How to get multiple subjects in focus in one photo is like the holy grail of portrait photography and it’s rarely achieved because of all the elements that HAVE to come together. Focus on more than one subject in photography, whilst retaining a reasonably low f-number and having a blurry background, seems to be even less common, but it’s totally doable – you just need to know the theory! Throw in a pair of dogs for dog photography and we’re basically at magician levels…
Today we use 2 dogs, 6-year-old Alfie and 6-month-old Bryt, as our multiple subjects to demonstrate the theory of getting more than one subject in focus in action. The video on this topic can be seen here:
There are a few things that need to come together for this to be an option for you, and if they aren’t all there, you need to switch to the composite method and merge a couple of shots together. Those things that need to come together are:
- Having the subjects as close together as possible, in terms of being on the same focal plane
- Having enough distance between you and them to get a little extra depth of field from the distances involved
- Having an f-number that is, as a general rule, 2x the number of subjects in the image
- Focus on the closest subjects eyes (for 2 subjects) or the middle subject’s eyes for a larger group (4 or more if on 3 rows) – You CAN use a depth of field calculator here, but I’m rubbish at guessing distances and I also don’t have time for the maths when shooting. However, it IS an option!
If your subjects are more staggered than is ideal, push your f-number up to another duplication to see if you can reclaim it – if not, abort and go for the two-shot method. How would this work in theory?
Example: 2 subjects, very close to being on the same focal plane
For this example you have 2 subjects, so you need to be working at f4 here.
You should be focussing on the front subjects eyes with enough of a distance between you and the subject to achieve a little chunk of focus in the scene.
Example: 2 subjects, more staggered than is ideal
For this example you have 2 subjects but they aren’t really that close to being on the same focal plane, so you need to be working at ideally f8, but f6 might cut it – You’ll have to test it!
You should still be focussing on the front subjects eyes with enough of a distance between you and the subject to achieve a little chunk of focus in the scene.
Example: 4 subjects reasonable close to being on the same focal plane
For this example you have 4 subjects and they’re pretty much on the same focal plane, you should be fine at f8 (number of subjects x 2 for the f-number) but if you need to, try f11 (you shouldn’t need it!).
You should still be focussing on the front subjects eyes with enough of a distance between you and the subject to achieve a little chunk of focus in the scene. If the subjects are in rows or curved around in a C shape, you may need to knock your focus to the middle most subject in terms of the focal plane.
Hopefully, the knowledge of the bits involved here paired with a couple of practice sessions, should set you at a place where you are confident to shoot more than one subject in the same photo!
Remember, practice is everything!