Exploring group shots

Group shots.  Weddings, events, parties, family gatherings; at some point there is always a group shot to be taken.  I've been trying to figure out how to get the best quality group images - focus, depth of field, exposure, all of these things can make or break a shot (this becomes even more important if it's a paid job).

Arranging your subject

My subject in this case happens to be some Lego minifigures (to me this group *perfectly* represents a wedding party.  Everyone has met a space monster [the relative you had to invite], a fencer [the one who doesn't want to be in the photo]...).  Depending on the lens you use, you will get different compression and therefore the way you arrange your guests will determine how far away everyone appears, how many guests were there etc.

Aperture and depth of field

If it's a dark day, chances are you will want to go for a wide aperture to keep the shutter speed up.  You focus, you shoot, you review, you swear.  The focus can often be off, with the most important guests appearing fuzzy.  Not good.  Here are some examples:

Fuji xpro1 @ f/2.8.  Focus here is on the hotdog guy in the middle of the frame.  The subjects in front and behind of him are not in focus.

Fuji xpro1 @ f/5.6.  Focus here is now on the troll in the front row (where perhaps a bride would be).  Now you've got the first two rows, but the back row has been lost.

Fuji xpro1 @ f/5.6.  Focus here is back on the hotdog guy in the middle of the frame.  Surrounding subjects are clearer, but still not sharp.

The best results were with a smaller aperture (wider depth of field), but more importantly the focus is in the middle.  The point of focus for a lens is a bit like the centre of a sphere.  There will be some stuff in front of (and behind) that point which will also be in focus.  Therefore, if you focused on the bride (say its the troll in the images above), there is less chance of second cousin Ken at the back being in focus.  Clearly, as you decrease the size of the aperture (the f stop number increases), your depth of field will become more forgiving, and this will be easier.

Nikon D700 @ f/16.  Dealing with depth of field becomes even more tricky when using full frame.  The focus here is on the troll again, but even at f/16, not everyone is in focus.  This could be rectified by using a wider angle lens (e.g. a 24 mm).  There would be less compression, so people would appear further apart, but the depth of field is much wider with a lens like this, ensuring everyone is in focus.

With a full frame body like the D750, depth of field is even more narrow so even at f/16 not everyone is completely in focus.  However, that being said unless someone is going to be reviewing a print with a magnifying glass, it may not be noticeable to the regular viewer.  You still need to remember the focus point though - here it is on the troll, and second cousin Ken is still suffering slightly.  If the focus is shifted to the hotdog guy (lets call him Uncle Bob), this problem is rectified.

Nikon D700 @ f/16.  Dealing with depth of field becomes even more tricky when using full frame.  Moving the focus to Uncle Bob in the middle, more people are in focus and sharp, producing an acceptable image.

The Wedding party

These examples are useful when thinking about a normal party, or a family shot at a wedding.  However, there is usually the ubiquitous *everyone* image that is taken at weddings, usually from a height.  Doing this, I actually found that (depending on whether you were shooting DX or FX) you could be a little more creative.

Our wedding couple now are the space ranger and the fencer, who are traditionally positioned at the front of the group.

Fuji xpro1 @ f/11.  The same rules apply here, and in fact are more important as your couple are now further away from the people at the back.  Second cousin Ken is once again getting a raw deal...

Fuji xpro1 @ f/16.  By shifting focus to the front row of the guests (the troll again), pretty much the whole of the group is in good focus [one thing to note - the fujinon 35mm seemed to back focus a little, with there not being much in focus in front].  These images were all shot with natural light only (backlit), so there would be no need for moving around lots of lights.  I quite like the effect too, it does produce a nice, light, airy feel to the images, which would suit a set of wedding shots.

One final thing - if you aren't so fussed about all shots having everyone in focus all the time, using a full frame body can give you some nice images where you can focus on the main subjects (say a bride and groom).

Nikon D750 @ f/2.8.  Taking advantage of the nice bokeh produced by the Nikon 50mm, you can produce images completely focused on the couple, which I actually quite like.

This has been a learning exercise for me, and a very useful one.  I really enjoy shooting with prime lenses, but they do take practice and an understanding of things like depth of field and focusing distance.  Hopefully some of this stuff is also of use to you guys out there.