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Photography Question 
Sandra L. Foxworth

Group Portraits

I have been photographing a lot of my friends' children with a single child/person. I can really make the shot pop. I am having trouble, though, with groups. The people look small. What focal length lens do I need? Do I need to get farther back with a longer lens or use a shorter focal length and get closer. I usually use a 105mm lens. Thank you,
- Sandy

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  Try a wide angle lens, say 30mm to a 50mm at the most. Ideal for group photos but not close-up shoots.

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11/23/2000 1:37:22 PM

Mark A. Braxton   I agree with dmather. The portrait lens was designed with a one, at the most two people close together, in mind. Try taking horizontal full body shots with a 50mm (normal) lens. They usually allow sharper more detailed photos to be taken.

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11/27/2000 8:03:29 AM

John A. Lind
BetterPhoto Member Since: 9/27/2001
  In addition to dmather's and Mark's suggestion about using a standard lens (50mm) for larger groupings, I would add a caution about using lenses with focal lengths shorter than this for group portraits. Heads in particular that are too close to an edge, and especially a corner, can take on an unnatural perspective. This is not a "distortion" but how a rectilinear lens behaves at image edges and corners. The effect becomes distinctly pronounced with wide-angle lenses, the wider the angle of view, the more pronounced.

From your description, the problem may not be focal length but size of print, or perhaps how you are framing the grouping. With larger groupings of four or more people, full length (head-to-toe) portraits do not work very well in a small 4x6 print size. One solution for four to six in a grouping is to dispense with head-to-toe full-length shots and make a 2/3 from about mid-thigh to head vertically if it will fit horizontally. Don't break at a joint such as knee or waist; it looks unnatural; break between them. This will make faces larger, which is the main purpose of a portrait. Starting with about six people, you often need larger prints in 5x7, and ten or more an 8x10. These numbers are approximate. They depend on how you form the grouping and then frame it.

You also want the sharpest possible image (negative) and sharpest possible printing. Focus very carefully on the closest person's eyes, use a smaller aperture of no wider than f/8 for a 50mm lens for sufficient depth of field (f/11 is even better), and a shutter speed fast enough combined with hand-held stance or tripod to eliminate any camera shake. Then have negatives done by an excellent print processor on good paper. From painful experience, who prints the negative can make a huge difference in print sharpness. If you've done your work for a truly sharp negative, you would be surprised at the sharpness of an excellent print. I have yet to find a one-hour consumer lab that can compete with the professional lab that does prints like these for me.

-- John

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11/28/2000 8:54:50 PM

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