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Festive Holiday Group Portraits

Family and friends join together on the holidays making them the perfect time for preserving lifelong memories with a nicely captured photo or two. Here are a few tips to help you snap a memorable group portrait.

The Background

Use an area with enough room for everybody to fit without squeezing in. If possible, group the subjects in layers. If there is a sofa that people can also stand behind, position the subjects in rows—a back row behind the sofa, people on the sofa, and perhaps children and pets on the floor in front of the sofa. Avoid windows as a backdrop in the daytime, as this may skew the exposure and autofocus.


Because the portrait may be multi-generational, it should represent the relationships of the people in the picture. Think of tree rings, with the eldest generation at the center and the succeeding generations positioned outward from them. Using the sofa scenario above, place the eldest seated on the middle of the sofa, and then moving outward pose parents, children/nieces/nephews, and friends moving outward from the center.

People on the left and right of center should turn inward slightly to use the space more efficiently and make the picture look less flat. Those sitting on the sofa should sit upright and turn their knees toward the center slightly.

If you decided to take the photo around the table, have the people in the foreground half of the table get up and position themselves behind the sitting people at the far end of the table and use the flash.

Where’s Mom?

Mom keeps the photo record in most households, and doesn’t show up in many of the pictures. She really should be in the group portrait. Your digital camera has a self-timer which helps you achieve the goal of getting everyone in the portrait. When using the self-timer, set the time to 10 or 12 seconds so Mom can get into the shot. Be sure not to stand in front of the camera when pressing the shutter button, or the camera will focus on what it sees in front of it. Ideally, it would be nice to have a tripod, but setting the camera on a mantel or bookshelf will serve just as well.

Check out more great photography tips in the Olympus Learn Center.


In situations where the lighting is good, try shooting indoors without flash. Camera models that feature brighter aperture lens, between f1.8 to f2.8, will also help in allowing you to capture more indoors pictures without the need to use a flash. However, if the lighting is poor, the camera will signal this with a red blinking symbol (usually a camera or lightning bolt symbol) indicating that you need to use the flash.

Another point to keep in mind is that if you shoot without flash indoors, the camera needs to raise the ISO. As much as some people like to shoot available light, the graininess of using a high ISO in available light shooting will reduce the detail in the image. In a group portrait, the faces will be relatively small, so you want all the detail you can get. Use a lower ISO range, between 200 to 800, with the flash. Shoot several shots, the larger the group, the greater the chance someone will have their eyes closed.