10 Fool-Proof Posing Tips for Group Portraits

Looking through the Improve Photography facebook fan page, the most common question is how to pose people for group portraits.  I think the reason that many of the members of our community are nervous about this taking this type of photo.  Fortunately, group portrait photography of a family or other group is not overly difficult as long as you know a few steps to take in order to get a great photo.

Break up lines of people for family portraits
The rows of heads in this photo don't look too bad, but breaking up the pattern would make them feel more like a tight group.

Tip #1: Get the heads on different levels

This posing tip is first for a reason.  It is probably the easiest way to dramatically improve your compositions for group photography.  The idea is that you get the people to be on all different levels so that any pattern of heights does not distract the viewer from seeing the group as being one cohesive unit.  In the photo at the right, you can see that the parents are roughly equal in height, and the children are equal in height.  Standing this way would be fine for a snapshot, but it does not look like professional posing.  Changing this pose up just slightly could make a big impact in the overall photo.

Tip #2: Make sure no one is covered up

Pretty simple, but it can ruin even the best poses if someone's face is covered.  Trust me, it will be the first thing that your client or your family notices even if the rest of the picture is perfect.  Just remember to scan the entire group before taking the photo to make sure that everyone can clearly see the camera.  Some photographers say “If you can't see the camera, I can't see you.”  This might help for larger groups, but it makes people think that they are completely uncovered if their eyes can see the camera, so it's best for the photographer to take control and check before each shot.

Composition? Nah… just fun!

Tip #3: Let the group unfold naturally (AKA “Have fun!”)

Formal group photos are tough to pose because people will not remain still.  Even shifting their weight from one foot to another can completely change the pose.  Posing a group of five or more can be like playing Whack-a-mole.  As soon as you get one in place, another one moves and you have to get the other one set!  If the group is willing to try something different, you could completely throw the formal group photo out the window and just have fun.  Here are a couple ideas for doing casual group photos: (1) have the group run toward the camera, or (2) put the group casually lounging on the couch and the floor like a family would sprawl out for movie night in the family room.

Posing this group on uneven footing makes the composition feel natural and there are no distracting patterns of even heads.

Tip #4: Pose the subjects on uneven footing

One of the best ways to get the subjects heads on different levels is to find a location that will allow for it.  For example, you could pose the family or group on a staircase so they are all sitting on different steps.  This will easily break up any patterns of head levels so the group looks like one and no pattern distracts the viewer.  You could do the same thing by placing the group on fallen down logs or on boulders or any other uneven surface.

Tip #5: Rip that shutter!

As you look through your photos in Lightroom after a shoot, you sift through until you find the perfect photo.  Then, you notice that one of the people was not looking at the camera.  So frustrating!  When I shoot group photos, I always put the camera on “continuous low” so I shoot 3 frames per second.  I grab three frames of each shot I want to take.  It is more time consuming and it can be a pain to edit, but this allows you to mask together multiple shots to fix the one person who is not looking at the camera or is covered up.

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Tip #6: Light with care

Lighting groups can be tricky if it is your first time.  There are basically two mistakes that most “first timers” commonly make.  First, they use only one light for a group.  This will make the one person who is close to the light overly bright, and the people on the other side of the frame will be mostly untouched by the light.  The second common mistake is placing the lights too close to the axis of the people, so one person's head throws a shadow on the next person.  When shooting group photos, I usually pull the lights in much closer to the camera than I typically do when shooting one or two people.

I think I see what the photographer is going for here, but the group is so far spread apart that it feels unnatural.

Tip #7: Tighten things up

Most people have a natural bubble.  When you ask a group to stand together for a picture, particularly if it is a business group rather than a family, the group will be spread much further apart than they should.  If you take the shot with the group too far apart, they will not feel like a group at all!  If you find yourself constantly saying, “Can you all squish in a bit tighter?” then you're probably on the right track.

Tip #8: Show confidence

If you shoot group photos for profit, you must absolutely dominate the situation.  When there are a lot of people getting together, it will be chaotic and will take twice as long as it should if you don't step in and take control of the situation.  They will not know where to go unless you tell them.  These things don't pose themselves….

Triangles for composition in group photography.
This triangle works perfectly as a composition element for this family photo.

Tip #9: Use a triangle as a composition technique

Triangles are an underused tool of composition, and yet it is probably the most important rule of composition for shooting group photos.  It will be unlikely that you could successfully shoot a group photo following the rule of thirds.  Wouldn't it look strange to have the family squished off into the corner of the photo and then a giant space of nothingness in the rest of the shot?  Yes, it would.

So the best way to compose group photos is to use triangles to your advantage.  Have the group positioned so the bottom of the people is wider and have only one person at the top of the pose.  This makes the group look like a single unit and the composition looks complete.

It's insanity! Save the children! Someone stop the photographer from scarring the children for life!

Tip #10: Don't get too “creative” in your posing

It might seem like a good idea, but seriously… don't do anything embarrassing like in the photo on the left.  Group photos can get awkward fast if you aren't careful.

If you are ever tempted to do posing like in the photo to the left, just give me a call on my cell phone.  My number is [redacted because 4 or 5 people ACTUALLY CALLED in the last few months–this was intended to be a joke].   Just don't do anything crazy before I talk with you.

P.S. If you haven't LIKED Improve Photography on Facebook, you're missing out on half the fun!  It's the perfect place to ask photography questions or to get group therapy for when you're considering an awkward pose!

48 thoughts on “10 Fool-Proof Posing Tips for Group Portraits”

  1. This post reminds me of a funny story from when I worked for a chain photo studio. I had only been there for a few days and was slowly getting the hang of posing groups of 3-4 people using “triangle” and “diamond” methods. Unfortunately, due to a scheduling mix up I got stuck working all by myself one night when a family of 5 (4 adults and a month old baby) came in for photos. To make things worse, all 4 adults were very overweight. I could have done wonders if I could have shot them separately with the baby or at least 2 at a time, but they were insistant on only photos of all 5 of them together. I got stuck in a predicament of “how the hell do I pose 4 very big adults and a tiny baby and make it look even half way decent?” I was internally freaking out during the entire shoot! Fortunately for me, they took over their own posing. This resulted in some really horrible shots (from a posing standpoint), but the family loved them. Management wasn’t too happy with them either, but appologized to me for the whole mess of leaving me on my own as a beginner and having to deal with a difficult situation. On the plus side, I made quite a sale that day!

  2. I would like to add to some of your tips. I am not a photographer but I know a great photo when I see it. There is nothing sadder then when you pay a photographer many hundreds of dollars to capture your big event (in my case, my wedding) and the photos they take do not represent what you saw on their website portfolio. I wanted really classic photos ( I had a 30’s themed wedding) the photographer took most photos at ‘creative’ angles that left the pictures looking awkward and amateur. In addition, she brought in her husband as a second photographer when they were both shooting group photos there was no indication as to which of them we were supposed to look at. Most pictures have everyone looking at different photographers.

  3. #7 group photo of business people
    Hello Jim,

    I love this group photo. I have to go on shoot soon for 3~8 people in groups. My concern is the lighting. If it’s in a modern building with lots of windows and open spaces like the one your photo shows, what’s the best approach in terms of lighting?
    I have 2 Canon speedlights, which is my preference because of the portability, but may need more power. I have 2 studio strobe. If I do set up with strobes, probably I won’t be changing the location. I don’t have an assistant. What’s your suggestion? Thanks. Makiko

  4. It would be nice to also show the generic reply or suggestion(s) when a question is posed…

  5. Tip #9 – Triangle composition. In this photo the angle seems a bit off. The dad’s hand and forearm look awkward and giant in relation to his body. How could you avoid this?

    1. That does look awkward, and creepy! I would say that the type of lens and focal length play a role here. I was taught that shooting a portrait at 50mm makes all areas more proportionate. Maybe the photographer should have physically moved his camera rather than the lens.

  6. Great tips! I love shooting singles and couples, but am just now getting comfortable shooting families. Any advice on getting parents to actually chill out during the shoot? We always ask our parents to try not to scold or get angry during the shoot, but they always seem to get mad at someone.

  7. As a preschool teacher of 20 years and photographer hobbyist….AND a mom of 5 kids (ages 25 to 11)….maybe if you reassure the parents that if the kids goof off it may help them get used to you. The kids need to get to know you before you can see a genuine smiles for great pictures….just a thought.

  8. Tanks 4 da tips, I hv up to a thousand postures in my head rite now, nd I do shoot a lot more with my camera dis days . Familys , models, nd lot more, I hv a lot of postures 4 dem , I just wanna improve on photoshop really but iam stil Gud 2 go on it ,…

  9. First my Facebook page is not very current .. I need to work on that ..
    I am photographing a dr and his group of seven staff
    Total of 8 … At sunset outdoors .. Any suggestions for posing .. The dr is very tall

  10. I just came across your blog and just had to let you know how much I enjoyed reading it! Informative, well written and very entertaining. Thank you for sharing!

  11. Thanks for the info! So I have a question regarding a large group! Vacation Bible School large group with props scenery and a lot of kids! How would you help me shoot this large group indoors with very high ceilings. It’s like a stage setting. I have my kit lenses plus I have purchased a 35mm 50mm and 85mm 1.8 prime lenses. I own umbrellas and flashes. What can I say. They asked and I said yes. Last person who took it didn’t understand lighting. Everyone was so dark! Help! Just starting my business so no website yet. It will be ImagesByEvePhotography

  12. Thanks for these great tips for family photos. My wife and I have been meaning to get some professional pictures done. I am a little nervous that I won’t like how the pictures will turn out, so these tips help know what to do when posing. I think that having a good photographer will help, but even for a novice, these ideas would help. Thanks for sharing.

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