There are multiple ways to carry out, essentially, every task in this world, but efficiency is truly what differentiates the average from the proficient.

Most large family formal photos or clustered group shots take a generous amount of TLC, and with the constant ebb and flow of wedding timelines, challenges may present themselves when you least expect them, forcing you to think quick on your feet and act immediately. This simple light set-up gives you the flexibility to work with uncontrollable ambient light while utilizing high-quality, modified light as your key light source.

Gear Required for Group Portrait Lighting

Your quality of light is largely dependent on what type of flash you choose to incorporate into your kit. Although pocket wizards can do the job just fine, we are striving for the technique with the highest level of efficiency, and we recommend one of the following full-feature flashes that have built-in radio capabilities, to make it effortless to trigger and control your light:

Canon Speedlite 600EX-RT
Phottix Mitros+ TTL
Yongnuo Speedlite YN600EX-RT

Having three to four of these full-feature flashes in your kit gives you the flexibility to add in additional light when needed (without always having enough separate radio transceivers) or have a safety flash available in emergency situations. For this ideal setup, all you will need is three: one on-camera to trigger the two off-camera flashes.

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Want to know the difference between using our recommended list and alternate brands and accessories – check out Lighting 101 for detailed specs for your on & off camera flashes.

These trusty Manfrotto Nano Stands have proved their worth over the years in utility and durability, and when it comes to easy setup and breakdown, there is absolutely no comparison. The true MVP, however, is the Wescott 43″ Optical White Satin Collapsible Umbrella (one or two). Its convex shape pushes light forward while filtering small amounts of light towards the edges, filling a large portion of area. For group portraits like this when we want to illuminate such a large group, we don’t necessarily require utter control, but the downside of the umbrellas is that they aren’t quite as controllable.

Pay attention to the existing light in the room to determine the use of CTO Gels (color temperature orange) and modify your white balance in-camera to compensate for the change in color.

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Photography Settings for Large group Portraits – Case study

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Let’s take this bridal party portrait as an example – a visibly large group that requires layered posing and pairing up. With these compositional attributes, we are shooting with a wider aperture of f/5. Stacking three rows of people in separate planes requires a broader depth of field, even if they are close in proximity to each other. To compensate for the narrow depth of field, bring the exposure to around 1/50th of a second, varying based on your ambient light exposure, and set your ISO to 800.

Why are we bumping the ISO up and slowing down the shutter? While the aperture and the ISO are going to affect both ambient light and flash power equally, our shutter speed isn’t. Slowing down the shutter is a matter of balancing the ambient light, while bringing up the ISO replaces the use of adding in additional light or blasting our flashes at full power to fill in for the low light exposure.

Group Photo Lighting Setup

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Set-up your two off-camera flashes, modified with the Wescott shoot through umbrellas, on light stands, raised to about 5-6 feet to avoid ‘campfire lighting’ and to get the best light spread. The key to creating even light across a large group portrait is focusing the light direction to control the spill as much as possible.

Place both stands to your left, one pointed at your center subject, and the other slightly feathered to the right. They should roughly be in the same plane as where you are shooting from so you have the ability to shoot wide for larger groups.

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The light is coming from one direction and is being feathered to distribute the light evenly. The height of your light stands varies on the group you are shooting, mainly due to where the shadows are being cast from this light source. One, we want to amplify ambient light, but we also want to amplify our flash power. Shutter speed, we know is not going to affect flash power, so that is just strictly an ambient light balancing issue, but ISO will.

Flash Power Settings

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The strength of your flashes will largely be determined by your camera settings and ambient light exposure. With an ISO that’s high, there is no need to go full 1/1 power. Beginning at 1/8th power and increasing or decreasing from there will be a good starting point to yield the most flattering results in terms of even light spread with exposure compensation.

Now, let’s say you were capturing small movements or action poses, how would this affect your camera and flash settings? With action, you require faster recycle times to capture motion as it happens, so bump up your ISO and reduce your flash power.

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For more effective lighting techniques, be sure to check out Lighting 201, our comprehensive workshop for single-source off-camera light shaping. Stream this along with a myriad of photography and post-production educational tutorials as an SLR Lounge Premium Subscription member.