building. Importantly, make sure the light falls evenly on your group, and that there are no patches of sun on anyone.


Sharp focus:
Lens and aperture preference are always controversial. To photograph a large group,  play it safe and use a 50mm lens. Depending on the depth of your group arrangement, stick with an aperture of f/9 or higher to ensure that everyone is sharp, and always do a test shot first.

To achieve sharpness and reduce handheld camera shake, your shutter speed needs to be at least one over your focal length. So if you are on a full frame camera with a 50mm lens, the shutter speed would need to be at least 1/50th of a second (and probably a little faster to be safe). On an APS-C sensor a 50mm would be the equivalent of around an 80mm lens and on a micro-4/3rds camera it would be the equivalent of a 100mm lens, needing 1/100th of a second shutter speed. If you are freezing motion you need an even faster shutter speed. For people moving at average speeds, I prefer 1/320th of a second.Think about raising your ISO sometimes to get sharper shots, particularly in darker lighting situations, but also sometimes during the day. A higher ISO will allow you to use a faster shutter speed and a smaller aperture, such as f/16, to ensure that your entire image will be in focus.


To avoid distortion when using a lens that is 50mm or below, make sure you leave plenty of space between the people at either side of the group, and the edge of the frame. No one will thank you for making them look wider than they are (which is what a wide-angle will do to the people on the edges)!

While we’re on the subject, it’s a good idea to leave some space around your group to allow for different cropping ratios.







Creating Depth:
If your subjects are huddled close together on a level surface, chances are the people at the back will only be visible from the eyes up in the final images.You can easily remedy this by placing them on a graduated surface. A flight of steps is ideal, or a sloping lawn, a playground slide, the branch of a tree anywhere that you can stagger the height of the heads to make sure everyone can be clearly seen without sitting in a dead-straight row.




If you happen to be stuck with a flat surface, use chairs for a formal arrangement. Place some people standing behind the chairs, some seated on the chairs, and some sitting on the ground in front. The ground is a good spot for younger children, who get fidgety if asked to sit still for too long.

For something a little different, find a vantage point that allows you to look down on the group. This might be a balcony, a ladder, or a chair






It is easier to wind-up with an eye pleasing composition by basing it on a geometric pattern for the overall group in mind beforehand. V, ^, W, M shapes all lend themselves to groups. Every person in the group should be posed and lit in a way which would flatter them in a solo portrait. Married couples should relate to each other in the group shot in the same way they would in a portrait of just the two of them together. With that in mind I start by posing the core of the group so their heads are at the focal point of the overall geometric pattern. For a simple family group a pyramid pattern with the parents at the apex is very effective. For a multi-generational photo an M or W pattern with the grand-parents in the center would form the pattern and core for building the group. Approached that way, from the center out, the process of arranging the group is much simpler than starting with everyone and trying to re-arrange them.






Make sure your subjects are comfortable and adjust their poses accordingly!

Once you have your group positioned, work quickly. Fire off a test shot for exposure, focus, and depth of field. When checking the image on your screen, enlarge it to the maximum size and make sure everyone from the front row to the back is in focus. Adjust your aperture if necessary. When photographing smaller groups, you can get creative with depth of field by focussing on some individuals and allowing others to soften, but that’s a whole other story. With a large group, everyone should be in focus.

As to obtaining an image with everyone’s eyes open, the jury is still out as to the best method. What works for me is to set the cameras drive mode to continuous shooting, and ask everyone in the group to close their eyes and open them on the count of three. I fire multiple shots on the count of three, and then repeat the process a few times to ensure I have at least one great image.

Utilize poses from the last lesson:




Business group portrait







Other Tips:

It’s possible to turn an unruly mob or team into a cohesive looking group photo in about 30 seconds:
  1. First arrange the front row in a chevron or arc pattern relative to the camera
  2. Stand in the middle and split the group in half and instruct everyone to turn their bodies to face the middle and point their front feet at the camera,
  3. Have everyone shift their weight to the back foot.