Macross Frontier cosplay photography by Abbott Wang ALA 2011

Photography Tutorial: How To Do Group Shots & Poses Quickly and Efficiently

June 20, 2012

One of the things I keep hearing over and over from other cosplay photographers is how hard it is to do group shots in cosplay and I certainly sympathize. I used to hate doing them too, but I found this is a great opportunity to set yourself apart. When dealing with 5 or more people in a single shot, it can get tricky. You start wondering: “Where do I place everyone? Do I want it to be artsy and not just a bunch of people lined up in a straight line? What should my settings be? Why are people in the back/front blurry or out of focus?” Being a wedding photographer, I deal with group shots all the time and had to learn to quickly and efficiently how to do it. Today, I’m going to share my tips, tricks, and techniques to doing group shots quickly and easily.

Batman Dark Knight cosplay photography by James Giovanni Pan Fanime 2012

James Pan shows how the background can be incorporated into a group shot to create something dynamic. This was shot with the 16mm with fish-eye adapter on a Sony NEX-5N.

What Lens and Settings Should I Use?

The answer is, it depends. Are you trying to do an artistic shot or you don’t have enough shooting space? Then the wide-angle lenses such as the 24-70mm or even 16-35mm would be best suited. But if you’re focus is to capture more of the subjects, then a telephoto zoom like the 70-200mm would be my choice. At the end of the day, any lens can be used, but knowing how it distorts and it’s DOF is very important to good group shots.

What settings do you use when photographing groups? I generally like to shoot at around f/2.0 or f/2.8. People might be mortified to hear that. Why? Because shooting wide-open means that the DOF is thin. But here’s a trick to know, f/2.8 on different lenses at different focal length have different DOF. Confused yet? What that means is that using a 24-70mm at 70mm f/2.8 is different than using a 70-200mm at 100mm at f/2.8. The longer the lens, the more the DOF grows. That’s all you really need to know.

So here are a lot of examples of how you can do group shots:


For this shot, I wanted to use the background somewhat, but the main focus is on the cosplayers. Notice that the main character is at the front most, but it’s very subtle. This was shot with a 50mm at f/2 on a full-frame dSLR.

Macross Frontier cosplay photography by Abbott Wang ALA 2011

Abbott Wang here grouped everyone in nice and tight. Notice that he staggered the heights around so that it doesn’t look like “cell towers”.

Rachael Masako Ing (Masakocha) lined everyone up to do this shot, but slightly staggered people so it doesn’t look like a straight line. The props also really help this shot as well as having the blown-out background create a back-light effect.

Photo by cosplay photographer Tiffany Jing Crawford at Fanime 2012. By using chairs, you can really break-up the elements and create great group shots as well.

Shun Al Hayashi really staggered this group and actually put them on different planes. This is very effective use of using your surroundings to help emphasize your characters when it’s available.

Cosplay photographer Tony Quan crafts an amazing action group shot by positioning everyone staggered and in different poses.

In this photo, I had only one flash and needed to light three people, so I ended up doing a flash composite photo. This allowed me to properly light all three people evenly and dramatically.

To Flash Or Not To Flash

That truly is the question. Flash will offer you a cleaner image, but introduces complications in it’s own rights. Shooting ambient will give you a degree more of simplicity, but there are drawbacks too. All I can say about this, in regards to group shots, go with what you know. But I can give you some simple tips here.

If you are using flash, and only have one flash. The easiest way to take a group photo is to lump everyone together so that you get flash to light them all. But doing that isn’t going to produce terribly creative photos. So another trick when you only have one flash is to do a flash composite. You’ll need a tripod to do this easily and quickly. I don’t want to get into all the in-depth steps (maybe for a future tutorial post) but here’s the general gist: 1) setup camera on tripod and pose everyone in the group as you want them, 2) Inform everyone to hold for three (or as many as you need to light everyone) shots, take the first photo with no flash, 3) then put light on first set of people/person and take photo and move the light to the next set of people/person and take another photo and keep doing this until you’ve taken a photo for everyone who needs to be lit, 4) In Photoshop, stack all the photos together with the very first non flashed photo on top and add a mask and erase each set of people/person in.

When shooting ambient, you do have the advantage of seeing the light. Keep in mind you can use reflectors and even LED light panels to help add a bit more light to faces as needed. Train your eyes to see light. For ambient group shots, I look for large windows as it’s your best and safest bet. If there aren’t windows, over head lights. But be-careful of overhead lights as people with deeper brows will have the dreaded raccoon eyes look.

Posing Tips and Tricks

So below is a general guide as to how I build out my group shots. As with anything, it won’t always work, but in many cases, it’ll give you something to work with.

Step 1: Determine your scene. Is the background something you want to call attention to or minimize? That will determine the framing and lens you have to work with. Lighting plays an important consideration in this process. For example, you wouldn’t choose the dark/shadow side of a building if you’re using flash as it’ll take a lot of power to light up the building. You also might not necessarily want to choose the fully sun-lit side of the building if you’re shooting a group in the shade with the building in the background as the lighting range is so different, exposing for the faces will mean a blown-out background.

Step 2: Ask who the main character or characters are. More often than not, they are the focal point of the group and should be positioned in frame to reflect that. The easiest place is center or slightly off center. But that doesn’t mean you can’t position the main character(s) off to the side and still draw attention to them by putting them in the front.

Step 3: Start by posing the main character. Put her where you want her. I would start out doing the “safe” shots first and then experiment. A safe shot would be to put the main character right in the center or slightly off center. There are many series where there are more than one main character, then I would default to who is the leader or natural leader. If they are both main characters and leaders (rare), I would then choose to position the woman lead slightly more in front.

Step 4: Then figure out who is the next main characters. In wedding photography speak, this would be the Best Man. I would position this person or persons next or nearby the main character(s).

Step 5: Once you get the title characters out of the way, the rest are the support cast. I position them based on height. I hate group photos where it’s shortest person on one end and tallest person on the other, the “cell signal” look. I’ve only seen one time where this works and it was for a cell carrier commercial, and even then it looked awkward.

Step 6: You can then change up the poses and ordering, somewhat. The biggest avenue of change is how close you position people together. In one shot, you might clump everyone tight together, but in another shot, you might want to spread them out.

Some Questions Answered

I already know some questions that will probably pop-up, so I’m going to answer them before being asked, but feel free to leave questions in the comments and I’ll answer them here.

What if I have some super tall people in the group (2-feet height difference)?
Chop them off at the knees. While that may work, it’ll be hard to work with them again. So you have a couple of options:

  1. Position everyone in a seated pose
  2. Have the tallest people sit down in a chair, ledge, or something
  3. Lower the angle you photograph at
  4. Position the tallest people in battle poses or couching-like poses
  5. Create distance behind the shorter people by having the taller people step further away


Why do you shoot your group shots at f/2.8 or wider?
Often I don’t have the luxury of pretty backgrounds or backgrounds that I would want to call attention to. By shooting at a very wide aperture, I can minimize the background and draw attention to the main subject, the people.

If you found this article interesting, be sure to join our Facebook group, Cosplay Photography Discussion Group. It is a place for cosplay photographers of all levels to learn from each other. Don’t forget to like us on Facebook as well!

Notice a problem with this article? Let us know.


The Bui is principal photographer at Bui Photos specializing in wedding and engagement photography. He's also a co-founder of


Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.