As a photographer, there aren’t a whole lot of things that are more frustrating than taking what you think is an amazing image (you know, the one you think you’ve totally knocked out of the park!), only to get it home on the computer and realizing that some of your subjects aren’t in focus… uugh! It’s something we’ve all struggled with! On today’s blog, we are focusing on how to take sharp family and group portraits.
Being in the business of families and weddings – we take lots of large portraits.
And coming from a large family myself, I know just how important it is to get a good picture of everyone when we’re together!
One of my biggest fears is taking a large group photo, and having someone out of focus (seriously, this is the stuff my nightmares are made of!).
If you’ve struggled with this – you’re not alone!
But the good news is – there are things you can do to prevent this and create amazing images every time!
By the end of this blog, you’re going to have the tools to rock and roll anyone who gets in front of your camera.
Like a Boss!
How to Take Sharp Family and Group Portraits
Choose the Correct F-Stop
One of the best pieces of advice I can give you is to choose the correct aperture for the group you are photographing.
You wouldn’t go in with an F-stop set at 1.8 or 2.0 to photograph a group of 10. No matter what you do, someone in that image is going to be out of focus because you simply can’t get enough depth of field.
If you are unsure of aperture to use, I recommend however many people are in your shot, do at least that high of an F-stop.
So if you’re photographing a family of five, at least an F-stop of 5.6.
If you’re shooting a romantic couples portrait, at least an F-stop of 2.8 (or higher).
Shutter You Talking About!
A good general rule when you are starting out (and even into your photography career) is to keep your shutter speed double what your focal length is.
When I’m doing bridal party portraits, I’m using the Canon 85mm 1.2, and my shutter speed is usually around 1/250 or 1/320.
Does it necessarily need to be that high?
But I would rather bring my shutter higher and ensure that I’m getting a tack sharp image, then get home that evening and cry because it’s out of focus.
To compensate for the higher shutter (and less light coming into the sensor), raise your ISO.
This will increase the brightness of the overall photo, and you’ll be sure to nail the shot.
Line ‘Em Up
When you ask people to form a straight line, they tend to (unintentionally) curl in at the ends.
Not a big deal, but the problem with that is people are stepping outside the plane of focus.
So if we are focusing on the person in the middle, then the people on the ends are more likely to be out of focus.
The easiest way to correct this, is simply tell subjects to line up their toes.
That way everyone is on the same focal plane, and we can ensure that everyone is in focus!
Avoid Having Several Rows
When you get large groups together, it sounds easier to just stack people in multiple rows.
(especially if you’re working in a confined space)
This is an especially tough one, because people naturally seem to want to drift to the back. And what ends up happening is you get 5 rows of people deep.
Try to have no more than 3 rows of people, and instead extend people out to the sides.
When your subjects are farther apart (front to back), it is more difficult to get everyone in focus.
The closer your subjects are together, the easier it will be to nail your focus.
Double Check the Image
After you’ve finished taking a big family portrait, it’s always a good idea to zoom in so you can double check that everyone’s eyeballs are open.
Could we fix this later in Photoshop?
But why not get the image as perfect as you can in camera, that way it’s less work later.
Even if you’re stressed because of not having a lot of time for photos, it only takes a few seconds to double check the image.
And it’s way easier to make everyone hang out for 5 more seconds, than try to round them up again later to take another one.
Now that you’ve got all this newfound knowledge for how to take sharp family and group portraits in your (camera) bag, go forth and be awesome!
If you’re wondering what gear we use to create our images, check out what’s in our bag.
And, as always, if you ever need someone to help cheer you on in your photography journey, don’t hesitate to reach out by hitting the “Contact Us” button!
Good stuff Judith!
Thank you Byron – I’m glad you enjoyed the post!