I am taking a shot of a group of about 200 people. I have never done a shot this big — not even close. It’s before a company dinner at night outside on a stage. I need help and suggestions. How to take photos of large groups (over 100 people)? covers lens choice, but doesn't match my lighting situation.

I have access to all stage lighting. They said there will be wash lighting. But I have no idea anything about lighting. I normally shoot sports and music. Or just use natural light or flash.

Any help is greatly appreciated.

  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ Does this answer your question? How to take photos of large groups (over 100 people)? \$\endgroup\$
    – Kahovius
    Dec 9, 2019 at 1:15
  • \$\begingroup\$ Kind of but not about the lighting. Looks like that person was shooting inside. \$\endgroup\$
    – Amy Amber
    Dec 9, 2019 at 1:50
  • \$\begingroup\$ What kind of ambient light will be present? \$\endgroup\$
    – Michael C
    Dec 9, 2019 at 4:03
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Amy Thanks for the updates — they'll help you get a better answer. If you have more info you can edit your question — these comments are meant to be temporary. \$\endgroup\$
    – mattdm
    Dec 9, 2019 at 13:13
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    \$\begingroup\$ regardless of anything, if you can, do a test run. Put 3 people (or objects, anything) on the center and limits of the stage and try your heart out. Experient people can guess how things will turn out, but in general, testing is essential \$\endgroup\$ Dec 10, 2019 at 1:09

4 Answers 4


In my experience, stage lighting is never as strong as you wish it could be.

Have them pick a single warm white color for all the lights and power up the stage lighting to whatever the maximum is. Get up on stage and take an exposure reading in multiple places to confirm that you have even lighting and also use the time to get a custom white balance setting.

Now you can align everybody and get your shot. You will probably need a ladder or some method of gaining some elevation on your subjects. You want them to not be looking down at you as this is unflattering to the neck for most people and the slight head tilt up gets the face more in line with the angle the light will come in at.

Really. Keep it that simple.

  • Stage lights to a decent warm white color
  • Stage lights to max power
  • Get an exposure reading and custom white balance setting
  • Group everyone up and shoot
  • \$\begingroup\$ Unfortunately I have a light meter but have no idea how to use it. I haven’t used it in years. I didn’t do much photography until very recently. I use to, about 20 years ago. \$\endgroup\$
    – Amy Amber
    Dec 10, 2019 at 5:04
  • \$\begingroup\$ @AmyAmber put a greycard in a chair, get out of the way and use your camera's light meter. Move the chair around and rinse and repeat. Having 200 people hold still while you try to dial your exposure isn't an option. You need to know it before they line up so that you can shoot the first, confirm histogram, then fire away needing to tweak settings at most. \$\endgroup\$
    – OnBreak.
    Dec 10, 2019 at 5:58
  • \$\begingroup\$ Real stage lighting is usually much brighter than room lighting. A typical instrument (single light fixture) has a 500 W halogen lamp, and dozens of these are used to light a stage. So if you can get stage lights (not work lights) you should have plenty for tripod mounted exposures. \$\endgroup\$
    – user8356
    Dec 13, 2019 at 15:49

For Lens choice: Visit the location beforehand. In my opinion: Use the longest focal length lens with which you can fit the whole stage with proper framing. You want to avoid placing people in the corners, using wide angle lenses. This kind of distortion will make people look fat - no one's going to thank you for that.

Bring a tripod, so you don't have to choose the shutter speed based on how long you can hold the camera still but based on how long do people typically hold their body motionless. In my experience 1/30 will get you a safe sharp shot in most cases. You can try longer shutter speeds, if you're feeling lucky. But in any case: Take multiple shots at each shutter speed you try.

Do not rely on Auto exposure. Use manual mode and check the histogram.

It goes without saying, but I state it explicitly, anyway: Shoot RAW.

Lighting will be the hardest. What equipment do you have, and what equipment is on stage. Is there someone to operate the stage lights? Ideally you have diffuse light from an angle. If you have several flashes, you can place the flashes facing towards walls and use the reflection of the flashes as diffuse light source. For 200 people on a stage, however, there would need to be several objects on the stage from which you can bounce of light. And you'd need at least 4 or 5 flahes.

If stage lights are present an can be operated: Strong light from one side, a fraction of the light (75% or less) from the other side.

Good luck!


The wash lighting should be enough. Turn all of them on all of the way up (unless that is too bright, which it probably will not be). If possible, take a test shot of a calibrated white target under the stage lights to use for either color calibration purposes using in-camera custom white balance or for creating a color profile in post processing.

"Wash" is a term for a general fill of light and color distributed evenly across the stage through the use of multiple lighting fixtures (typically, softer lights cast from Fresnel lamps). Your wash lights may all be white, or they may be several different colors combined to produce white light.

As you can see from the details for this example image in this answer to another question, at the distances from which you will be shooting to get that many folks in the frame, even f/3.5 will give enough depth of field. I sold these at 8" x 10" and 11" x 14" with the front to back of the stage in focus at f/3.5 and 60mm focal length.

enter image description here

If the photo is going to need a caption added to it on post giving details about the event, don't forget to leave room for the text when you compose your shot!

In this answer to How can I best take pictures of a choir at a school fundraising dinner? I give fuller detailed instructions about how I do such shots.

Here's another example image followed by a 100% crop at the center of the frame:

enter image description here

enter image description here


Big+Night+Outside = Worst case scenario.

Some random ideas:

Take several shots and stich them together.

Get a megaphone and explain things to the people, that the photo will be a bit difficult and you need to take several shots, and you need for them to stay in place for some seconds.

Fix the camera as you can and take several shots from the same position and angle. Probably do some bracketing and stitch the different zones in post.

If they are spotlights you need the lights to swipe the people. If they are normal stadium lights that can light the full area, it will be easier.

But probably you need to avoid the direct light of the spotlight and just use the gloom or the fall-off zone of the lights. This will probably be more uniform.

You could probably get a small army of lightstands+cheap strobes with radio trigger control (8 perhaps?)

Put them away from the crowd so you do not have too much falloff. Probably the lights can be up on the stage if the people are on the floor.


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