How do you get such sharp family and group portraits? It’s one of the most common questions we get from photographers — because it’s one of the most normal technical challenges new photographers have. A few specific focus tips can make all the difference in walking onto a session with confidence.
We remember exactly what it felt like to be nervous at a session, acting calm and positive in front of the client (Everything looks great, guys! Perfect!) while inside we were secretly scared to death, because someone had finally PAID US to take their pictures… and we were realizing the group images weren’t even IN FOCUS. In those moments, the doubts that had lingered in the back of our mind for months got louder. We felt the opposite of professional.
Have you been there? We want to change that for you today!
A few quick things to remember about shooting lots of people in one photo.
- Individual and couples portraits will usually lean more artistic
- Large family and group portraits are a little more utilitarian. There’s not a huge creative license — because there’s rarely time for it (especially at weddings!)
- The goal of family portraits is to get every member of the group in sharp focus, so when the family prints the photos for their wall or an album, they look beautiful and professional.
Lastly, the larger the group is, the more combinations they want and the less time there is to work with (which is basically all wedding days!), the more pressure and room for error there is — which makes it really important for the technical part to be second nature to the photographer, so the photographer can focus (pun intended) on giving the clients a fantastic experience. We can help with that!
Here are our top focus tips for getting sharp family and group portraits on a wedding day or during a large group family session.
1. One Shooter, One Organizer
We always divide and conquer family and group portraits to expedite the process. Amy stays near the group, reads off combinations, poses and positions each person (click here to watch a free posing class with us!) and looks for anything that’s out of order. This gives Jordan the chance to focus on his composition, settings and getting the pictures in focus. Splitting up the roles has really helped us execute this well, because trying to do both is a lot for one person — especially if it’s a large group or challenging family — and can lead to mistakes with the camera. If you’re shooting a wedding solo, we recommend asking the wedding planner or the least intoxicated, most responsible-looking family member to assist with the shot list.
If you’re shooting a family session alone and don’t have the luxury of a second shooter/assistant, we’d recommend putting your camera down while you instruct and organize the group, step back, take a breath, look at the entire group before you bring the camera up to see if you need to make corrections and then bring the camera to your face to get the shot.
2. Line Up Their Feet
Groups have a tendency to curl in on the ends and make a U-shape without even realizing it! We all do it — even photographers! — but it’s a problem when trying to get everyone in focus because as the people on the ends curl up, they’re unintentionally stepping out of the focal plane, so when you focus on the person in the middle (like you always should), the people on the ends will be out of focus. The fastest, easiest way to correct this is with a preset in Photoshop that sharpens everyone that’s our of focus. JUST KIDDING. Like we teach in our Shooting & Editing Course, the fastest, easiest way to correct problems is IN-CAMERA. In this case, Amy uses the simple direction,”Let’s line up your toes,” to help them get straightened out and back on the same focal plane.
3.Try to Avoid Multiple Rows
If you’re able to get everyone lined up on the same focal plane, that’s best. If you have to do two lines, one of our best focus tips is to make sure and remind the people in the back row to get uncomfortably close to the people in front of them. The farther apart the subjects are (from front to back), the more difficult it will be to get everyone in focus. The closer they are together, the easier it will be. The more rows you have, the higher your aperture will need to be.
4. Focus on the People in the Front
If you have a two rows of people standing, make sure to focus on the person who’s front and center. Aperture, like a lot of things in photography, works in a system of thirds. So, if your aperture is f/4, then within that focal plane, wherever you focus, 1/3 of that will go forward and 2/3 will go backward. In other words, when you focus on someone in the front, you just need them to be in focus, and nothing in front of them, but you do need the people behind them to be in focus, so you’ll have a better chance of doing that if you give them the extra 2/3 of that aperture’s focal depth. In this photo below, we focused on the bridesmaid sitting in front, and you’ll notice the bride in the second row is completely in focus, too.
5. Pick the Right Aperture
One of the most important focus tips when shooting groups of people is to make sure you choose the right aperture. If we’re shooting a bride and groom and their parents, or a smaller grouping of bridesmaids or groomsmen (of about 4-6 people), and they’re all on the same focal plane, we can shoot at f/2.8, get them all in focus and (depending on the lens we’re using, our distance to them and their distance to the background) maybe some blur or bokeh, too. If we’re shooting a larger bridal party grouping (of about 8-10 people), and they’re all on the same focal plane, then we’ll bump our aperture up a full stop to f/4.0. If that makes you uncomfortable, you can always go to f/5.6, but we like f/4.0. We’ll use f/4.0 if there’s a second row added to a small grouping, as long as everyone is very close together, like we explained earlier.
If there’s a third row, we’ll go to at least f/5.6 and maybe even f/8.0, but we rarely encounter that because most of our clients usually just want immediate family in the photos: parents, siblings, and grandparents. As a rule of thumb, though, we tend to hang out at f/4.0 for most of family portrait time and keep the groupings smaller, because even though we give up some of the bokeh in the background compared to f/2.8, we’ll trade that for guaranteed in-focus family shots any day of the week. Your client probably won’t appreciate the difference between f/2.8 and f/4.0, but they will notice if they’re blurry!
Pro Tip: A lens’s sharpest aperture isn’t actually its highest number (like f/22). For most lenses, it’s around f/8 – f/11. So if you’re really worried about getting everyone in a large, multi-layered, generational group shot sharp and in focus, something in that range will definitely do the trick!
6. Speed Up Your Shutter
As a rule of thumb, especially for new photographers, one of the most imperative focus tips is that your shutter speed should be double your focal length — at least. We shoot a lot of our family portraits with a Canon 70-200 f/2.8 at 70mm with a shutter speed somewhere between 1/200 and 1/400. Can that lens handle a slower shutter? Definitely! At this stage in our career, if we’re not moving and our subjects aren’t moving, can our hands handle a slower shutter and avoid camera shake? Probably! We shoot it lower than that all the time, but not when so much is on the line. It’s just not worth it. Bump up your ISO one full stop to keep your shutter faster. Outside on a bright day (even if you’re in the shade), you’ll never notice the grain from a higher ISO — and neither will anyone else — but you will notice if someone’s face isn’t in focus… and so will everyone else.
7. Watch Out for Lens Flare
If the sun is hitting your lens directly and you see lens flare (like a haze over the entire image), try to make an adjustment before you start family portraits. Lens flare can cause the camera to have trouble focusing. You might not notice it right away, or until you get home, but if lens flare is there, it’ll be a problem. We recommend lens hoods in situations like that. Sometimes we’re limited to where we can shoot family portraits, so if the only spot available is somewhere that has light hitting the lens, a good lens hood will minimize or eliminate that. If you can’t get rid of all of it, you can always have a second shooter or assistant hold something to shade your lens.
8. Check Your LCD Screen
Every time we take a set of group portraits, we double check the LCD screen before we move on to the next combination. We have our cameras set to zoom in tight with one click so we can see our client’s eyes quickly. Even on a tight timeline, it only takes a few seconds to make sure everyone’s eyes are open and in focus; if they’re not, it only takes a few more clicks of the shutter to correct it. An easy correction to make on the spot, but a huge headache to try to correct later digitally!
We hope that these focus tips help you get your large group and family photos in sharp focus every time! If you try all of these tips and you’re still having trouble with sharp focus, it might be time to send your lens or camera in for an inspection at a local camera shop. Canon and Nikon also have professional service programs where you can send your gear for routine maintenance and, when needed, repair. Here’s a link to a blog post we wrote about our experience with Canon Professional Services.
If you’ve eliminated all user error and had your gear inspected by a professional, and you’re still struggling with focus, it might be time to upgrade your camera and lens to newer models. If you need help with that, click here to see a full list of all the gear that’s in our bag. Hint: If we had to shoot a wedding with just one camera and one lens, we’d choose the Canon R6 Mark II with the Canon R 50mm 1.2 lens (that’s what we shoot with now) but if that’s not in your budget, consider the Canon R50.
Thanks! These are so simple and make sense and yet I have never thought or read them this way – Thanks for sharing!
Brilliant! Thank you!
Thank you for posting. Great tips to remember!
Awesome! Any advice for shutter speed with flash on the 70-200 for indoor family formal shots? How do you determine that?
Manual mode, 250 shutter speed, raw image, iso 100, WB flash, try that most of the time works good
Great post! Thanks for all the wonderful tips!
Thank you very much! Great tips!!!!
Can I still get a sharp shot using the basic kit lens that came with my Nikon? Last year I had to shoot 20+ people at my grandpa’s birthday party. 5 x 7 was ok, but larger prints started to look digitized. Now, it’s my grandma’s big 80th party & I have to do it again. I would’ve preferred hiring a professional, but it’s too late for that. Is there any hope of creating a clearer shot?? Thanks! I’m enjoying your tips!!
Hi Tracy! Great question!
We’d focus on a few things.
1. Make sure that the 20 people are as close together as possible if they’re in rows. I’d try two rows of 10 or three rows of 7 or so.
2. Then, be sure to have an aperture of at least 4.0 for the two rows (if not higher) and 8.0 if you go to three rows.
3. Use the center focal point on your camera and focus on the person in the front center row (for two rows) or the middle row (if you’ve got three rows).
Hope that helps and good luck, friend!!!
Hmm your tip about doubling your shutter speed for a 200mm on a 70-200mm lens was interesting. I have heard of this tactic about a week ago but never paid attention honestly if I have done this before inadvertently. Bumping up the ISO I understand would be necessary. The length of 200mm on a group shot of more than 7 people is daunting to me, but seeing what you did I am eager to try it. Thanks for your post!
Hi, Design Theory! So glad it helped! We shoot most of our group portraits on our 70-200mm at 70mm and try to keep the focal length above 200 for sure and a lot of times between 200-400. We have no problem pushing ISO 800 for two-row group shots with an aperture of 5.6 since the grain at 800 on modern DSLR’s is minimal, but if we have to choose between ISO 1600 and dropping our shutter speed closer to 1/100 or something like that, we’ll try that first and hold REALLY still 😉
Hi, Amy & Jordan! I have a question. Can you explain this a bit more for me: “We shoot most of our group portraits on our 70-200mm at 70mm and try to keep the focal length above 200 for sure and a lot of times between 200-400.”
Do you shoot families/bridal party zoomed in to 70mm or 200mm?
Hi, Guys! Great question! The answer is both actually! At some venues in town, we have VERY limited options for clean backgrounds combined with open shade for family portraits. At one venue in particular, the ONLY spot has distracting elements all around the periphery of the backdrop we want. So, in that case, Jordan backs WAY up and zooms all the way to 200mm to pull that tiny background forward and make it seem bigger than it really is. Thus, cutting out the distracting elements on the sides. Other times at other venues, depending on the light, if he backs up TOO far, there’s bad lens flare, so sometimes 70mm works better so he can be closer to the family and let the sun be blocked from hitting his lens directly because of a building or something. Phew! That was a lot of typing! Long story short, though, we shoot at 70-200 and everything in-between (and sometimes use our 50mm or wider if we HAVE to) but our preferred is our 70-200mm because it’s Jordan favorite lens 🙂 Hope that helps!
Hi again, guys! We just updated Step 6 to address the great question you asked! Thanks so much for bringing that to our attention! Hopefully the update above clarifies everything!
I honestly didn’t expect you guys to respond, how cool is that! Great feedback, I am going to practice those settings hopefully this weekend. Thank you again!
Awesome! Good luck, friend!
You guys are amazing. Thank you so much for the tips. I’ve already added you to my favorites list! And look forward to learning more from you both as I begin my venture as a new photographer.
Hi, Rosalinda! Welcome aboard, friend! We’re so, so glad to have you. Thanks for being part of this online journey with us. We’re cheering for you!
I don’t know how I came about this site but it has certainly helped me a lot for a wedding shoot tomorrow! I don’t normally like shooting weddings but out of a friends request I had to give in 🙂
I would like to ask you, I love shooting with my 50mm lens at 1.2, is it possible to shoot with this lens for the entire event? Not keen on switching lenses if possible? Obviously after reading your blog I’d probably play a lot on the apertures during group shots. What do you think? Switch or can I stick with this lens? Thanks so much!
Hi, Mica! We’re so glad it helped! If you send your question over to firstname.lastname@example.org we can get something over to you!
just finished your webinar, watched life hacks and downloaded quick start guide and I’m not even getting an income from photography! One thing I noticed is that your images are natural light ( I think on the webinar someone asks if you use flash photography) – do you only do daytime/outdoor weddings? If so how do you manage the harsh light during ceremony where you don’t get to choose the location? (sorry I haven’t had time to go through all your images). So many questions!!
Hi Nia! Thank you so much for watching!
If you search “light” on our blog, you should find other blogs when light isn’t ideal!
Hi Amy & Jordan, you guys are great btw, I have a question. My camera came with a kit lens, 18mm and I’m often not happy with the DOF I get in portraits, so I switched to using my 55-300mm lens (came with the camera) But I find that really cuts down my frame, how far back should I be standing from the couple or group for my speedlite to still properly illuminate them and get that nice tack focus? Thanks so much for any help you can offer!
Oh my gosh, you guys are amazing! What a great post…I actually feel like I am starting to understand!
Thank you for sharing these helpful tips.
Thank you… just started “freezing moments” and this will help alot..
I have struggled with this for so long. Amy and Jordan, this is awesome!! Thank you so much! I can’t wait to try all your tips out.
I have struggled with this for so long. Thank you so much for explaining in a way that no one else has. This is awesome, can’t wait to try out these tips!!
Hello Amy and Jordan! I love your work…I myself am a retired elementary school teacher…who married her high school sweetheart as well! My question is what metering do you use? Partial, spot or centered weighted? For your photos? Or do you use a variety for different shoots? Thank you!
Thank you so much for sharing!
You’re so welcome, Dee!
Hello- I am shooting a group of 16 this Sunday. Adults and kids. I have a Nikon 700 and usually use an 85mm 1.4 lens. I also have a 70-200 lens and a 50mm. Which one would you use. How can I get them all in focus? There is also going to be great foliage and color in the background. I am shooting mid day to accommodate
Hi Beverly! If you shoot us an email at email@example.com we can make sure to get your question answered!!
Hello- I am shooting a group of 16 this Sunday. Adults and kids. I have a Nikon 700 and usually use an 85mm 1.4 lens. I also have a 70-200 lens and a 50mm. Which one would you use. How can I get them all in focus? There is also going to be great foliage and color in the background. I am shooting mid day.
[…] https://www.amyandjordan.com/2014/education/taking-sharp-family-and-group-portraits/ […]
Thank you for sharing all this information with us. Love your work. So excited to be trying out your tips toning at a Birthday Party.
Is there any other lens recommended to take group photos that is not the 70-200mm which i don’t owe yet… (on my wishlist)? Owning a 85mm f/1.4 and a 11-16mm f/2.8, kit lenses, ff body and c-body, and a 17-40mm f/4…….
Hi Meylyng!! Thank you!! If you send us an email at info@amyandjordan with your questions we can definitely get it answered for you!
I have a Canon EOS 70D dlsr and need to shoot group photos ranging from 3 ppl to about 12. The photos are indoors with enough light to not have to use flash. I have selected Aperture priority, F.Stop 7.1 and ISO to Auto. I also chose burst shots because people tend to move. Are these good settings? Thank you!
Hi Madeline!! Thanks so much for your questions! If you send us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org we can get them answered for you as soon as possible! 🙂
I can’t believe it’s taken me so long to find you! Your tips are amazing and just what I needed to help my photography get to the next level! Thanks a million times over for being accessible and willing to lend a helping hand!
Aw! Thanks so much, Holly!!
Thanks! It will help me for the aperture.
Absolutely, Dany!! We’re cheering for you! 🙂
Hi was wondering on what you use in shooting group photos with a NikonD5000 at 18-55mm lens? im still learning on it, some shots i had great focus and some not, it gets so frustrating when it comes to lighting if your in a home with low light or just the position im standing because the light changes every time you move to stand, or just outside in general, shots can be to dark or to light. much needed of advice and assistance on this ! thanks !
It is very kind of you to spend time detailing these tips for us! This was most helpful. Your photography is beautiful!!
Hi, Tracee! We’re so glad you found these tips helpful! Thanks so much! Hugs!! 🙂
Enjoyed your tips. Thank you!
We’re so happy to hear these tips were helpful!! Thanks so much, Javier! 🙂
Thank you for the tips! I am shooting my first wedding and have been reading your pages and practicing. I am loving it! Thanks Amy and Jordan! Now if I can just remember everything….
Hi, Kendra! Awe! We’re so glad our blogs have been helpful to you! Good luck!! <3
Do you ever change up the focus points? My camera allows me to change from a wide focus, to 39, 21 and 9 focus points. I feel like I have more control when I go down to 39 focal points, but also worry about losing the sharp focus on anyone outside of the main point of focus. Suggestions?
Hi Shelley! From our personal experience, it all depends on the quality of the camera’s focusing system. When we used to shoot with the 5D Mark II, we had MUCH better luck using the center focal point and recomposing. With the 5D Mark III, the focusing system got a major upgrade, so we started toggling way more and still getting sharp focus. So for some, the center focal point makes sense; for others, using all the different focal points makes sense. It really just depends on the camera 🙂 Hope that helps!
This article was very helpful for a hobbiest like me 🙂
Thank you so much for this post!
You’re so welcome, Jessi! We’re so glad this was helpful!
Thanks for the tips! They were all very insightful 🙂 Love the website too–very clean and simple!
You’re so welcome, Sonia! We’re so glad this was helpful! 🙂
Im looking to add a wider lens. What would you recommend? So far, I have a 50, 85 and 70-200. I am leaning towards the 16-35 but see many people love the 24-70. Also, what is a good flash to purchase? Im using the newest Canon 5D
Hi Denise! We own the 24-70 and love it for getting ready rooms and dancing shots at receptions. We don’t have any experience with the 16-35, but for our purposes, 16 is much wider than we ever need to go and 35 doesn’t allow us to zoom in quite enough; if, for example, we’re in a getting ready room and want to grab a wide shot of all the girls getting ready and then zoom in on Mom lacing her daughter’s dress, all without moving our feet, which sometimes we can’t since getting ready rooms are tight and have lots of obstacles. Hope that helps!
Great article and so helpful!
For couples and families of 4, what is your metering mode? Do you shoot with the same metering mode all the time or does it depend on the amount of people or lighting?
Hi, Bailey! Great question! We use an ExpoDisc for exposure and white balance with evaluative metering (Canon) or matrix metering (Nikon). Hope that helps!
Thank you for posting this kind of article. I love the way you present your point. Simple but amazing!
Hi, Vanesa! You’re so welcome!! We’re so glad this was helpful! 🙂
Great, detailed, information! Thanks!
You’re so welcome, Keith! We’re so glad this was helpful!
Wow, this has so much great information. Thank you for sharing. I learned a LOT
You’re so welcome, Cris! We’re so glad this was helpful!
Thank you so much for all of your tips and tricks. I have spent most of my time shooting wildlife. I was asked to shoot a friend wedding . It was scary as heck. I had no idea how to pose people. I was so out of my element. the pictures came out good, but not glorious.I will not do another without sufficient training. I am sure I will be back in touch.
Aw! You’re so welcome! We’re so glad this was helpful!
[…] Keeping The Family In Focus […]
Geeat down to eart advice.
We’re so glad this was helpful, Donie!
Love your group shot they are so luminous <3
Aw! Thank you so much! 🙂
Even for large group family portraits, would you choose a canon 70-200mm lens over a 50 or 24-70mm if so why?
Hi Nandhinie! Great question! We’ve used all three for large group photos. The 70-200mm is our favorite. It’s always our first choice. However, sometimes we use the 50mm or 24-70mm if we don’t have the space to back up. But we always prefer a longer lens if we have the room, because we think it photographs prettier 🙂 We hope that helps!
[…] is a very important piece when it comes to shooting an event with large group shots. Amy and Jordan have answered our questions quite precisely. How to take sharp family photos and group shots […]
Quite frankly, this is the best blog or article or anything I’ve found to give me confidence with a shoot. I seem to be prone to “oppsies” & ready to ball my eyes out when I see too much grain or one person in focus & one not. I have had my DSLR for maybe 4 or 5 years, & only just started learning the manual settings last year. I have a really nice portrait lens 1.4 50mm, & it was always tricky. I set it to back button focus, & that made such a world of difference! However, I still have issues. I love that you explained about the f-stop & how it focuses more on the back than the front, & I had no idea. That’s going to be super helpful. Also giving actual ranges of what f-stop to use for different things. & the toe trick, although I didn’t realize people actually did that. Makes me feel better, because I’ve thought several times, “If everyone were just the same distance from the lens then they’d all be in focus.” Anyway, thank you! I’m just really beginning this journey, & get pretty afraid when shooting—even for friends!!!
Aww!! That makes us so happy to hear, Lara!! We’re so glad this post was helpful! We’re cheering for you! 🙂
This instruction is so simple and so thorough!! Thank you for caring about others enough to give such detail! I would love know what type of processing you are doing or filter you are using to give your photos the appearance they have. They are absolutely beautiful in shading and color. So crisp and light!
Hi Judy! Aw! Thank you so much! It’s our pleasure to serve photographers and help them with free content! To get our photos to look the way we do, that’s a big question. Haha! So big, in fact, that we created an online course to show other people how we do it — including how to nail our shots in camera so we don’t have to use presets and or spend all day editing. If you’d like more information on the Shooting & Editing Course, it’s available in our online store! We’d love to have you enroll!
[…] Keeping The Family In Focus […]
Wow, you guys really know how to answer questions in a way we can understand. I have been photographing weddings, large groups, portraits etc. with different weather conditions. Your information about large groups is great. I shoot with a Cannon T5i with external Cannon 430EXlll Cannon lens 24 to 105. You recommend the 50mm for use. My lens vs. 50mm, do you feel my lens is a good all round lens? Thanks for your time.
Aw!! That makes us so happy to hear, Victoria! So glad this post was helpful! The 24mm is a great lens! We also love the 50mm! 🙂
Hi Amy and Jordan,
You have really helpful tips in this blog. Thanks so much! I rarely shoot a large group, only once a year every December for a local client and her employees (16 people) This will help me with getting as many people in focus as possible. Oh, and it’s at night in a restaurant. I do bring lights!
This will also help when I do my portraits of dogs and their families. Often it’s just one person and their dog, but sometimes more dogs, more humans! Thanks again!
Aw! We’re so glad our blog is helpful! Thanks for reading! 🙂
Nice post. Thanks for Sharing Valuable information
Wedding Aaha – Chennai
Thank you for reading 🙂
Thank you for sharing, it’s great, this is very helpful!
Aw! You’re so welcome! Thanks for reading 🙂
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who truly knows what they are talking about on the net.
You certainly know how to bring a problem to light and make it important.
A lot more people have to look at this and
understand this side of the story. It’s suhrprising you are not more popular because
you definitely have the gift.
Aw!! Thank you for this sweet message, Donna! This means so much! So glad this article was helpful 🙂
Amy & Jordan,
[…] The goal of family portraits is to get every member of the group in sharp focus, so when you print the photos for a wall or an album, they look beautiful and professional. The larger the group the more combinations of shots should be taken. Remember always leave room for error and provide yourself with many possible portraits. Amy & Jordan, professional photographers, wrote a great post on focus tips for group portraits. […]
Very well written. Claps and thumbs up for this blog. Keep up the good work.
Aw! Thank you so much! We’re so glad you enjoyed this post!
Thanks in favor of sharing such a good thought, piece of writing is nice, thats why i have
read it completely
Awesome! That’s one worthy landscape to have your photos with, atleast for memory’s sake 🙂 Glad you have new ideas to experiment with now.
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To the next! Cheers!!
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[…] Amy and Jordan, say they tend to hang out around f/4 for group shots and up to f/5.6 or f/8 if they have 3 rows of people. […]
Hi , How do you do to take photos in F 5 and they are clear, do you use presets?
Amazing tips to make the family potrate. I really love this article. Thank you for sharing it.
Nice Article, Thanks for sharing Niranjan
Thank you for sharing your knowledge! This information was incredibly helpful to me.
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What are the recommendations for t a group photo, 2 rows, indoor with 1 external flash on camera?
I have read this post 10+ times, this is great Information prior to my first wedding. Seems simple
But this is info newbies need to hear. Thank you!