The Gang's All Here! Tips for Taking Great Group Holiday Photos

November 20, 2017

The Gang's All Here! Tips for Taking Great Group Holiday Photos

It's that time of year again! Time for holiday fun and family gatherings. And it's a great time to capture your family in a group portrait.

Here are some tips for shooting a great group photo:

Choose a plain background

You want your family and friends to be the focus of your image. So avoid posing the group in front of a busy background and, instead, opt for a background that's plain, simple and unobtrusive.

Look for Natural Light

Natural light is flattering light, especially in the fall and winter months when the low sun provides soft and diffuse illumination.

So if the weather is nice, head outside. Otherwise, pose your group in front of and facing a large window.

Vary the Heights

If there are more than four or five people in the group, they will look closer (and friendlier) if you pose them in multiple rows.

Vary the heights of the people in the group to add visual interest. Mix it up. Have some people standing, some sitting on chairs and some sitting on the floor, some kneeling, and, if there are little ones, maybe some sitting on laps or being held.

Not only will this stacking approach add visual interest to your image, it will also allow everyone in the group to be seen.

Control the Depth of Field

Shoot in Aperture Priority mode so you can control the depth of field.

You want a depth of field large enough to keep everyone in the group sharp while softening the focus on the background. So it's a balancing act.

The actual setting that works will depend on how large the group is and the distance you are shooting from. I suggest something around f/4 for smaller groups and moving up to f/5.6 or even f/8 for bigger groups.

Focus on the Person Closest to the Camera

Whatever your depth of field is, 1/3 of the area of focus will be in front of the focus point and 2/3s of it will be behind the focus point.

That means that you have a good chance of getting the whole group in focus when you focus on the person who is closest to the camera.

Tweak the ISO

If you find that there isn't enough light, increase the ISO.

Remember that people tend to fidget. And the longer the shutter speed, the more likely someone is going to move during your shot.

By increasing the ISO, you can keep the shutter speed as short as possible and reduce the chances of a stray movement ruining an otherwise good image. But to keep from having too much grain, try to keep the ISO at or below 1600.

Tips for great group holiday photos

By the way, there's a general rule of thumb for setting shutter speed when hand-holding your camera. This rule says that you should set your shutter speed to at least one over the focal length in order to avoid blurry photos. So if you are shooting at 50mm, your shutter speed should be at least 1/50th of a second.

This is a good rule to follow when shooting groups, especially those that include children, even when shooting on a tripod.

Shoot in Burst mode

Burst mode allows you to shoot multiple images in quick succession. By taking several images at one time, you can up your chances of getting an image with everyone's eyes open.

Finally, use a Tripod and a Remote Trigger

Shooting on a tripod keeps your camera steady and, along with a remote trigger, allows you to get in the shot with the rest of your family.

Further Reading

11 Dos and Don’ts for Posing Group Portraits

Photographing Large Group Portraits

16 Dos and Don’ts to Photograph Large Groups

7 Tips for Photographing Groups

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