If you’re wondering how to get everyone in focus during group photos, this blog post is for you!
What aperture do you use for large group photos?
This is a question I get a lot because I often photograph large bridal parties where everyone is in focus. And the answer is not what you might think. If you’ve been following me for a while, you know that I love to shoot wide open, usually around f/1.8 or f/2. That stays true even when I photograph large groups, family photos, or bridal parties. And there’s a reason for that!
Understanding How Aperture Works
A wide aperture (e.g. f/1.8) means a shallow depth of field (less in focus). A narrow aperture (e.g. f/11) means greater depth of field (more in focus).
So, in order to achieve bokeh (blurry background) and make my subjects pop in my pictures, I need to use a wide aperture (low f stop number). However, in order to get more in focus, I need a narrow aperture (high f stop number), but then I lose the blurry background. So, how do I know what aperture to use during large group photos?
Understanding How Depth of Field Works
When shooting in manual mode, the aperture controls the depth of field. Keep in mind that the depth of field (how much of your image is in focus) extends approximately 1/3 in front of your focus point and 2/3 behind it. Knowing this, the question is not how many people you photograph, but how many people deep.
So, whenever I photograph a group of people that are not on the same focal plane, or are standing on two different rows (family formals or bridal party photos), I always set the focus point on the person closest to the camera because the people in the back will still be in focus due to the depth of field extending 2/3 behind the focus point.
This is one of the largest bridal parties I have worked with, and the reason why they are all in focus is because they are all standing in a straight line (meaning they are on the same focal plane) and I was directly in front of them. So, whether you have a 20 or a 2 people group, they will all still be in focus even at a wide aperture when they are on the same focal plane.
1/1000 sec at f/2.8, ISO 125
In the example below, since we have multiple layers and you now know that the focus point extends approximately 1/3 in front and 2/3 behind, the best tip I can give you is to focus on someone in the middle focal plane (in this example, the bride). This will ensure that both the people in the front and back will still be in focus. Also, the deeper the group of people, the more depth of field you need to get them all in focus. So, whenever I have 3 or more layers, I will also increase my aperture to about f/3.2-f/3.5. That usually works for me, but you can play around with the settings to see what works best for you and your camera.
1/500 sec at f/3.2, ISO 160
Distance Between Subject and Background
While the aperture determines the depth of field, the distance between the subject and the background can also affect how blurry your background is. If you want your subjects to pop, it’s best to place them further away from the background.
1/500 sec at f/2, ISO 125
Bonus tip! When you are photographing a group standing in a single row, but in a semi-circle instead of a straight line (this happens a lot on wedding days during family formals or bridal party photos), always focus on the person closest to the camera to ensure that everyone is in focus.
1/500 sec at f/3.2, ISO 160
I hope you loved today’s blog post all about how to get everyone in focus during group photos. And if you’d be so kind, please share this with a friend or two, or follow along on social media. I’m grateful for you!