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Thread: Lens recommendations for group photography

  1. #1
    Senior Member biglouis's Avatar
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    Lens recommendations for group photography

    There are a number of family events happening in 2015 and although I do not like doing people-type shots I will inevitably be pressed into taking photographs.

    I will be using my A7r and I own the following prime lenses: 15mm, 21mm, 35mm, 50mm, 55mm and 90mm.

    I anticipate having to do groups of mainly 4-8 people. Will the 21 work or will it give a weird perspective for groups? My concern about the 35 is that I will have to step so far back I'll include a lot of foreground.

    I'm wondering if the forthcoming 28/2 might be a good investment if it is available in time? Or possibly the 16-35 f4 but is this overkill? Or the 24-70?

    Anyone care to suggest a good focal length?

    Inside I would consider investing in a decent flash and outside I would be working on a tripod with posed groups.

    Thanks and sorry for one of those "what do you suggest" threads but I really am unsure what to buy or if I even need to do so.

    LouisB

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    Senior Member MikeEvangelist's Avatar
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    Re: Lens recommendations for group photography

    Locations for shots like this can be so unpredictable, and it's often challenging to get everyone together and standing still. So a zoom really helps. Personally I like the 16-35mm on the a7R. (Those extra pixels really come in handy, allowing looser composition and cropping later.) At least in the places where my family tends to gather, a 35mm is seldom wide enough to get everyone in the shot. Of the primes you have, I'd probably pack the 21mm most often.
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    Super Duper
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    Re: Lens recommendations for group photography

    I'd avoid lenses wider than 28mm unless you like the effect that wide-angle distortion provides ... People on the edges of the frame will have their features stretched wide. Even 28mm does this to a great degree.

    I like group shots where the people are tight together in the frame, ear to ear as they say, so I mostly use 35-50mm lenses and just smoosh everyone close together for the photo, doing typically about 1/2 to 3/4 shots. Obviously, when you have just too many people and not enough space, go wider, but anything shorter than 24mm creates distortions so you have to be careful.

    For large groups, the most invaluable thing to have with you is a milk crate to stand on. That way you can pack rows of people and not lose so much space to foreground and background below and above the assembled multitude. This also helps because they have their faces turned up to you, which hides jowls and smooths age lines.

    Above all, try to be creative and not do those boring "standing in a row like statues" group shots. Get some life into them, make them interact, make them jump, or hug each other, or something. You want to get a nice likeness with some life in it. ;-)

    G
    Godfrey - GDGPhoto Flickr Stream
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    Senior Member MikeEvangelist's Avatar
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    Re: Lens recommendations for group photography

    Quote Originally Posted by biglouis View Post
    Inside I would consider investing in a decent flash...
    By coincidence, I just bought a new flash for such occasions. Just posted info in another thread.

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    Administrator, Instructor Guy Mancuso's Avatar
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    Re: Lens recommendations for group photography

    I do these in large numbers with sometimes 100 people but the same principle applies. Many times you need to be at a higher level to shoot down on a little bigger the number bigger the problem as looking down you get perspective issues straight things bow out . Many times and this is the beauty of TSE lenses. Is you can be higher than subject have camera perfectly level so no converging of straight objects around them and just shift the lens lower down to include there feet or whatever. I see way to often converging lines in group shots that are very unnatural with these converging lines. It happens a lot especially with larger groups. Now 35 lens is really nice for 4-8 people. Canon only has 24 and 45. But there 24 with 1.4 extender makes it a 33mm which I have today and works really nice. Your going to shoot at F8 or F11 anyway so speed is usually not the issue but light is so if you want to look like a Pro get some moonlights or a pack and 2 or 3 heads. Remember you can't cheat good lighting. Also bonus you get tilt and if your 3 rows of people deep you can use tilt to increase DOF.

    I read another thread here about interiors and I'm getting disturbed by this thinking you want to shoot like a Pro but you trying to cheat with gear. This is not how it works. You need tools that work effectively. Also your working with people here and you can't distort them. Wider than even 35 can be a stretch so having ability to fix this stuff in camera is what your after. TSE lenses are far more useful than people give them credit for. This is exactly a situation outside if interiors where they excel.
    Photography is all about experimentation and without it you will never learn art.

    www.guymancusophotography.com
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    Senior Member biglouis's Avatar
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    Re: Lens recommendations for group photography

    I should have said that I will almost certainly be working outside in hopefully good light but I understand Guy's point above about being properly equipped for indoors.

    I'm leaning towards maybe investing in a 24-70 as I agree that I'll be working at small apertures, probably f8 minimum.

    Thanks for all the responses and please keep them coming.

    LouisB

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    Administrator, Instructor Guy Mancuso's Avatar
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    Re: Lens recommendations for group photography

    Several high power battery units on the market with a lot of power as your going to be balancing with daylight to fill you need a lot of juice. I would say 400 watt units would serve you well. Profit, Hensal, Dynalite and several others make some nice monos.
    Photography is all about experimentation and without it you will never learn art.

    www.guymancusophotography.com

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    Re: Lens recommendations for group photography

    Interesting dilema Louis. Personally I find that this is one of the occasions when a 28mm lens comes into it's own and unfortunately in the FE mount or Leica M mount there is either nothing available yet (FE28 should appear sometime in the first half of next year) or the leica M ones don't work well. I believe though that the Leica R mount 28 works well. In the past I shot a lot of weddings/events etc with just a 28 and 50 and always happy with the combo. Recently though I was at a friends wedding (not as the main Photographer) and basically shot the whole thing with the A7s and 24-70. I know you have the A7r but the A7s and 24-70 seem to be a marriage made in heaven where the lens performs well at all focal lengths and you real have no need for flash for indoor shots
    David Sampson Photography | Stef & Denis
    Personally I think that the FE24-70 would be a better lens for this sort of work though I think that the FE16-35 is a better performer optically. Also the FE24-70 which has been around for a while is not to hard to find used. If you don't mind changing lenses and want the separation that you get from shallower DOF then maybe wait for the FE28 and use it in conjunction with the FE55. Again I prefer working these situations with 2 bodies as I really don't like the hassle of having to change lenses all the time.
    Anyway my style has always been more towards the reportage way of dealing with these events and this is the sort of kit that works for me but if you are going for the more formal group shots etc and you have the time etc of course Guy's points make a lot of sense though I would be careful about over complicating the the whole affair and getting bogged down when a Pro will just take it all in his stride and sail through all the technical setup.

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    Super Duper
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    Re: Lens recommendations for group photography

    I'm a wedding photographer. I shoot more group shots than you can shake a stick at ... in every sort of location and every sort of lighting situation you could imagine ... and have done so for longer than I care to admit

    A 24-70 (or 24-105) zoom is your friend. It is the no# 1 lens used by wedding shooters bar none. It allows adjustments for a larger group, then readjustment for a smaller group in swift succession.

    While 35mm focal length is best for medium to large groups, 24mm is usable for larger groups IF you keep the group more centered. You should do this anyway, because the sides of an image will most likely be cropped to make a 5X7 or 8X10 proportioned image. So compose using less of the width. Using the full width of a 35mm frame is the no# 1 mistake rookies make when composing group shots.

    If you are shooting at an interesting location or a nice interior, use it ... this is called "environmental portraiture". It kills me how people travel to some exotic location and then do selfies which show none of the place. I just did an album where I used the client's "European Tour" Honeymoon photos on the last spread. 95% of them could have been shot in my backyard.

    Outdoors you'll want to seek shade when possible, and use fill flash.

    Indoors, I highly recommend learning how to use flash effectively ... do NOT count on high ISO cameras to capture the ambient light when shooting indoor portrait work, especially groups ... because ... the ambient usually sucks. It is often both poor in quantity and quality, and the direction is almost always unflattering.

    While I use powerful strobe kits in my work, for your purposes look at the Phottix speed-light systems and spend some time on this website: Strobist ... or others like it. The real trick to using flash is learning how to balance it with the ambient, so it doesn't look like flash was used.

    In these days of the cell phone generation, people are impatient and even intolerant of taking to long to make a group photo. So, you want to spend what time you have arranging them nicely rather than fiddling with your camera and/or lighting.

    Hope this helps,

    - Marc
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  10. #10
    Senior Member biglouis's Avatar
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    Re: Lens recommendations for group photography

    Thanks for all the replies they are very much appreciated.

    In the first instance I have purchased the FE 24-70 (David is right, prices have gone down considerably and I even managed to get a new one from Amazon Marketplace, so if it has any problems it can go back easily in my experience).

    It may seem overkill but I have also purchased a A7s. I am fully committed to the Sony Alpha 7 series, so it makes sense to have a second body which can perform at high isos. I also regularly shoot my son's band(s) and it is unacceptable imho to interrupt a performance often in dark rooms with flash. So, I am hoping the A7s will be my friend in those situations paired with the 24-70.

    The final part of the kit is a strobe. I am not keen on having to use off camera set-ups. I just don't think it is feasible where my style of shooting is reportage. The group shots I am talking about would almost certainly be outside but indoors it would be more reportage and maybe posed pairs or trios of people. For that I am thinking of the Metz gun that Mike talks about above.

    I am not a professional event photographer. Actually, if I am a 'professional' anything it is an urban grunge landscape photographer (where flash is a complete no-no) so while I would love a professional lighting rig it is not going to happen.

    Thanks again, the great thing about GetDPI is the friendliness of the members and their willingness to spread their wisdom.

    LouisB

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    Re: Lens recommendations for group photography

    Louis, congrats on the A7s. It sounds like it should fit in nicely with your requirements. Does this mean we can expect to see some shots of the East End after dark?
    Be careful out there!
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