How to get Sharp Focus on Big Family Portraits?

How to get Sharp Focus on Big Family Portraits?

As a professional photographer, you will come across certain scenarios on your shoots where the family wants group photos with more than 3-5 people or during certain events, involving everyone - especially during a wedding shoot.

With so many people in the frame, it can be hard for family photographers to keep everyone in focus. If you have been photographing family members for a while, you know how daunting this can be in the beginning.

In this blog of our “Ultimate Family Photography guide” let’s dive into how you can make everyone look crispy sharp in the group portraits while photographing big families.

Some of the questions photographers get in mind while shooting big families are:

  1. What lens to use for group portraits?
  2. What should be your camera settings while clicking portraits?
  3. How to pose the group for better focus?
  4. Where should you focus when shooting a group?
  5. How to check if everyone is in focus?

What lens to use for group portraits?

There is a variety of lenses you can use while shooting family portraits but if you are shooting an event with more than 4-5 members or large group portraits including extended family, it is better to equip yourself with both- a telephoto lens and a prime lens for different scenarios.

lens on a camera
Source: Matheus Bertelli from

85mm f/1.4 is a great pick for portraits of different family members when they are posing (or dressing at events) and you have time to make them move around as you have a fixed focal length to work with.

Prime lenses work great indoors with low lighting and can also help you achieve that shallow depth of field. Although you need to set the aperture properly as it will help keep everyone in focus including the ones at the edge, which we will discuss further.

For the scenarios or events which are more spontaneous and you don’t want to miss any moments, get a 70-200mm f/2.8 II so you have more control over how to compose the photos properly without moving a lot.

As a family photographer, both of these lenses will work great for group portraits for certain occasions and you can achieve great results in your photos.

Where to keep the focus point?

While clicking portraits, it is important to keep the focus point at the right place or the faces will come out soft. This is easy for single or couple portraits where you focus on the eyes of the face closest to your camera. But this needs to be done more carefully when capturing a larger audience, especially more than 5 people.

group family photo of 7Source: August De Richelieu from Pexels

A good suggestion is that while you are clicking a group of 5 or more audience, you should keep the focus point on the face of the person right in the middle of the group and adjust the aperture accordingly to keep the people on the sides in focus.

How to pose the group for better focus?

It is common among people who are at the edge of the group to - lean ahead and form a curve so that they can get in the frame which often messes up the focus and they appear soft in the photos.
illustration of posing group for better focusAs a family photographer, your job is to direct them to form a straight line (toe to toe). Use hand gestures and make the people at both ends get back and stand straight along with the other members.

Bonus tip: Tell the group to stand on a common line or shape formed by the tiles to keep them aligned.

What should be the Camera settings while shooting group portraits?

While clicking a group family portrait with more than 4-5 people it is important to keep your aperture narrower than usual and a minimum shutter speed of 1/200.

This shutter speed is not for focus but to get multiple frames quickly (using burst mode) so that we can get at least one picture where all the eyes are open.

Shooting in aperture priority mode can be handy here as you can easily change the f-stop according to the number of members present in the group.

man changing DSLR camera settings

Photo credits: Jeshoots from Pexels.

A good rule of thumb while shooting aperture priority is to have the f-stop twice as much as the members present in the group. So if you have 4 or 5 people you can set your aperture to f/8 or f/10 respectively. This can ensure that every member of the group is in focus. For a group of more than 5, setting your aperture to f/11 will keep everyone sharp in the photos.

Setting a narrow aperture like this will make sure everyone on the edges of the group is in focus.

However, the narrower your aperture is, the deeper your background will be and there will be less bokeh in the background. So what should you do if you want to have those pretty bokeh spots in the background while clicking a group portrait?

There are 2 ways to tackle this:

Keeping a spacious background:

You can either try getting a shallow depth by keeping the location with the background way behind from the group such as capturing the group in front of an open field such as on a farm.

Family walking in an open roadSource: Any Lane from Pexels

Shooting them when they are standing right in front of a wall will keep the wall in focus as well because of the narrow aperture so you will not be getting any bokeh spots here.

Shooting from distance:

Another way is to keep a wide aperture while maintaining focus on the group is to step further away from the group. This will need space to execute perfectly and the group members will need to stay close to each other so you can have a bigger aperture such as f/2.8 or f/3 and have a shallow depth of field at the same time.

man pointing camera with long lensSource: Jordan Bergendahl from Pexels

You will need a telephoto lens for this such as a 70-200mm f/2.8 or 24-70 f/2.8L.

How to check if everyone is in focus?

Mistakes happen. Sometimes the subjects change their positions slightly and it messes up the focus. It is always better to step back once in a while to make sure that everyone is in focus instead of going home and finding out that in most of your photos only the middle part of the group is in focus.

women checking camera for any error

Source: Rachel Claire from Pexels

This is more common among candid shots where the constant moving of the people or laughing can throw them out of focus if the aperture is not wide enough.

Checking the sharpness with the 3-inch display screen of your camera will be hard so make sure you zoom in on faces and check for any blur. If the group is not in focus, increase your aperture or move back from the group if possible.


No doubt group shots can be tricky!

But as a family photographer, it is your responsibility to deliver the best results to your clients no matter how many family members are there in the frame.

I hope this blog has answered all your questions related to the group shots and with enough practice, you will nail every group portrait, no matter if it is from a big wedding or a beautiful joint family!

If you are a family photographer who often shoots families with pets, make sure to check out our blog for “12 best tips for pet photography

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