Tips for Shooting Large Groups

Discussion in 'Street, Documentary, and Portrait' started by Robert Watcher, Jun 1, 2013.

  1. Robert Watcher

    Robert Watcher Mu-43 Top Veteran

    Periodically I get emails from photographers on these forums, asking for tips on shooting large groups of people - - - maybe 15-20 or more. It is that time of year, when you may get such requests. I posted this recently, and thought I'd include it here for those that it may benefit.

    Questions like - what camera - what focal length - how to light - how to pose - etc:

    Any of todays digital cameras will be perfectly fine for an 8x10 or 11x16 print (and larger) of a group of 20 people or more. Things to take into consideration would be whether it is being shot outdoors or indoors. There are different challenges with both.


    * your lighting requirements, the interacting you wish to have with your subjects, and the look you are after- - - will dictate what focal length you need. I use my zoom lens so I can get into the right position and frame from there. I focus about 1/3 into the group for good focus through the depth of the group

    * First thing I look for is decent lighting and a suitable background. In the case of this large family, they wanted their house in the background so that was set. Natural lighting was difficult as the sun was high and strong - so the angle to the house that they wanted as the background, could not be used without them looking into the sun and being obliterated by strong highlights and shadows. My location for the group would be where I could turn their back to the sun as best as possible and fill with my flash

    * flash needs to be relatively close to the camera and higher than the lens for large groups. On a day where the light is softer (my preference), I dial in minus 1 1/2 to minus 2 stops of flash output compared to the ambient light reading and can even use a shoot through umbrella. On a bright day like this portrait - it required all of the output I had from my portable Metz flash without umbrella - to barely fill in the shadows.

    * I prefer to use only 3 or 4 arm chairs for large groups so that with people sitting on the arms - standing in behind and sitting on the ground - there is variance in the heights of the heads. I group people by working with only one or two people at a time - - - putting them in position and building out like I would if putting flowers in an arrangement.

    With such a large group, I want to have the chairs and group in an arch to follow the curve of the lens - for best depth of field and focus. While it isn't visible in the finished group portrait - if you look at the shot of me moving the people into position - you can recognize the curve of the group

    Oh - and with flash - - - don't forget that you have to keep under the camera's sync shutter speed. That dictates many things like distance you are from the subject/focal length, fstop used etc.

    Focal length used for this portrait is 30mm (20mm on my D200) - - - and you can see how far away I am from my subjects - but still close enough for effective flash power and communicating with them.

    Exposure - f8 @ 1/200'th @ 200 ISO




  2. Robert Watcher

    Robert Watcher Mu-43 Top Veteran

    2 different approaches to this family.

    First was more formal with flash fill light coming from over the camera so there would be no shadows on people, from the posts of the porch. Shot with the 8MP Olympus E-500. Focal length was 76mm (38mm on 4/3 lens).

    Second (the one that is printed to 24"x36" over their fireplace mantle) was casual out in the wheat field. It was shot with a Nikon D70 with high 1/500'th sync speed. Lens was the 85mm Nikor (128mm equivalent). My wife was standing in the field beside the group - supporting a TTL wireless portable flash on a stand shooting through a white umbrella (subtle highlights are visible on the side of faces closest to her)

    Top (formal)
    Exposure - f5 @ 1/160'th @ 100 ISO
    Bottom (casual)
    Exposure - f5.6 @ 1/500'th @ 200 ISO



    2 different approaches to this large family. Only 2 chairs were used in the formal shot. With the more casual setting I used elements that were there to position people at different heights and distances from each other. 60mm equivalent lens was used on Olympus camera for both of these settings. My portable flash at full power was set on a lightstand and fired through a white umbrella. It was high and to the left of my camera position.

    Top (formal)
    Exposure - f8 @ 1/60'th @ 200 ISO
    Bottom (casual)
    Exposure - f5.6 @ 1/160'th @ 100 ISO



  3. Robert Watcher

    Robert Watcher Mu-43 Top Veteran


    * the main difference will be the lighting and dealing with the restrictions in the size of the room and height of the ceiling - colours of walls etc.

    * I use 2 lights shooting into or through a large white umbrella. The main light is slightly off to the side and aimed toward the far side of the group (farthest away from the light) so that the exposure is more even across everyone. Then I have a fill light as high as possible over my camera aiming directly at the group. Output of the fill light is mostly 1 to 2 stops less than the main light. I like using white shoot through umbrellas to diffuse the light and give me the most power from my flashes.

    Photographed with Olympus E-3 w 12-60SWD f2.8 lens. Focal length used to accommodate the room, was 34mm (17mm on E-3). Flashes are Elinchrome 400WS studio lights on stands with shoot through umbrellas

    Exposure - f7.1 @ 1/125'th @ 250 IS0



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