Tag Archives: Mirror lock-up

Seven easy tips to improve your group photography

• Boys Group •

• Boys Group •
The humble group photograph can be much improved by a few simple steps.

Simple steps lead to great shots…

With groups you must go a little further than with straight portraits. Getting people coordinated, a range of different settings, beating the dreaded ‘blinks’, great sharpness… Check these out, go the extra mile.


When doing group shots a few ideas up front helps. Some simple ideas about cohesion, commonality and framing can make your shots more compelling. Clear ideas about how you want this particular group arranged will enable you to get them quickly into place. Groups, by their nature become impatient quickly. Preparation moves things along keeps people on the ball. Have your location scouted and know where you are going to place your group. Have a good, simple background ready. Make sure you have adequate light to work with. Location is everything.


Remember, groups require a wide view and you need some depth too. Set your aperture too large and you risk the back row being out of the zone of sharpness. Most groups are best photographed at f8 or even better f11. To get the sharpness work with your shutter speed up reasonably high. 1/125th minimum – better 200ths of a second. Go higher if you don’t need flash.

Bigger groups always have a certain amount of movement. Higher shutter speeds help to freeze the action. The problem is, high shutter speed and small aperture leave you needing flash or extra lighting. There is always a trade-off. To compensate you may need to raise your ISO.

Sharp shooting

Shooting at high speed will help freeze the action. It will not steady your hand. If shooting a big group, especially for formal shots, it’s best to use other sharpening techniques. Consider these sharpness…

  • Using a tripod
  • Use mirror lock-up function
  • Image stabilisation off (not needed on tripods – it creates vibration)
  • Auto-focus off on a tripod after the group is focused (it creates vibration)
  • Operate with a remote shutter button or use the on-camera timer

A tripod saves time. You can arrange the group and smooth the shot through. If you have more than one group, your camera is always set up when it is on a tripod. It helps smooth the flow.

Light and shade

Overall light in the scene is important, so is the shade. When taking pictures of groups you are taking a wide angle view. The group is often spread out. It’s easy to miss that one or two of the group are in the shade. Or, with a camera mounted flash, the shadows from the flash fall harshly onto the people behind. Trees, buildings, other people, towers, street lights – any number of objects can cast unexpected shadows which are difficult to notice. Flash casts shadows you don’t see until you open the picture on a computer later. Look carefully at your group. Arrange them to be in clear, consistent light. Make sure any lights or flash you are using treats all the members of the group evenly and fairly.


So often with groups you have no control over clothing. If the event is formal the clothes often have a stiff and upright feel. People don’t relax so well in this situation so you will have to set the scene and pose them accordingly. It is not easy, especially with family conventions or a preset plan. Where possible let them arrange themselves with your help. People will be most comfortable next to the people they like and know.

When a group is coming together informally the clothes may be wildly variable in character. What matters when working with a candid group is the fun arrangement of the group. Try to get the group to look dynamic and together. This will offset a strong clothing variation.

The prize giving

• The prize giving •
If the group feels comfortable and you work with them they’ll help make a great picture.


Groups, especially close up, look odd if the faces are at different distances from the camera. They are close enough to us to look fine. However, the lens plays tricks on our eyes. If they are out of line – at different distances, but close together – they will appear to have different head sizes. Try to make people in each line of a group stand evenly down the line.

Sometimes the classic, short in front taller to the back works fine. Other times it is better to actually mix up short and tall – especially with different generations. It is much more natural for grandchildren to be arranged with grandparents than stuck on the end of the line because they are small. Putting children between adults also provides an opportunity to have a shorter person behind so as to break up a line up – to make it less formally arranged.

Close family groups, and friends, often look good leaning together, or heads together. It is very intimate to touch heads.

The dreaded ‘blinkies’ strike every group shot if you are not careful. The bigger the group the more likely that someone will blink. Overcome it with a little group control. Ready to shoot? Tell them you are going to help stop them blinking in the shot. Tell every one to shut their eyes. Count to two, tell everyone to open. Count to two. Press the shutter. Everyone will have open eyes. Explain it first so they know what is coming. It will make sure they all have eyes open long enough for you to get the shot.

So, with all these different ways of organising the group make sure that what you have is comfortable, natural – never forced.


Organising the group is about positioning and location. Posing is about personal stance and comfort. You, as the photographer, need to direct the group. But on the other hand you have to work with the people you have before you. Try to make it fun. Get them to relate to one another. If you have time, especially with candids or informal group, get them to experiment. Handshakes, greetings, hugs, arms around each other, standing in groups – the idea is to make ‘that’ group look good. Another group might not look good with the same poses. You should work with them, discuss ideas with them, respect their thoughts. They probably know each other better than you know them and will make the best suggestions. It is your job as a director to pick up on the most effective shots from their ideas. Consider what you know about them, consider their ideas for their poses – then work together to make the shot just right.

Getting the right feeling…

Working with groups is more than just lining them up. You have to consider the time, place, light, shade, the settings and the technique. But the best shots still come from the group itself. If the members of the group are comfortable, having fun and feel natural about their poses they will make sure you get a good shot. Work with them, help them make your picture work.

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By Damon Guy (author and Photokonnexion editor)

Damon Guy - Netkonnexion

Damon Guy (Netkonnexion)

Damon is a writer-photog and editor of this site. He has run some major websites, a computing department and a digital image library. He started out as a trained teacher and now runs training for digital photographers.
See also: Editors ‘Bio’.

A quick look at image stabilisation

Image Stabilisation

Image Stabilisation

Image stabilisation helps you get a sharper picture.

Good images rely on a steady hand or a tripod. You also get a help from the image stabilisation in your camera or lens. These systems help your lens stay steady. Here we are going to get a look at what is involved and how to use it.

What is image stabilisation?

The term “Image stabilisation” represents a number of technologies used to reduce blurring caused by camera movement during exposure. It compensates for movement in two planes. These are referred to as pan (lateral twisting or yawing movement) and tilt (vertical or pitching movement).

Camera movement is recorded as blur when the shutter is open long enough for the movement to be captured. The slower the shutter speed the more likely it is that the movement will be detected. The tiny, but continuous movements of our hands tend to make hand held shots a little soft. Longer exposures will be even softer since the tiny movements will continue blurring the shot throughout the exposure.

Using an image stabilisation technology allows a mechanism to off-set or compensate for the movement not prevent it. Extreme or large movements will still cause blur during the exposure. However, image stabilisation systems are designed to compensate for the movements created by the almost imperceptible movements of our hands while hand-holding a shot. Typically recent image stabilisation systems will compensate for exposures four to sixteen times longer than could be hand held without the compensation. This would mean that instead of using a shutter speed of 1/250th of a second, you can use image stabilisation to get a shutter speed of around a 1/30th of a second and still get similar image quality. This could significantly improve the light levels in your exposure.

Types of image stabilisation

Optical image stabilisation: This type is mounted in the lens. It uses high speed motors to shift a lens element around changing its orientation to compensate for the movement of the camera. It is highly accurate, compact and fast. It does add quite a lot of weight (and expense) to the photographic lens unit overall. However, it performs really well under all types of movement even fairly extreme movement that might be found in panning for example. It will not prevent the gross movement blur, but will compensate for the tiny variations while panning for example.

In-camera stabilisation or sensor shift stabilisation
This technology uses motor technology to move the Digital Image Sensor to compensate for the movement of the camera. This method concentrates the stabilisation in the camera body and therefore it is only paid for once on the purchase of the camera body (unlike lens-based systems). Sensor shift technology tends to mean the lens is lighter too making handling easier for some people. This type of system does not cope as well as lens-based systems for more extreme movements. Long focal lengths and telephoto lenses will tend to exaggerate the degree of movement of a beam of light hitting the sensor. Consequently the sensor needs to be able to compensate for more extreme vibrations or movements to get the same image quality as a lens system. As the sensor shift system is limited by its range of movement it has limited tolerance at the more extreme end of the range.

Stay sharp!

Many learners find that the softness they get when using a DSLR is very frustrating. While image stabilisation helps, it does not cure the problem. Remember that these systems can only compensate, not prevent, movement blur and softness. So you need to take other steps to make your shots sharp. Here are some issues to consider regarding image stabilisation…

High ISO (in manual control modes): Raising your ISO can help reduce movement blur because you are making the sensor more sensitive to light. Your image sensor will be exposed more readily allowing you to still have a faster shutter speed to take your shot – then movements don’t have time to make the shot soft. Remember, high ISO may increase your digital noise, particularly with very high ISO levels (say 800 or more).

One way to overcome this softness created by hand movement is to raise the and set a faster shutter speed The point and shoot mode or auto mode of your camera will do this to ensure your get sharp shots in most daylight situations. Of course this means a short exposure which may not be suitable for your shot.

Wide aperture(in manual control modes): This too will allow more light into the shot and will allow you to have a faster shutter speed. However, the depth of field will be reduced and that will reduce your sharpness in some areas of the shot.

Use a tripod: Using a tripod is probably the best way to get a sharp shot. In most situations you should turn off your image stabilisation to use a tripod. The motors that do the stabilisation actually create vibration in the tripod and can cause softness. Some systems compensate automatically for being on a tripod so read your technical manual to get guidance for your camera.

Panning: This will definitely create movement blur. But some image stabilisation systems have mechanisms to reduce the vertical movement while panning. In this case make sure you know how to switch to this mode. The difference it can make to getting a moving object sharp is surprising.

Mirror lock-up: Vibration is caused when the reflex mirror in a DSLR flips up. You can lock up these mirrors while you take the shot. The procedure for that is different on every camera so check the manual for the correct method. The image stabilisation mechanisms will not compensate for movement caused by the mirror movement.

Careful use of the shutter button
Don’t stab the shutter button. Roll your finger onto the button gently depressing it. If you stab at it there will almost certainly be an erratic movement that the image stabilisation will not be able to compensate for.

While enthusiasm is great, taking the camera away from your face too quickly can induce movement before the exposure is complete. Image stabilisation will not compensate for this type of action. Try to count to two before taking the camera away from your face.

Improving overall

Image stabilisation systems vary in their effectiveness according to model, camera, lens, use and how much movement there is. They can be very effective in helping you gain control over your sharpness but they are not the final answer. Sharpness involves a range of techniques and procedures which you will need to learn and practice to improve. Nevertheless, if you are hand-holding a shot you will get significant improvements in sharpness by using these systems. If you want to know a little bit more detail about image stabilisation you can see some more detail in Definition: Image stabiliser; Image stabilisation.

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By Damon Guy (author and Photokonnexion editor)

Damon Guy - Netkonnexion

Damon Guy (Netkonnexion)

Damon is a writer-photog and editor of this site. He has run some major websites, a computing department and a digital image library. He started out as a trained teacher and now runs training for digital photographers.
See also: Editors ‘Bio’.