CAMERA SETTINGS // Choosing the right aperture is a key factor in the outcome of your image. When photographing a smaller group of around 5-6 people, I’ll almost always set my aperture to f/4.0, and I’ll make sure all subjects are standing in line with each other. This will allow for everyone’s face to be sharp and in focus, while also prompting some beautiful bokeh or blur behind them. When transitioning to a larger group of 10+ people, I’ll move my aperture to f/5.6, and again give direction for everyone to be standing an equal distance from my camera. If I find myself photographing an even larger group that causes multiple rows of faces, I’ll bump my aperture to f/8.0 to ensure an even sharp focus throughout! Yes, the f/8.0 may sacrifice the bokeh, but a sharp family photo is a higher priority in this situation. *Bonus tip: Always focus on the center front set of eyes!*
When it comes to shutter speed, I play it safe and hang out around 400 or above. Any lower and I get concerned that there will be sudden movement in the group and we’ll be looking at some blur here and there. If you find yourself underexposing, don’t be afraid to simply bump up that ISO a stop or two to help shed some more light.
APPROACH // Photographing large groups can be pretty overwhelming. Whether it’s a big family portrait or a really excited group of bridesmaids and groomsmen, the situation can leave you feeling flustered behind the camera. I’ve learned that taking the following steps can make all the difference when you’re trying to capture a flock of folks in a limited amount of time.
1 // Prepare your subjects – Wrangling up a crowd of strangers can be quite the challenge. Especially when they’re easily distracted by other wedding guests, may have left the area because they didn’t know they were even needed for a picture, or simply started the party too early and are a tad bit tipsy. To avoid this kind of chaos and the wasted time, I make sure to have a thorough conversation with the bride and groom prior to their wedding day. During this chat, I explain the importance of preparing their family and friends with direction before the event. We decide on a time and meeting place, information which they then communicate personally to each individual they want to be included in the portrait. During this conversation, we also discuss the fact that even with a prepared list of names in hand, I may still have trouble identifying who is who since I haven’t met every person. The bride and groom then understand that large portraits may be a bit of a team effort in making sure we’re not missing anyone important!
2 // Direction – As the professional photographer, it’s your responsibility to take control of the situation and provide guidance to your subjects. Don’t be afraid to raise the volume of your voice just a tad, and strive to give clear direction with hand gestures to further demonstrate where and how your subjects should be standing. These loved ones want to get to the party, so they’ll appreciate that your organization and helpful guidance is moving things along! As you align the group, make sure to pay attention to…
Focal plane – Aligning your subjects to be close together and at an equal distance from your camera will help ensure that everyone’s faces will be nice and sharp in the image! If there are too many people and therefore multiple rows are created, no stress – just remember to up that aperture to account for the varied focal plane. Otherwise, that back row will be pushed out of focus.
Hand placement – Hand placement can be a struggle. If I’m taking a formal image, I usually have the ladies hold their bouquets, or if they don’t have flowers then they can lightly grab at the side of their dress or place their hand on the elbow of the person beside them. I then ask the men to either place their hands in their pockets or simply cross their hands in front. If I’m taking a more relaxed, non-traditional image, I’ll change it up with some ladies hooking arms or a more fun pose, while the guys lean on each other’s shoulders, grab at the front of their coats, etc. My main goal with hand placement is to at least give some direction, otherwise, people tend to feel awkward and lost. *Bonus tip: If your subjects have pockets in their pants or dresses, don’t forget to have them remove those items before stepping into the photograph!*
3 // Review, adjust & reshoot – With all eyes on your camera, and everyone waiting for your direction, you can start to experience a bit of panic that will urge you to rush. Relax for a second. Collect yourself, take the shot and spend just a few seconds reviewing the back of your camera to make sure all eyes are open and your framing is on point. If the outcome doesn’t match up to your expectations, take it again. All too often we hurry through large portraits and feel so disappointed to find errors that will complicate post-processing. We can avoid this problem by taking that small amount of time to review our work and correct what is needed at the moment.