PORTRAIT PHOTOGRAPHY

How to shoot standout group portraits

Four Canon Ambassadors share their top tips for taking every kind of group portrait, from families and wedding parties to sports teams.
Canon Camera
Special occasions such as weddings, sporting events and family celebrations offer great opportunities to take group portraits of friends and loved ones that will be treasured for years to come.

However, achieving a good group shot is an art – and a tricky one. When you're dealing with several people, you need to be able to think quickly about where to place them and clearly communicate what you want them to do. That means you need to have already mastered your group portrait basics.

Some advice is universal. Whatever kind of group shot you're taking, you should ensure everyone has a good expression, the shot is well composed and exposed, and the background isn't cluttered or distracting.

Lighting is also always important. For example, if you're shooting outside on a sunny day, look for an area with overhead shade so your subjects aren't squinting into the camera.

Using a camera with an electronic viewfinder, such as the Canon EOS RP or Canon EOS R6, means you can see your group shots as you take them and adjust the exposure, while a vari-angle screen will enable you to shoot from different viewpoints for creative or practical reasons.

When you're shooting indoors using natural light, it really helps to use fast lenses, such as the Canon RF 50mm F1.8 STM. And if you find yourself photographing a large group in a relatively small area, you can achieve a good shot with an ultra-wide-angle Canon RF 16mm F2.8 STM lens.

Here, four Canon Ambassadors, all highly experienced professionals in their fields, offer their essential tips for taking great group shots in any scenario.

1. Family group portraits

A black and white image of a family at the beach. The father is lifting his child into the air and all three are silhouetted against the sun.

"Having the family walk or run towards you can add dynamism to a group shot, and children tend to love running around," says family photographer Helen Bartlett. "Or make the photography into a game to keep it fun!" Taken on a Canon EOS-1D X Mark II (now succeeded by the Canon EOS-1D X Mark III) with a Canon EF 24-70mm f/2.8L II USM lens at 24mm, 1/5000 sec, f/2.8 and ISO200. © Helen Bartlett

A black and white group portrait of a family posing outdoors, the parents crouched down and the two children leaning on their shoulders.

This shot shows the parents sat lower in the frame than the children, which is a compositional technique to ensure all their faces are level. Taken on a Canon EOS-1D X (now succeeded by the Canon EOS-1D X Mark III) with a Canon EF 50mm f/1.2L USM lens at 1/100 sec, f/5 and ISO1000. © Helen Bartlett

Shooting groups is part of Helen Bartlett's daily work as one of the UK's top family photographers. "For a group shot, where possible, it's good to arrange people into an interesting composition, varying height and placement to make a balanced image," she says.

"I recommend starting with an eyes-to-the-camera shot and then waiting while the action develops. Usually, the shot after the formal portrait is the best one, as the family members turn towards each other and chat and laugh."

If you're shooting in a garden or park, Helen suggests grouping your subjects around objects in your environment. A fallen tree could make an attractive prop for young children to perch on, for example.

"If you are shooting inside, think about your light and ideally have the family facing the window to get even light on all their faces," Helen continues. "When you're working in a small space and photographing young children, if parents pick up toddlers, they can't run away, and it puts everyone's head on the same level.

"If you put a family on a sofa, then younger children can sit on their parent's laps. As they get older, you can arrange the children on the arms or back of the sofa, to mix up the composition."

Finally, if you want to use the latest tech to take spontaneous family photos at events such as children's parties, or family gatherings, the Canon PowerShot PX is the answer. It's a smart camera that uses image recognition technology and composes pictures automatically, leaving you free to enjoy the event.

2. Wedding group portraits

A group portrait of three women in brightly coloured traditional Indian dress, with henna and numerous bracelets on their arms, standing in front of a floral display.

Wedding photographer Sanjay Jogia's method for avoiding the perennial problem of blinking in his images is to initially ask the group to close their eyes. "Then I say, 'I'm going to count you down from three to one, then open your eyes.' I take three shots, about half a second apart." Taken on a Canon EOS-1D X Mark II with a Canon EF 24-70mm f/2.8L II USM lens at 24mm, 1/1000 sec, f/3.5 and ISO320. © Sanjay Jogia

A large family group dressed in formal wear, posed in a dimly lit room with golden ceiling fixtures.

Sanjay doesn't use wide apertures on group shots to avoid people being out of focus. "Usually, I play it safe and don't go less than f/8 on a group, even if its outdoors and a single line, because you get some more detail in the scene behind," he explains. Taken on a Canon EOS 5DS R with a Canon EF 24-70mm f/2.8L II USM lens at 44mm, 1/200 sec, f/8 and ISO200. © Sanjay Jogia

Sanjay Jogia has been photographing weddings since 2008, specialising in Indian and destination weddings in locations around the world. Although most nuptials will have a professional shooting the official images, he has advice for anyone who wants to take their own group shots.

"To avoid high-contrast lighting situations, I'd suggest placing your groups in some open shade, such as under a big tree or in the shade of a building where there's a nice backdrop," Sanjay says. "You don't want people up against a wall, necessarily – you want some separation between subject and background, so the focus is on the people."

Sanjay composes his groups so that the frame is mainly filled with people, with some breathing room around them, while avoiding any background distractions. If the bride and groom are in the image, he puts them in the centre.

"I generally pose the bride and groom and just change the people around them," he says. "If it's a standing group I try to put them in one line, so I have even numbers of people on either side, all turned in toward the bride and groom and brought close together to minimise the space the group takes up."

3. Sports team portraits

A group portrait of the Australian cricket team wearing yellow and green.

“Think about the light,” says chief sports photographer Marc Aspland. "We tend to take team photos all too quickly, but just by seeing where the best light is, the rewards will be so much better. I always prefer backlighting to direct sunlight for even lighting." © Marc Aspland

Marc Aspland is chief sports photographer for The Times newspaper. Although much of his work focuses on capturing the action, he also takes group shots. "A uniform, neat, precise team group is always better than a random group picture," he says.

If you're photographing a football team, for example, Marc advises placing the team in two rows, with the back row standing and the front row kneeling with one hand on a knee, or arms folded. The captain should be in the middle of the back row and the manager standing at the side of the group. A low camera angle is also advised, almost level with the heads of the people in the front row.

A wide-angle to mid-telephoto zoom lens, such as the Canon EF-S 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 IS STM, will get the whole team in shot while allowing you to be flexible with composition. "The team group should fit almost exactly in the dimensions of your DSLR viewfinder," Marc continues. "You don't need a super-fast shutter speed, but depth of field is important to ensure front row to back row are all in focus. An aperture of f/5.6 or f/8 would give good definition."

If something distracts your group shot, make sure you get their attention by shouting or waving, so they are looking directly at you. Marc adds, "You also have to make sure one of them is not putting 'rabbit's ears' fingers behind the head of the player standing beside them!"

4. Fashion group portraits

A black and white group portrait of three young women sitting on the bonnet of a car in front of a picturesque lake.

This shot by fashion photographer Julie Pike shows Norwegian pop star Aurora (centre) and her two sisters. "I specifically asked if we could meet up in their childhood home, as it was a place they would feel comfortable," she says. Taken on a Canon EOS 5D Mark III (now succeeded by the Canon EOS 5D Mark IV) with a Canon EF 24-105mm f/4L IS USM lens (now succeeded by the Canon EF 24-105mm f/4L IS II USM) at 105mm, 1/400 sec, f/9 and ISO500. © Julie Pike

Three young women in summer clothing walk through a forest as the sun shines through the trees. One of the women has her hands in the air.

Julie says it's important to really pay attention to your subjects in order to achieve strong images. "Be more conscious about how they are moving and acting," she says. "Try to really connect with them instead of just being behind the camera, because that's going to cause separation from you and the people you're photographing." Taken on a Canon EOS 5D Mark III with a Canon EF 24-105mm f/4L IS USM lens at 24mm, 1/200 sec, f/7.1 and ISO320. © Julie Pike

Julie Pike is a fashion photographer based in Oslo, Norway, and shoots her dreamy, spontaneous-looking images for major brands and magazines. If you want to photograph a small group in a fashion or lifestyle shoot, she advises choosing a location such as a garden or house where everyone is comfortable. She also recommends using just one zoom lens, so you're not spending time changing lenses.

"At the start of the shoot, walk around with the group to loosen up a little bit," she says. "I always start by talking to people. I'd rather talk to them for 15 minutes and shoot for five minutes than vice versa. Always have the camera ready. Then, when everyone's relaxed, start taking some shots."

If you're photographing, say, three models and you want to keep them all sharp, Julie advises shooting at f/8 or f/11, with a shutter speed of at least 1/250 sec if your models are moving. When shooting in lower light, cameras such as the Canon EOS RP or Canon EOS R6 allow you to shoot at higher ISO settings without the need for flash. "Cameras are so good now that you can turn your ISO up way high, and it still looks great," she says.

For Julie's style of fashion image, she tells her subjects to imagine they're being filmed and keep moving, not to wait for the next shot. "They should not look at the camera all the time," she says. "I'd rather just ask them to look at me when I want them to. I want them to forget about the camera."

At your next event with family or friends, make sure to gather everyone around to take a clear and striking group portrait.

Written by David Clark

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