How to Shoot Great Group Photos

Learning to shoot great group shots is a skill that all photographers need to master. (Copyright 2010 / Andrew Boyd)

Learning to shoot great group shots is a skill that all photographers need to master. (Copyright 2010 / Andrew Boyd)

The group shot. I know what you’re thinking: you hate shooting them!

But it’s something that, as the photo enthusiast in your circle of friends and family, you’ll be expected to pull off on a regular basis. People love great group shots! What better way to document that gathering of distant relatives? The group shot is the answer and something you might as well get really good at.

What follows are my thoughts and techniques to help you consistently achieve great results.

Big groups are tough: lots of people, so little time to get it right. (Copyright 2010 / Andrew Boyd)

Big groups are tough: lots of people, so little time to get it right. (Copyright 2010 / Andrew Boyd)


Before shooting any group shot, decide about your equipment in advance: which camera and lens is needed, will you need to add any strobe, etc. Make sure you have fresh, charged batteries in camera and strobe and a fresh memory card in your camera. You want to have these details worked out ahead of time, since fumbling around with your group assembled is a sure recipe for a bored and uncooperative bunch.


Having shot literally thousands of group shots, I start with the known fact that most people, when put into a group for a photograph, have the attention span of a hamster. Maybe not even a hamster! So it’s EXTREMELY IMPORTANT that you work quickly!

This is the foremost fact of life for group shot shooting. You have only a tiny window of time in which people will really be paying attention, so you must be READY and SHOOT QUICKLY.


Full-length or waist-up are usually the best ways to go with a plain-Jane group photo. (Copyright 2010 / Andrew Boyd)

Full-length or waist-up are usually the best ways to go with a plain-Jane group photo. But that doesn't mean you shouldn't look for the spontaneous moment! (Copyright 2010 / Andrew Boyd)

Usually, for most straightforward, safe group shots, I shoot either full-length or waist-up. This is a ‘rule’ to be broken, when you have a great idea for a composition, but for the safe, bankable shot, full-length and waist-up are where I always start.

When directing people into position in a large group, make certain that you can clearly see everyone’s face from camera position. This is so important! They may think they are visible, if  THEY have a clear vision of YOU, but they may in fact be partially obscured behind Uncle Charlie. It’s up to YOU to make sure you have composed a photograph with all faces visible.

Once you have everyone composed and where you want them, shoot at least three frames of each version. I do this with the motor drive on my camera. Someone will always be blinking or looking away in some of the shots, but getting three cuts down on your overall number of unusable images.

I find that I have my ‘group shot patter’ that I turn on for a group shot. You need to be talking to the group, schmoozing them, making them  feel relaxed, reminding them that ‘this will only take a minute,’ as you get them all lined up and ready. Keep smiling, keep talking as you get them where you want them. You want them concentrating on YOU, not on the tiresome fact that they’re having to stand or sit still for a boring group photo! Remember, in this situation, IT’S YOU WHO ARE ON STAGE. KEEP THEM ENTERTAINED. Then shoot quickly! Check your results very carefully on your LCD before letting them go, or moving on to another version.

Look carefully for who isn’t smiling: the guy who’s going to ruin the entire overall shot. Look up from your viewfinder, smile directly at that person and ask if they plan to smile for any of these? Then when they sheepishly grin, quickly shoot that better version, before they have time to think about it. You may get a couple of decent shots off before their nervousness takes over and they return to scowling!

Once you have a nice, acceptable photo, look for something different! The 'improv' shots are sometimes the best. (Copyright 2010 / Andrew Boyd)

Once you have a nice, acceptable photo, look for something different! The 'improv' shots are sometimes the best. (Copyright 2010 / Andrew Boyd)

Once you have this perfectly decent, acceptable and ‘safe’ version of the group shot, think about something more creative: ask them all to loosen up, or make them all get their heads in tight together—anything that comes to mind that throws them off balance and not thinking: then shoot quickly! You’ll only have a split second to get this more spontaneous version of the group shot, and sometimes this will be the best one.

Expect the unexpected! The guy in the background just decided to jump through this group of 'Bond' girls. (Copyright 2010 / Andrew Boyd)

Expect the unexpected! The guy in the background just decided to jump through this group of 'Bond' girls. (Copyright 2010 / Andrew Boyd)

That’s it! Instead of thinking about group shots as a chore, think about them as a challenge—something that you can improve upon as you become a more seasoned photographer.

Start to look and pay attention to great group portraits when you come across them. How did the photographer get that photo? What do you think he did to cajole that group of people into jumping straight up in the air in their ball gowns? Look at how he incorporated the background into the photograph: is there something there for you to use? All of these little things play a role as you learn to shoot this most fundamental of photos, the group shot.

self portHi, I’m Andrew Boyd, a.k.a. The Discerning Photographer, and I hope this post has been interesting and informative. Please leave me a comment about it, let me know what you’d like to see more of on the site! You can also sign up for email delivery of all future articles or my RSS feed. Thanks!–DiscerningPhotog

Related articles on the web:

Shooting Group Photos at Digital Photography School

Shooting Group Portraits at Light-Shoot-Print

The Ulitmate Photo Shoot: Portrait of the World’s Leaders

Posted in: How To

About the Author:

Photographer, videographer and photo editor. Host and creator of The Discerning Photographer web site. Currently a Canon shooter.

26 Comments on "How to Shoot Great Group Photos"

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  1. Cornell says:

    For large groups, have you considered using a ladder or other device — if one’s available — to increase the odds of everyone’s face being in view?

  2. Great point, thanks Cornell. Yes, ladders and steps are both great devices, when you have the luxury (and/or availability) of them. I find the high view is good for one shot or two, but within a set it becomes a bit of a crutch if you use it too much—sort of like the ‘through the glass’ basketball shot: neat to look at once, but not two or three times from the same shoot.

  3. BayouBill says:

    Andrew, even with my fancy-schmancy Nikon D90 the most difficult group shots for me are those where there is lots of depth in the setting. For example, a group of people having drinks while sitting at a bar, or a group having dinner while sitting at a long table, when you are positioned at one end of the bar or table (sometimes, even with a wide-angle lens, the room is not deep enough to take a wide shot, so you are forced to take a long one). Even with smaller groups, the lighting and focus can be difficult. What is your advice on how to shoot in this situation?

  4. Thanks for the great question, Bill. In situations like the ones you’re describing, the first thing to know is that you must TAKE CONTROL of the group: you’ll want to reposition your dinner guests around one end of the tab le for the photo, for instance, or regroup your friends around the bar. Once you’ve done that, you’ve solved most of your composition problems and greatly enhanced your chances of coming up with a good photo.
    It also occurs to me that in both of these scenes you suggest, I’d want to be shooting with off-camera strobe, probably bounced off the ceiling or a wall. Read my post about off camera lighting at
    Good luck!

  5. Really useful article, thanks for sharing. As a new DSLR owner, I find that I’m suddenly expected to know how to take brilliant shots in every circumstance available, including the dreaded group shot…! This feature contains some great, actionable tips – cheers!

  6. rb stevens says:

    Have everyone in the group close their eyes. On the count of 3 have them open and smile. This keeps the blinkers to almost zero.

  7. Kate says:

    Wow nice pictures i love it….. Usually, for most straightforward,When directing people into position in a large group,Once you have everyone composed and etc. All of this tips will help us to have a great shoot photos.
    Thanks for sharing your technique on how to Shoot Great Group Photos. More power to your site! please continue inspires many people. God bless 😉

  8. Yes I agree, it is really hard to take pictures of group because you’ll never know how other people will act. You have to capture everyone’s attention in detail and it is very challenging. I think the best way is to catch their attention and capture the moment as fast as you can.

  9. These are great tips! I think great group shots are mostly candid pictures because it is really difficult to take a good one if it’s not candid.

  10. Sandra says:

    Understand standard group photo scenarios. There is something about “rabbit ears” when groups of people get together for a photo. Then of course, at least one person closes his eyes when the photo is taken, or someone looks away from the camera. Try these steps to get a great group shot with everyone cooperating. Try to cluster everyone together nicely. Tall people should stand behind those who are more vertically challenged. Likewise, those who carry a little extra insulation will probably appreciate being placed behind other people (plan these arrangements in your own head, failure to do so may result in a broken camera or busted nose).

  11. A good portrait can be as much diplomacy as photography…

  12. Thomas says:

    The second photo is so much close to perfection. A bit exaggerated comment but I’m truly impressed with it. Thumps up for the photographer.

  13. Jon Allet Bargan says:

    Thanks For The Tips .. it’ll help alot for begginers. =)
    simple tips, but has a big Factor!

  14. Rachel says:

    This makes me recall a really amusing incident last year at a wedding where I was one of the bridesmaids. At the reception, the photographer had this ingenious idea — He asked the group to stand close together at a particular spot. Then he aimed the camera at a spot a few meters away from the group and started counting down. Since everyone was pretty spiked with humor, laughter, fun and wine (!), everyone got the drift and started running towards wherever the photographer was aiming his camera. The result — photos that hardly passed for professional shots, but were all the more invaluable due to the way those priceless moments were creatively captured!

  15. Great examples! You do great work. Thanks for showing us all how it’s done.

  16. Tammy says:

    I think group shots are among the hardest to shoot. There always seems to be someone who is looking away … someone with their eyes closed, or someone talking, hence the half open mouth. Counting is not a sure thing too because people seem to be so giddy and excited during group shots to pay proper attention to the photographer. However, group shots are also among the most fun to shoot. I just love dealing with all sorts of faces, expressions, moods and dispositions.

  17. Melissa says:

    When taking group photos, I make it a point to take some candid shots. Having everyone pose and wait for me to click my camera can sometimes produce some stiff, awkward shots. Loosening them up sometimes actually produces great shots.

  18. Heather says:

    Fantastic. This is what I learned many years ago when I was the one being shot at for picture IDs and other important stuff. I wonder why I wasn’t able to recall this photographer’s tip and apply it to the group that’s being shot for their picture. What a great reminder, thanks.

  19. Excellent advice regarding group shots. As a fashion photography assistant I think group shots are difficult to capture and you make it look so easy! I also want to say group shots to me have a much better backstory than individual portraits or say a model in a bikini. I love the lifestyle feel you have in your images. Great job!

  20. John says:

    Great advice, Andrew. Your comments about people not having the attention span of a hamster are sooooo true. I have shot a few weddings(ugh) and a family reunion(better) and today I’m headed down to the local pub to do a group shot of the staff…cooks, bartenders, servers, managers. The problem with group shots is that the group wants to chat and giggle and pay attention to themselves instead of YOU and your CAMERA. I’ve found that you have to just wrangle em like a bunch of cattle…..tell em what you want and when you want it, which is NOW. For today’s shoot I’ve come up with a novel idea….I think. I went on the web and found a few good one-liner jokes. I’m gonna set up the camera, flash, secondary flash etc. to fire with the 10-second delay. And I’m telling the subjects that they have 10 seconds to smile and in that 10 seconds I’m going to tell them a joke. If all goes well, they’ll all have big grins when the shutter trips….except maybe for the cooks who don’t speak English! Oh well, I’m going to have fun whether this goes well or not! Great tips you gave; thanks a bunch.

  21. El says:

    Great advice sir… But about camera settings.. ( Aperture, shutter speed, ISO, AF-modes, lens and others ). Can you give us also the techniques. Thanks in advance and more power…

  22. The ‘Beginners’ page up under ‘Techniques’ at the top of the home page will get you started:

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