I recently photographed the junior rowers in my rowing club, and I wanted to make sure that I made a great portrait for the team. There’s one simple thing I did that makes it easier to make a good looking group portrait, no matter how big the group:

Step Back, and Zoom In

Using a long lens to photograph groups is important because it ensures everyone in the group appears the same size in the picture. If you stand close to a group, the people closer to the camera appear larger than the people at the back of the group. That means that little Suzie the toddler’s head on the front row may be four times larger than Big Uncle Harry’s head who is standing at the back. This often leads to unflattering group pictures. If you simply step back farther from the group and zoom in, you’ll have better group portraits because everyone appears to be the correct size in relation to each other. Also, it’s easier to have a little bokeh in the background with a long lens.

Panasonic Lumix GH4, Sigma 60mm f/2.8 lens, f/5 1/125s, ISO 400.
Panasonic Lumix GH4, Sigma 60mm f/2.8 lens, f/5 1/125s, ISO 400. Click on the image to view it much larger.

This picture was made with a 60mm lens on a Micro 4/3 body–that’s an equivalent field of view as 120mm on a full frame body. I regularly use 100mm on a full frame body for group shoots. Of course, this means I need more space to make a portrait, and that eliminates many beautiful backdrops because there isn’t enough room for me to backup and shoot. But helping people look great is more important than shooting in front of a pretty scene. I strongly recommend you learn to use a long lens for groups.