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Taking group photos may be a seemingly simple task, but here are some pointers to differentiate your group photos from the rest.
Choose a longer focal length
For starters, use a longer focal length to avoid distortion. Using the longer end of your zoom lens for group photos may not sound like a practical approach, but if you have the room for it, zoom in to a longer focal length that still enables you to include everyone in the picture. You can also step back a little in order to do so. The photo below was taken with a 50mm focal length. By the way, this was a super-quick shot taken with one speedlight on-camera, not off-camera. Whenever you have the chance, use as long a focal length as the space allows you to.
Very often, photographers simply stay where they are and zoom out to a wider angle to include everyone. This creates distortion in the picture, which makes the people on the left and right extremes look fat. If you have people lined up in a curved formation, those nearest to you will look disproportionately larger than those in the middle, who are further away from you. The photo below was taken with a 19mm focal length, as space was limited.
Watch your depth of field
Group photos typically require more depth of field than a portrait of a single person. This is because the more people there are in the group, the higher the chances that each person is standing (or sitting) at a different distance to you. Even when you focus on just one person, other persons at the same distance to you will appear equally sharp. This requirement becomes even more crucial when there is more than one row of people. This means that an aperture of f5.6 or higher is required for two rows. If there are three rows, it’s safer to use f8 or higher.
If you take my advice on using a longer focal length, then this depth of field guideline becomes even more important, because longer focal lengths have less depth of field.
Compact digital cameras have a distinct advantage in this area. They have inherently more depth of field than DSLR cameras, due to their small sensor size. This is why they are better suited for landscape photography compared to DSLRs. For group photos, they also excel if there is plenty of light and the photographer is able to harness the light direction for best results. But in dim light, many people turn to the built-in flash which usually does not give flattering results. A compact digital camera used with a speedlight will give you a dramatically improved group photo. This totally defeats the purpose of carrying a compact camera, but the results can be worth your effort.
Taking 2-3 shots will enable you not only to choose the best shot with the fewest number of people blinking, but also to choose the one with the best expressions. Very often a group photo will have some people ready with a smile, and some who are just warming up to smile at the next shot.
If you’re shooting with a speedlight, be sure to allow enough time for the speedlight to recharge for the next shot, or you may end up with an underexposed second shot. A battery pack greatly helps to speed up the recharge time.