How to Take Large Group Photos

Group photos are the most frequently requested type of portraits but they are also by far the most difficult type of portraits. You generally have to deal with very difficult light conditions, you may have to deal with locations that are less than ideal and you will have to deal with many moving parts.

So putting these three tips into practice will help you both control the photography session but also have great fun and wonderful results.

1.  Control the Group

Capturing portraits for a large group can seem very daunting at first. With a little practice you can have most large groups doing exactly what you asked them to do. Remember, you are the professional and you are the director so be prepared to take control and the group will listen to you and the overall session will go much more smoothly.


First thing to consider you need to place the group in the most ideal location for both lighting and shadows and the scenery. So use your artistic eye to spot that best location right when you get to the session. Take some test shots to see if they match your vision and then move ahead.


As the director you need to be able to pose this large group so it looks both natural and appealing. The art of posing is a much larger discussion and we will have that discussion at a later time.


Be sure that everyone is happy.  Plan your session after a meal and after naps if at all possible.  You want everyone happy and rested.  This little tip will improve your group photography success greatly.

2. Control the Light

Just like any type of photography group photography is also about capturing beautiful light. But when you’re capturing a large group portrait capturing and controlling the light becomes more challenging.
The two ways to do it in this case our use of natural light or bring in artificial lights.

Natural Light

Often times large group portraits are inside and they can be darker rooms with poor lighting conditions. Always be on the lookout for a room with gorgeous light. This would be a room with large windows that do not have direct light shining in them that would create harsh shadows. Believe it or not, with beautiful natural light from from Windows, you can capture a large group that is lit in a very natural and balanced way.

Three Easy Tips for How to Take Large Group Photos

Example of Natural light large group portrait.  Notice the soft light from the large window to the left.


Artificial Light

The second way to control light is bringing your own artificial lights. This can be much more challenging and more expensive but it certainly gives you more control.

Three Easy Tips for How to Take Large Group Photos

Large group portraits using artificial light

In this particular example we had very bright sky lights behind the family so we needed to light them up quite a bit from the front so as not to have shadows in the faces.

To solve this particular problem I had up Pocket Wizard type radio transmitter on my camera that was firing two off camera strobes one on the right and one on the left. These were simple cheap Nikon sb-600 strobes that are easy to use and relatively affordable.


Example of cheap off camera artificial lighting. Nikon sb 600

These are simply on stands and they were shooting through an umbrella.  Yes I am a canon guy but these Nikon flashes are cheap and easy to use. As you can imagine artificial light can be quite a bit more complex and takes a bit of practice but once you have this under control you truly become the master of light.   There will be more posts about the use of artificial light in the future.

3. Control What is in Focus

Like with all of photography you’re always balancing trade-offs. The amount of light, the graininess of an image and what can be in focus.

Often times with a large group you will want to have a large depth of field so that everyone is in clear focus. But when you do that you increase the amount of light that is required to properly expose your image. Generally speaking you will set your f stop to F 8 to F 11 to get the whole group in focus. That is the safe normal way that most photographers use to get a good focus. But I tend to break the rules and I take quite a few risks. In a situation where I’m only using natural light, I would rather have a faster shutter speed too quickly freeze my subjects and risk having a few of them out of focus just a little bit on the edges. So in doing that I might reduce my f stop to 5.6 or somewhere around that point. To do that a little bit more safely you have to make sure everyone is relatively close together and perpendicular to your camera or everyone is approximately the same distance away from your camera.

Bonus tips

4. Use a Tripod

Like in many types of photography be sure to use a tripod. Using a tripod shows that you’re both serious and professional. When you look like a professional, people treat you like a professional. But even more importantly, this allows you to deal with a difficult lighting conditions. You will have much more flexibility in the use of shutter speed and f stop if you’re using a tripod.

5. Use an Assistant

Using an assistance not only makes you look like a professional, but it helps you to have another set of eyes to see things that you’re just not saying. Like a collar that might be up or wild hair blowing away or whatever. Having an assistant will drastically reduce the stress of the event.


So now it’s time for you to get out and capture that perfect large family portrait for your Christmas card. Be sure to let us know your results. We want to see your great work.

Other Resources:

Check out this video “How to Use My Camera, Shooting in Aperture Priority Mode“.  That will help you dramatically improve your a large group portrait photography.

Remember your first 1 million pictures are your worst so get out and shoot so that you can learn by experimenting. There is no way to make mistakes or do it wrong, this is all learning by experimenting so have fun and shot.

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Until next time, get out and capture the adventure!!


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Written by Wayne Moran - Visit Website