How to take professional large group photos (15 Simple tips)

At Surf Office, we’ve seen our fair share of large group photos.

From small groups of 20 to large parties of over 100 employees, we’ve witnessed firsthand the challenges of group photography.

That’s why—to take the pressure off you—we often provide a professional photographer to capture the memories of your offsite retreat.

But great photo opportunities inevitably come along when the professional is absent, and in these moments you’ll wish you had a few tricks of the trade hidden up your sleeve.

To help prepare you for this moment, we’re sharing 15 simple group photography tips for better large group photos.

Level up your group photography with these beginner-friendly tips

Knowing how to take group photos is a useful skill with benefits that extend beyond your company retreat.

After learning the following tips, you’ll come up with better group photo ideas and feel more confident the next time you’re on a family holiday, at a birthday or attending a Christmas dinner.

1. Scope out a location ahead of time

Preparation is key to getting perfect group photos, and it starts with finding a suitable backdrop.

When you’re scouting your surroundings, look for somewhere that won’t distract too much from your subjects. A chaotic background with lots of patterns, colours or objects will make it difficult to pick out faces. 

Keep it simple.

A location with natural level changes will also help you to create more interesting compositions. Look out for gentle slopes, rocks, public benches, etc.

If you’ve got exciting activities planned for the day, consider taking your group photo on-site. For example, if your taking a tour of a football stadium, a group photo in the stands could be perfect!

2. Bring props if necessary

Once you’ve found the perfect location, you can decide whether the scene could be enhanced by the use of props.

A flat location, for example, could benefit from a few chairs or blankets that will allow you to switch up the levels.

It’s up to you how visible you make your props. If they’re aesthetically pleasing, you might wish to make them a centrepiece. But if they’re purely functional, you might want to disguise them when you start composing your shot.

3. Prepare your camera gear beforehand

Besides the camera itself, two pieces of gear are must-haves for group photography, they are:

  1. A wide-angle lens
  2. A tripod

A wide-angle lens allows you to get closer to your subjects while keeping everything neatly within the frame. Without a wide-angle lens, you’ll be forced to stand far back, causing you to lose lots of facial detail.

The tripod helps keep your camera steady and gives your subjects a collective focal point. If you’re shooting at slow shutter speeds, the tripod is essential for achieving crystal-clear images.

And the nice-to-haves…

  1. Remote
  2. Flash
  3. Light diffuser

A remote allows you to take multiple photographs while away from the camera. Without a remote, you’ll be forced to use the timer setting, restricting you to just one photo at a time.

If you’re shooting indoors, it could be argued that a flash deserves a place on the must-have list. But because you can achieve great results without one, it’s here, among the nice-to-haves. Shooting with a flash delivers even light to all of your subjects and reduces heavy shadows. Just make sure to warn everybody that you’re using one first!

Light diffusers fold down pretty small and they’re lightweight, making them handy to travel with. If you’re shooting indoors, especially on a bright, sunny day, placing a light diffuser over the window will soften your lighting and improve your results.

Read our case study: Inside Enigma’s week-long workation in beautiful Ericeira

4. Choose a time of day for your photos

The best time of day to take your group photo is during the early morning or evening (otherwise known as dawn and dusk).

This is because these times of day provide soft, warm light and long shadows—essential elements of great photographs.

Shooting in the middle of the day, particularly when the sun is bright, could result in flat colours, racoon-eyed subjects and squinting faces.

Read our case study: A 5-day retreat in Lisbon captured into one epic video

5. Establish a dress code

A group photo is a fantastic opportunity to show off the company merchandise!

If you’d like everybody to wear branded clothing, make sure to remind your employees to bring these garments with them.

Don’t want branded clothing? Opt for solid colours.

Too many colours and patterns in your group photo can be overwhelming. When the photo day comes around, ask your employees to wear plain clothing in simple colours like black and white.

If some employees didn’t get the memo, try to disperse the colours and patterns within the image. Prevent colours and patterns from clustering together as this can be distracting.

Example of a dress code: Surf Office hosted Microverse retreat in Lisbon

6. Pay attention to the details

When you’re busy directing a large group of people, it can be easy to forget about the little things.

But these details make a big difference to your final image.

When you’re arranging your group, look out for things like untucked shirts, scruffy ties, unkempt hair, etc.

Try not to take too long with this, as you don’t want your subjects to become bored or restless. If you need to, enlist the help of a detail-oriented assistant.

7. Find the right lighting

As we mentioned earlier, the best time of day to take your group photo is in the morning or evening because the light is warmer and softer.

If you’re taking your photos outside, look for a shady spot and position your subjects towards the light source. Remember this: good lighting is more important than a good background.

If you’re forced to take your photos in the sun, position your group with their backs to the sun or wait for some cloud cover.

For indoor group photos, make use of your flash and light diffuser to provide even lighting to each of your subjects. 

When you’re framing your shot, look out for any stray shadows from things like window frames, trees, buildings etc.

8. Create a balanced composition

Composing a group image can be an overwhelming challenge. With so many people to organise, it takes a charismatic individual to hold the attention of the crowd and provide clear direction.

If you aren’t experienced with composing large group photos, here’s one piece of advice: don’t complicate things.

A balanced composition is typically the easiest to pull off. Here, you’ll position the tallest subjects at the back and in the middle, and the shorter subjects in the front and to the sides.

Oh, and don’t forget to use the landscape or some props to create different levels and overlap your subjects. 

Asymmetrical placements work too, but they’re more challenging to pull off.

If you’re dealing with a very large group, don’t make the composition too deep, that is, don’t create too much distance between the front and back rows—this can result in some blurry faces!

Read our case study: Four-days of team bonding in Tenerife with Checkly

9. Form connections between your subjects

In the heat of the moment, you might not think about the connections between your employees. Sure, a congealed mass of people creates feelings of oneness, but maybe there are more creative ways to go about it?

Consider whether you can segment your group in some way. Perhaps you’d like to arrange your group according to departments, for example?

Whatever you decide to do, creating connections between your subjects can make an everyday group photo more unique.

10. Find a good vantage point

You’ve probably noticed it yourself: photos always look better when they’re taken slightly from above.

The same goes for your large group photo.

If you can, take your pictures from an elevated position (bring a step ladder if you think you’ll need one). This eliminates unwanted double chins and—if the light is coming from above—reduces dark facial shadows.

Read our case study: How BRYTER became united after 5 days in sunny Ericeira

11. Shoot with a smaller f-stop

Uh-oh, now we’re getting technical.

Don’t worry, this is a pretty simple tip.

F-stops control the amount of light hitting the lens. A large f-stop creates a shallower depth of field (more blur between foreground and background), while a small f-stop creates a deeper depth of field (less blur between foreground and background).

Large group photos are often layered, so using a smaller f-stop ensures that all of your subjects appear in focus.

However, if you’re shooting in low-level lighting, beware: a smaller f-stop will require you to use a slow shutter speed which could make your image blurry.

In this scenario, use a tripod and ask your subjects to remain as still as possible!

12. Mix up the poses

To come this far, you’ve put in a lot of hard work—now make the most of it!

As the director, you dictate the mood of the photograph. If you want a serious picture, communicate this to your subjects. If you want something more casual, give them a conversation prompt and ask them to speak to the person next to them.

You can even ask your group to force a fake laugh, which, inevitably, will turn into genuine hilarity.

13. Don’t let others shoot over your shoulder

Organising a large group can be an intimidating task and—in an attempt to increase the likelihood of good photos—we’re often tempted to ask others to take photographs with us.

This is a big mistake and one you should avoid. 

The obvious problem with this is that your subjects will be looking in different directions. But what’s more, they’ll be receiving direction from multiple sources.

Some will be looking at the ground between photos, one employee might be picking their nose, while others have turned around to steal a glimpse at the sunset.

Take full responsibility for the photos and you’ll get better results.

14. Look out for candid opportunities

A group photo doesn’t always need to be a choreographed procedure.

If your group is engaged in an activity and you happen to have your camera close at hand, make the most of the opportunity!

You might find—in these “fly on the wall” moments—that you capture your best images. Unaware that they’re being photographed, your subjects will appear more natural and at ease.

Read our case study: How Peakon turned their Barcelona retreat into a social media success

15. Be confident and take the lead

We’ve purposefully left this tip until last, but it’s as important—if not more—than the others.

Getting great group photographs is all about confidence. With so many people to organise, you need to embrace the role and provide the necessary guidance.

Don’t be afraid to be bossy and charismatic. People are looking for direction and it’s up to you to give it to them. Plus, the more direct you are, you quicker you can get your shots—you don’t want your subjects to get bored or frustrated, so make it quick!

Put your new skills to the test at your next offsite

Company offsite retreats are all about once-in-a-lifetime experiences, so it’s important to capture as many of these special moments as you can.

With the tips we’ve listed in this article, you’ll return home with a bucket load of professional-quality photographs that your employees will cherish!

Thinking about organising a company offsite retreat for your team? Get in touch with one of our retreat planners to get the ball rolling.

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