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How to Get Sharp Focus in Large Family Photos

How to Get Sharp Focus in Large Family Photos

Are you wondering how you can get sharp focus in your photos that have 6, 7, 8…25 family members in them? Taking large family photos can be challenging and making sure you get clear focus can be another battle. But you can do it! Keep reading below for some super easy tips to help you get sharp focus before you head out to your next large family photo session.


RELATED PODCAST: Learn more about working with Large Groups on The Stay Focused Podcast!





Pose the Family

One of the easiest ways you can ensure sharp focus for those large family sessions comes down to posing. An easy pose that helps get clear pictures is to line them up. Keeping everyone on the same plane will make it much easier for you to capture a very clear family photo. By doing this, you can also open your aperture up much wider and also get a beautiful blurry background. I’ve shot large groups of 25 people with an f stop less than 3.2 because of posing this way!

Extended family photography Family of 25 pose for a portrait in Ahwatukee, AZ near the desert and mountians

(3.2 f/stop setting in the above photo of 25 people-posed on the same plane shot with 135mm 2.0 lens)

RELATED ARTICLE: HOW TO POSE LARGE GROUPS

Choose Your Focal Point

Look through your viewfinder and select the middle focal point. This one will almost always give you the sharpest focus. Aim that point for the person that is closest to you. Focus falls back, so aiming at the closest family member will help ensure that everyone else will also be in focus.

How to get Sharp focus when shooting large families

(Here my focal point was aimed at the young boy in front, my f stop was 3.5 to create the blurry background, and the family was lined up! Shot with 135mm 2.0 lens)

 

Watch Your Shutter Speed

Setting your shutter speed too slow can cause some blurriness in your large family portraits. This is especially true if you are holding the camera by hand. Make sure that your shutter speed is set to at least double the focal length of your lens. For example, if you are shooting with a 50mm lens, your shutter speed should be at least 1/100th. When I’m shooting large families, I typically even shoot faster. With my 50mm, I tend to never set my shutter slower than 1/250. You can play around with it though and see what works best for you!

Fun blended fmaily portrait of fmaily playfully walking under a tunnel

(here the family is also “in motion”, so the shutter speed had to be faster- set at 1/800 on a 135mm and 3.2 f/stop)

I hope that helps you feel better prepared for your next large family photo session! Let me know in the comments below what your biggest struggle is working with large families- I just might be able to help you out with?an answer!

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  • AmandaAugust 9, 2020 - 11:50 am

    Hello not sure if I will receive a reply. 
    I have a social distancing group photo 12  are in the group needing to be 6 feet apart. Shooting with 50mm full frame camera. Any advice?ReplyCancel

    • Cozy Clicks PhotographyAugust 10, 2020 - 6:34 pm

      Hey Amanda! That might be a tricky shoot! I would probably try to stagger 2 lines/ 6 in each line so that there was six feet in between each. You also will probably need to up that aperture if that won’t all be on the same plane. Hope that helps a little. Good luck!ReplyCancel

  • sharyn HarbisonNovember 18, 2018 - 2:47 pm

    Im shooting a family of 5 today. Im planning on using my 50 mm lens, at 3.2 f stop [aperature] and shutter at 160. adjusting my iso accordingly. Does this sound right? Im anxious. I dont usually shoot in manual mode.
    SharynReplyCancel

  • sharynNovember 18, 2018 - 2:42 pm

    I have a family of 5. Im going to use my cannon 50 mm lens. Im planning on shooting in Manual mode, with my f-stop[aperture] at 3.2 and shutter at 160? sound about right? I never shoot in manual but I dont own a wide agle lens. Advice??!!! anxious..ReplyCancel

  • Joy EhrhartOctober 25, 2018 - 9:03 am

    Thank you for these great tips! I am an amateur photographer and will be taking my own family photos at Thanksgiving, I just bought a remote so I can be in the photos as well. Wish me luck,  lol! ReplyCancel

  • WendyOctober 17, 2018 - 6:14 pm

    Im just finding this article now, and its great. Thank you so much and thank you for replying to all of the peoples comments and questions. I learned a lot from that too.ReplyCancel

  • LizSeptember 30, 2018 - 2:26 pm

    I didnt realize that focus falls back! Thanks for the tips 🙂ReplyCancel

  • HollySeptember 28, 2018 - 8:57 am

    So nervous to shoot a group of 16 tomorrow! Some of my photos are still looking a little on the soft side. Also, there will be 6 kids, all age 2 and under. Oh boy!ReplyCancel

    • Cozy Clicks PhotographySeptember 29, 2018 - 6:49 pm

      Im sure you did great Holly! Thats a tough age group with that many! Id keep your shutter speed up a bit because Im sure theyll be moving around a lot!?ReplyCancel

  • RebeccaSeptember 13, 2018 - 12:05 pm

    I’m curious, is there a reason why you and others are preferring to shoot with a fixed lens? Why not with an all-around one, say like the 18-270mm I have? So there isn’t so much having to move around to get the shot you want. Does the quality of photo degrade with such a lens? I’m honestly wondering if I’ve been doing photo shoots all wrong (I just have fun with it, as a hobby). I have a 50mm, as well as a 18-55mm, and the 18-270mm as I said previously. I’m trying to decide which would be best for a family photo shoot of 2 adults, 2 young children. I always get so anxious….the kiddos can’t stay still and then the amount of different cropped and different positions the mom wants. Also, is it terrible to go ahead and shoot in P, AV, or T mode? So I don’t always have to worry about EVERYTHING? With children, I find I’m not having the time to take a photo, change all my settings, retake the photo, change them again, etc. etc. M is too difficult for me. I need just a smudge more help. Any insight? ReplyCancel

    • Cozy Clicks PhotographySeptember 16, 2018 - 6:01 pm

      Hey Rebecca! I tend to shoot with a prime or fixed lens mostly because I find I get much sharper images. The 50mm is a great one to work with! Just relax at your shoot, you’ll do great! Take your time and if you want to switch out lenses, give that a try! I switch out lenses a lot during a session:) If you’re not completely comfortable in manual, that’s OK. Use a mode your most comfortable in, but you will find that as you practice in manual it will get easier and easier:) EmilyReplyCancel

  • TaraMay 10, 2018 - 12:09 pm

    I’m shooting a family with a nikon d5500 this weekend.  My problem tends to lie with what AF settings and focus modes.  I always think I have it set right and then the camera is only focused on one person and everyone else is slightly blurry.  What are the best setting to use for family portraits? ReplyCancel

    • Cozy Clicks PhotographyMay 14, 2018 - 8:15 am

      Hey Tara!
      I usually shoot AF. For family portraits your settings are really dependent on several things.
      First, I would take a look at the focal length of you lens and the double that for you shutter speed.
      Next, set the aperture based on how you have the family posed. If they are in a line or all on the same plane you can set it much wider. If the family members are in several lines or staggered, set the aperture more narrow.

      Hope this helps!
      EmilyReplyCancel

  • EllieApril 8, 2018 - 11:37 am

    Emily this was such a helpful post! Im so glad I found it 😀 . Definitely going to increasing my shutter speed and hope for the best!ReplyCancel

  • LelanieFebruary 21, 2018 - 12:29 pm

    Hi I am shooring a Large family this weekend.  I want to use my 50mm but would have to stand very far from my subjects to get them all in.  Would that influence the sharpness?ReplyCancel

    • Cozy Clicks PhotographyFebruary 23, 2018 - 6:29 am

      Hi Lelanie! You can definitely use a 50mm for a large group. It shouldnt affect your sharpness as long as your shutter is fast and youve exposed correctly. Good luck And have fun with your shoot!!ReplyCancel

  • LucyJanuary 21, 2018 - 6:48 am

    Can you give me any tips for an indoor family photoshoot – 6 adults, 4 young kids – using canon 50mm or 24 – 105mm lens?ReplyCancel

    • Cozy Clicks PhotographyJanuary 22, 2018 - 4:32 pm

      Hi Lucy! Sure! I’d probably shoot with the 50mm or a focal length shorter than that to make sure I had enough room. Also, make sure you have enough room indoors for that many people. Make sure there is plenty of natural light or use an external light source (or speedlite). Have fun! Good luck! EmilyReplyCancel

  • Mariel PDecember 28, 2017 - 10:16 am

    I’m shooting a group of people in a cafeteria and in a park,  I assume that they are going to be in different distance, I have a 50 mm lens, I want all of them to be on focus and give a good shoot.ReplyCancel

  • Tara LittleDecember 21, 2017 - 9:50 pm

    I feel like when I shoot a shot like the first family if my focal point is on the boy, because he is so much shorter than the others, the rest of the group tends to be soft is this normal? If not what am I doing wrong to cause this? I also tend to use a 50ReplyCancel

    • Cozy Clicks PhotographyDecember 27, 2017 - 10:12 am

      Hi Tara! You might try narrowing your aperture a bit. If you have rows of people in your posing you may want to set your aperture at 3.5 or higher to avoid soft focus. Good luck!ReplyCancel

  • AlexOctober 19, 2017 - 5:56 am

    I have a dslr nikon 5100. How can I get the brightness and the sharp images with large group and a night time (woodsy) setting? Thanks ReplyCancel

    • Cozy Clicks PhotographyOctober 20, 2017 - 8:36 pm

      Hey Alex!
      If you are shooting past sunset you will need a speedlit or ocf to get great shots. If its just before sunset, Id keep the aperture wide and pose them in a straight line- then bump up your iso a bit. Hope that helps! -EmilyReplyCancel

  • Mica SOctober 13, 2017 - 10:11 pm

    I am shooting a family of 5 outdoors and wondering which lens I should use, I have a 50mm and 85mm lens. And just curious what setting should I start with first? Aperture? Shutter speed? ISO? Would these settings be correct to start with… F1.8, 1/250, 200?ReplyCancel

    • Cozy Clicks PhotographyOctober 17, 2017 - 11:18 am

      Hi Mica!
      I would use both lenses for more variety, but I’d start with the 85mm. You setting wwill be differetn based on you light and how you pose them. If they are lined up straight, I might set it a 3.2, 1/250 and then adjust my ISO accordingly. If they are posed more staggered, make your f stop narrower. Hope this helps. Good luck! -EmilyReplyCancel

  • TashaOctober 12, 2017 - 2:47 pm

    I have a 16 family to shoot soon. You’re advise on posing was super helpful in this post! What do you recommend for lens and f stop? I have a 50/1.8, 55-135mm and 18-200mm lens. ReplyCancel

    • Cozy Clicks PhotographyOctober 13, 2017 - 8:13 am

      Awesome! Glad I could help:) I would start with the 50mm 1.8. Thats a great lens, but you may want to switch them out just to give more variety. Your f stop will depend on how you have them posed. I might start by posing them in a line and set it at 3.5 :). Good luck!!! – EmilyReplyCancel

  • DelaneySeptember 27, 2017 - 8:00 pm

    If i am shooting a large family of 20 and i am using a 24-70mm lens. I have trouble with my focus and would love to be able to have tac sharp photos for this one. I do have a 100mm lens as well but i feel it is hard to shoot with this one since you have to be so far away. Im sure there will have to be multiple rows of people. What do you suggest? thanks – DelaneyReplyCancel

    • Cozy Clicks PhotographySeptember 28, 2017 - 9:46 am

      Hi Delaney!
      With a group that large, I would pose them in two rows -shorter ones and kids in front and very tight together. Use the lens you are most comfortable with (sounds like the 24-70) Set your shutter at least double your focal length and the the aperture no less than 3.5 Good luck!
      EmilyReplyCancel

  • VallorieSeptember 19, 2017 - 8:10 pm

    Can you show some examples of  family portrait photographs that would require an f stop of 5 or more?? Thank you in advance!ReplyCancel

    • Cozy Clicks PhotographySeptember 21, 2017 - 10:05 am

      Hey Vallorie! I would use a greater f stop if the family were posed in several lines or staggered. The farther apart each the the rows of people, the narrower my f stop would be. -EmilyReplyCancel

  • AnnaSeptember 11, 2017 - 4:26 pm

    Hi i like to pose people separate and front and back of each other. What aperture you suggest in this case for 8 people? Thx ReplyCancel

    • Cozy Clicks PhotographySeptember 12, 2017 - 9:25 am

      Hi Anna!
      You will want to narrow your aperture if you are placing some people in front and some in the back. I’d start at 4.5 and then adjust depending on exactly how far ways from each other they were. Hope this helps!
      EmilyReplyCancel

  • RicoSeptember 7, 2017 - 2:31 am

    I will take the engagement pict in the mosque that has low light. for a family photo of six people, what composition is right for me ?. I use speedlight with 35mm lens. Thank you very muchReplyCancel

    • Cozy Clicks PhotographySeptember 8, 2017 - 8:52 am

      Hi Rico,
      A speedlite will help you a great deal in low light situation, so that is perfect. With 6 people, I’d keep them tight together wither in a line or slightly staggered.ReplyCancel

  • kamma christiansenAugust 18, 2017 - 3:39 pm

    Hi..what setting do you set first…for some reason my shutter speed slows down and I get blurry photos..ive got some large family groups coming up and want to nail it. These will be outdoor shoots using a speedlight because most of my natural light portraits look flat. I will be using a canon 50mm 1.4..or 24-105.,,ReplyCancel

    • Cozy Clicks PhotographyAugust 19, 2017 - 7:26 pm

      Hi Kamma!
      I set my shutter first, and always at least double my focal length (and many times even faster to make sure I nail focus). When I shoot with my 50mm , I usually don’t shoot slower then 1/250. Next I set my aperture depending on how they are posed and finally adjust the ISO accordingly. Hope that helped a little and good luck with your sessions! EmilyReplyCancel

  • B k AroraJuly 8, 2017 - 10:42 pm

    Very simple and to the point advice 
    ThanksReplyCancel

  • Cheri BellavanceJune 23, 2017 - 7:33 am

    This information is very helpful!  One question, do you use a flash?ReplyCancel

    • Cozy Clicks PhotographyJune 23, 2017 - 7:15 pm

      Hi Cheri! 95% of the time I use natural light. Occasionally I’ll use a speed lite. These shots here are all natural light:)EmilyReplyCancel

  • darlene mcgurkJune 3, 2017 - 3:05 pm

    Darlene,
     I am taking my family photo at the beach, there are 11 of us. I am planning on using my 55-200 mm. Also, what setting would you use for a beach setting?ReplyCancel

    • Cozy Clicks PhotographyJune 4, 2017 - 8:52 pm

      Hey Darlene! That sounds like fun. If the family is one the same plane or in a line I would start with an f stop of 3.2. I don’t think I’d go wider than that for beach shots just because you’ll want that water in focus too! You’ll want to adjust your shutter and ISO from there. I proabavly would shoot slower than 1/400 with that lens. Hope that helps a little !
      EmilyReplyCancel

  • JoAnna PesekMay 9, 2017 - 4:12 pm

    Would you shoot a family of 25 with a 70 200 or a 24-70 mm, thanks in advance for your suggestion!ReplyCancel

    • Cozy Clicks PhotographyMay 9, 2017 - 4:46 pm

      Hey JoAnna! I would use the 70-200mm, because I like the longer focal lengths and you should easily be able to fit them all in and get some nice variety. hHave fun with that session! Large groups are fun:) -EmilyReplyCancel

  • IvonaApril 20, 2017 - 1:02 pm

    Thank you for all your articles!!!I love your work.Not sure if you have any on posing,thats what I struggle with,advice and tips on family posing,something easy to remember and go by,thank you againReplyCancel

  • BenApril 14, 2017 - 4:22 am

    Hi Emily, this is great article and topic. But still, I’m bit curious on using wider aperture (small F number) for group photo. Because the wider aperture that we use, usually we’ll get the narrow area that get focused and sharp. Hope you can share the tips and tricks by using wider aperture such as F3.2 for family/group photo.
    Thanks a lot.ReplyCancel

    • Cozy Clicks Photography LLCApril 14, 2017 - 12:08 pm

      Hi Ben!
      It’s all about how you pose them. If you want to shoot wider and have a large number of people you are working with, first try lining them all up- especially their faces. Try to get them all on the same plane. This might mean if there are smaller kids-have an adult pick them up so everyone together. The more rows of people you have, the narrower your aperture will have to be. Hope that helps a little! -EmilyReplyCancel

  • DebbieMarch 23, 2017 - 3:22 am

    Hi Emily! Thanks for this post, it was very helpful. But still I’m troubling with the sun in the back of the group. How do you enlighten the front enough when you’re so far away? I hope that my English is understandable 😉ReplyCancel

    • Cozy Clicks Photography LLCMarch 23, 2017 - 11:08 am

      Hi Debbie! A couple things I do. One, put a reflector to the front/side of the group (if you have an assistant you could hold a big white sheet up too. Two, make sure you are exposing for their skin and set your metering to spot metering. And last, try making sure that the sun isn’t directly behind them, but slightly to the side. Hope that helps! -EmilyReplyCancel

  • KellyschwarzJanuary 6, 2017 - 6:42 pm

    Thanks for the great article! When you shoot a larger group with the middle focal point on manual do you normally focus on the eye or what focal point do you choose on the person?ReplyCancel

    • Cozy Clicks Photography LLCJanuary 7, 2017 - 2:29 pm

      Hey Kelly! You are welcome! With larger groups, I usually focus on the closest person the me in the center. Depending on how far away you are , you could focus on the eye OR you could focus on the area near where the front and back person touch (hope that makes sense). EmilyReplyCancel

  • BreanneDecember 28, 2016 - 10:28 am

    Thanks for this article!! I don’t do family portraits but I do band portraits, and sometimes bands have several members. Would you recommend manually focusing versus auto focus?ReplyCancel

    • Cozy Clicks Photography LLCDecember 28, 2016 - 11:56 am

      Hi Breanne! You got it! Band portraits sound fun- I bet you can get pretty creative with those:) I only auto focus because that is what I find I get better results with, so I can’t really recommend manual. I know photographers that prefer though, so I’d say whatever you are more comfortable with!
      EmilyReplyCancel

  • AmberDecember 27, 2016 - 4:06 pm

    Which Nikon lens would you recommend for shooting large groups?ReplyCancel

    • Cozy Clicks Photography LLCDecember 28, 2016 - 11:54 am

      Hi Amber! I’m a Canon shooter and I like shooting with my 50mm 1.4 for large groups. There is a Nikon version of this lens here that’s comparable. However, I do shoot with my 135mm with larger groups too, though it’s a little trickier:) EmilyReplyCancel

  • Julie GroffDecember 26, 2016 - 9:10 am

    Hi! Great tips and beautiful pics! I’m doing some team photos soon and this really helps. Were these photos taken in the Tucson area? The one with the palm trees and water looks just like Agua Caliente park…one of my favorite places to take pictures. 🙂ReplyCancel

    • Cozy Clicks Photography LLCDecember 26, 2016 - 12:18 pm

      Thanks Julie! These are all in the Phoenix/Scottsdale area, but one of these days I need to get down to Tuscon and check out the locations there:) EmilyReplyCancel

  • Lisa H.December 26, 2016 - 8:34 am

    Thank you for the tips, I’m off to a large family session now and will definitely be utilizing these!ReplyCancel

  • StephDecember 22, 2016 - 10:29 pm

    Such great tips thankyou! I love my 50mm fixed lens for portraits but haven’t been using it for family groups because I felt like I had to be so far away from them in order to fit them all in… How far do you find yourself typically if shooting at 50mm? Thankyou!ReplyCancel

    • Cozy Clicks Photography LLCDecember 23, 2016 - 10:54 am

      Hey Steph! I actually shoot with my 135mm for a lot of large group photos(which puts me very far back)- so when I do use my 50mm I feel much, much closer:) -EmilyReplyCancel

  • KimberlyDecember 21, 2016 - 7:18 pm

    I am taking a 33 member family portrait Saturday. I know about WB and ISO and that’s about it. I have a Canon T5 and I am using my 18-55 mm lens with a tripod. I’ll be using my timer for the first time as well. It is forecasted to be cloudy at best. Any tips? Thanks in advance! Have a very Merry Christmas!!ReplyCancel

    • Cozy Clicks Photography LLCDecember 21, 2016 - 8:11 pm

      Hey Kimberly! Sounds like fun:) I would shot at around 50mm, just so you avoid distortion. Cloudy weather is great- it will give you nice even light on a group that big. Take several shots just in case anyone closes their eys or isn’t looking during the group shot- chances are with that many one person is bound to. Keep your shutter speed faster than 1/100 and adjust your other settings from there. Good luck! Hope this helps:) EmilyReplyCancel

  • ChelseaDecember 20, 2016 - 3:06 am

    Thank you!ReplyCancel

  • CherikaDecember 18, 2016 - 11:50 pm

    Hello! I’m doing my first family photo shoot this weekend and I’m super nervous! I found this article on Pinterest and it was REALLY helpful! Do you recommend using manual or automatic focus? I can’t decide which I like better, but I also need to practice using the auto focus more because I can never get it to focus on what I want. Do you have advice or an article you’ve already written you can direct me to? Thanks in advance!ReplyCancel

    • Cozy Clicks Photography LLCDecember 19, 2016 - 2:02 pm

      Hi Cherika! Glad that I could help! Just relax, you’ll do fine:) I always use auto focus when shooting, especially large groups, but it is a personal preference. If I were you, I’d focus with what you feel more comfortable shooting with. Good luck! EmilyReplyCancel

  • TraceyDecember 16, 2016 - 4:15 pm

    Hiya, loved this post. I take photos of a community school therefore the group shots are usually 3 rows . I still have trouble getting it sharp as. Because such a big group i usually shoot it at F9/f10 to make sure everyone is in focus. i use a 28-135 (i try not to use it zoom in as i know this loses quality too but i often have to but no more than to about 40) and shoot at 1/125 and 100-200 but no more than 500 iso if light is ok . I still find the group.isnt super sharp its fine but not super sharp.
    Thanks.ReplyCancel

    • Cozy Clicks Photography LLCDecember 17, 2016 - 7:42 am

      Hi Tracey! Thanks! There are a couple things you might try to get better focus. From the information you gave me, I would probably start with increasing your shutter speed and widening your aperture just a little. Bring your three lines in tight and focus on the middle person in the front row with the middle focal point. If you’re consistently getting soft images, it could be you need to clean or calibrate the lens. Hope this helps! EmilyReplyCancel

      • TraceyDecember 17, 2016 - 7:32 pm

        Fantastic Thanks Emily ill give it a go. ??ReplyCancel

  • AliceDecember 14, 2016 - 11:33 am

    This post is well written and informative! I think you should pin it on Pinterest so that people can find it easily, gorgeous photos too, Arizona is beautiful!ReplyCancel

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