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Finding The Right Camera Settings For Group Photos

You may think group photos are the same as any normal portrait, just with more people.

But as soon as you start adding more people to the mix, you start encountering more problems.

Finding the right camera settings for group photos can be tricky, especially for beginners (or anyone who is used to photographing one person at a time).

This guide will help you nail the basics and get a great group photo every time.

How To Select Your Aperture For Groups

Selecting the right aperture is going to be critical for ensuring the entire group is in focus.

If you have enough light then you should be around f/5.6 for smaller groups and f/8 or smaller for large groups.

But if you’re shooting indoors then you may not always have enough light to use smaller apertures.

At that point, you have to be very aware of the depth of field you have with your camera settings. Shooting a group photo requires a balance between opening the aperture enough to get the light you need and ensuring all of the people in your photo are in focus.

Keep reading for a handy table to help you with that.

How To Select Your Shutter Speed For Group Photos

Shutter speed might be something you overlook when shooting group shots but it can be important as well.

Of course, you want to make sure that your shutter speed is fast enough to avoid blur from holding the camera with your hand.

The basic rule for this is that the shutter speed needs to be at least 1/focal length of your lens (or faster).

In other words, if you are using a 50mm lens, then your shutter speed needs to be at least 1/50 of a second or faster.

But, that is a minimum.

For large groups, it is a great idea to use an even faster shutter speed if you have enough light to do so.

The larger the group, the more difficult it is for everyone to be standing still at the same time. Especially when kids are involved, the is always a high likelihood.

Using ISO For Indoor Group Shots

For portrait photography, I typically like to keep the ISO as low as possible given the situation.

However, with groups, aperture and shutter speed become more important. Therefore, you may need to compensate by raising your ISO to ensure proper exposure of the image.

This is something you should be testing ahead of time so you know exactly how hight you are comfortable pushing your ISO. When you have some free time, take a series of photos, each at different ISO settings. Make sure you adjust the other settings to compensate so that the overall exposure is roughly the same for every image.

Now view the images on a computer screen. It’s up to you to figure out at which point the ISO is too high to be acceptable. Remember that for the next time you are out shooting.

Lens Choice

Different focal length lenses will perform differently in terms of camera settings for group photos. Shorter focal lengths will make it easier to get everyone in focus while longer focal lengths will make it more difficult.

So to help you set up your shot, we created the following table. We chose three popular focal lengths for group photos and measured the depth of field they will give you at different distances from your subjects (ranging from 10 feet to 50 feet).

Each box contains two values. The first is for shooting at an f/5.6 aperture and the second at an f/8 aperture. You can see that at some camera settings, your depth of focus is effectively infinite ().

35mm50mm85mm
10 feet10′ (f/5.6) / 18′ (f/8)4′ / 6′1′ / 2′
15 feet31′ / 127′10″ / 16′3′ / 4′
25 feet / 34′ / 77′9′ / 13′
50 feet / / 40′ / 67′

Where To Focus For Group Shots

Get Everyone On The Same Focal Plane

The focal plane is an imaginary line of every point in the frame that is in perfect focus.

The diagram below illustrates what the focal plane looks like.

As you can see, the focal plane is curved. This is important to keep in mind when setting your focus on larger groups.

If you have a big group, don’t have them standing in a perfectly straight line. If you do, then the ones on the ends will b behind the focal plane.

You may be able to compensate for that by having more depth of focus. But it can be helpful to ask those on the ends to step forward a little bit.

Aim For The Front or Middle

When you have multiple rows of people, most of the time it’s a good idea to focus on the row in the front. That is because, typically, there is more depth of focus behind the focus point than there is in front.

But keep in mind that you need a proper aperture to get the whole group in focus or else it doesn’t matter where you aim the focus point.

If you have a larger group and multiple rows of people, then you should experiment by focusing on the front and middle rows. Also, be sure to choose an aperture small enough to cover the depth of a large group (check the table above).

Blur The Background With Groups

When you have to use a smaller aperture to get a group in focus, then you lose some ability to get that nice background blur that looks great for portraits.

But there is a way to compensate for that.

Look for a spot where you can put a lot of distance between the group you are photographing and the background. By separating the subjects from the background, you’ll get more background blur.

Keep in mind though that sometimes, depending on the setup, you may not be able to get much background blur.

Pete LaGregor

Pete LaGregor

Pete is a photographer in New Jersey and specializes in portraits and commercial photography, but loves shooting landscapes and video for fun. You can check out his work on his website.

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