The Best Settings for Group Portraits on a Digital SLR Camera

By Charlie Yin

Group portraits are one of the most common types of photographs. However, many group photographs are poor due to incorrect settings, lighting or composition. Taking a group portrait is very different from taking a regular portrait since there are more than one person to take account of.

Shutter Speed

Use the fastest shutter speed possible given the amount of available light. Using a faster shutter speed will reduce blur. A good rule of thumb is to set your shutter speed to at least 1/focal length in order to achieve a non-blurry picture. For instance, if you are using a focal length of 50mm, your shutter speed should be at least 1/50. Since large groups have more people to account for, there will likely be movement or shuffling—especially if there are children in the photograph. The faster your shutter speed, the less blur your camera will capture.

Aperture

Assess the dimensions of your group. If it is a deep group, make sure to use a narrow aperture. A narrow aperture will result in a greater depth of field. This means that more things will be in focus. Use an aperture of at least f/8 when shooting group portraits since you want every person in the group to be in focus. If you need to use a wider aperture due to poor lighting, either find a better location or stand farther back. Standing farther back will result in a greater depth of field, which means your group will be more in focus.

Flash

If there is not enough available light, a flash is sometimes necessary to provide a correctly exposed picture. If you are photographing a small group, then the built-in flash will be fine. However, if your group is large and deep, the built-in flash will not be powerful enough to light up everyone, especially at night. In order to get a properly exposed picture in a dim location with a large group, use external flashes. If you are indoors, you can swivel your external flash so it is pointing at the ceiling. When you take a picture, the light from the flash will bounce off the ceiling, illuminating everyone that is underneath. This is a good way to take group pictures indoors. However, if you are outdoors, use multiple external flashes to light up all areas of the group. Place one flash on the left side of the group and one flash on the right side in order to have your whole group properly illuminated.

Focal Length

Make sure everyone in the group portrait is in the frame. You can do this by changing the focal length of your lens. If you have a prime lens, move forward or backwards in order to frame your group. Wide angle lenses are great for group photography since they have a larger field of view. If there is something interesting in the background that you would like to include into your group portrait, don't be afraid to use a wide angle lens in order to allow more objects to fit in your photo.