How to take group images that are always in focus
If you have ever taken a group photo, you know that it can be a bit challenging (very challenging if you’re new to photography).
Trying to get a cluster of people all in focus for a shot is easier than you might think. We’ll teach you two things in this blog post to help you avoid a blurry back row. It starts with understanding how to work with depth of field.
Depth of Field
The depth of field is the distance between the closest objects in focus and the farthest point of focus. Basically, it describes how much of your image is in focus. As you can imagine – or have experienced – the people furthest away from the focused area (usually in front) can turn out blurred if you don’t compensate for the depth of field.
The area that is in focus is known as the focal plane, and it’s perpendicular to the camera in a straight, horizontal line.
If there is a narrow depth of field, then the focal plane will also be narrow.
If the depth of field is wide, you can expect the focal plane to also be wide with everything within it focused.
To have everyone focused in a group picture, you’d want a wide depth of field. So how do you do that?
When shooting a group, the individual’s distance from the camera is what matters. Everyone standing side-by-side at the front (shortest distance to the camera) will be in focus. They are in the focal plane. Everyone behind them is not in the focal plane and will be blurred. Anyone crouched down in front of the front line will be blurred as well.
Controlling the Focus
You can control the focus using the aperture. For example, a wide aperture would mean a small area of the image will be in focus (about a few centimeters when looking through the camera). If you’re shooting a portrait of one or two people in the same focal plane, this gives you a nice soft background. If you’re shooting a group standing staggered, you’ll be blurring anyone standing back just slightly behind the focal point.
To best capture a group of people, you’ll want to control your depth of field by using an aperture (maybe around f/8) that is just narrow enough to ensure everyone is in focus. This will allow you to widen the depth of field to capture everyone within the focal plane. Ideally, you’d still have a soft-focus background.
Lastly, how you pose your subjects can also affect the image, including depth of field and focal plane. Read on for some guidance.
Working with Groups
If you want to maintain a blurred background while ensuring the group itself is in focus, use distance instead of the aperture to create that background blur. Gather the group forward in the image – away from the background. This might mean moving them closer to the camera and away from a physical background like a building. The farther they are away from the background, the softer the background will look.
Lines or Layers?
The easiest way to have an entire group in focus is to pose them in a single line and the same distance from the camera. Obviously, that’s harder to do with a larger group. That’s fine. Pose the subjects into layers (more than one line), but be sure they are very close together, keeping them within the focal plane.
Use a Narrow Aperture
Set your camera’s aperture* to a narrow setting that allows you to keep everyone in focus. You can use the aperture priority mode or manual mode on your camera. You might have to play around a bit with the settings to figure out which is the best aperture. Keep in mind that the group’s distance to the camera and how many lines of people there will affect the focus.
For a smaller group standing the same distance from the camera, you can use a lower F-stop.
For a large group and multiple rows, lower the F-stop.
Don’t forget that aperture also affects how light or dark an image will be. You might ultimately need to use a flash or light to compensate for light as well as the depth of field.
Use Single Point Auto-focus
Set a focal point that is about ⅓ of the way in the focal plane. (About ⅓ or the focal plane is in front of that focal point, and ⅔ is behind it.) Select this point carefully, then set your camera’s auto-focus mode to single-point auto-focus.
To find the single point with portraits, select a focus point over an eye.
For group portraits, select someone towards the center of the frame rather than the edges of the frame.
If the group has two rows or less, select someone towards the center of the first row.
If the group has three or more rows, focus on a face that’s closest to one-third of the way through the group. For example, in a group with three rows, focus on a face in the middle row.
Check the Image
Before you let anyone get out of “formation” in the group, be sure to assess the image. You might need to take a few more shots. We suggest taking several burst images to try and avoid blinking/closed eyes. Be sure to zoom into the picture while checking it and look very closely at everyone. Look for blurred areas, people moving or stepping out of line, closed eyes, or funny looks.
In summary, the more adept you become with the depth of field and working with the aperture settings, the better focused your group shots will be.
It’s sort of like juggling several balls in the air at once. It will take some practice; you will make some mistakes, but, ultimately, you will get it right. Strive for a soft-focused background with all group members in focus for the best images.
To achieve this, concentrate on where to stand the group relative to the background and set your aperture accordingly – which usually means a narrow aperture. Identify the focal point by picking a set of eyes within the front ⅓ of the group. Then breathe and take the picture!