Choosing a Lens for Group Portraits

Dinner at Emmaus Caravaggio

Recently, someone asked me about how to choose a lens for group portraits.

A brief conversation revealed a lack of understanding about the basics of photography, such as depth of field.

It is not at all appropriate to talk about the number of myths that satisfy the basics of group portraits.

This article is written to assist any beginner who has little knowledge of photography itself and is suffering from the pain of choosing the right lens for group portraits .

How to Take Group Photos

The key to successful group photography is the concept of depth of field.

We will explain the essence of depth of field, but if you have serious knowledge gaps on this topic, please refer to the many featured articles on the Internet.

What is important to understand?

Depth of field is the conditioned surface in space where the image is sharp.

In a schematic group photo illustration, all subjects will be in the zone of sharpness and will be sharp.

In most cases, however, for the beginner, the situation is as follows

The objects depicted will be in the zone of sharpness, but only partially. Some are sharp, some are not. If you are lucky.

As you can see, the two participants in the photo shoot are out of the depth of field.

This can be caused by the desire of most beginners to open the aperture wide to blur the background beautifully.

How to solve this problem?

You need to make the depth of field deep enough so that all participants in the shoot fall into the depth of field.

What determines depth of field?

Depth of field depends on two factors

  • Camera aperture
  • Distance to the subject

The further away from the subject, the greater the depth of field at the selected aperture.

The larger the aperture, the greater the depth of field for the same distance to the subject.

A reasonable question arises: How does depth of field relate to the lens itself, which is required to take a group photo?

Depth of field is related to the aperture, not the lens.

But does a group shoot require an expensive lens with a minimum aperture of f/1.2, since a larger aperture is needed to cover a larger aperture for greater depth of field?

All of this somewhat dispels the myth that a brighter lens is necessary for group shots.

Yes, you can use apertures up to f/1.4 or f/1.2.

However, such a wide aperture is not necessary for group portraits because of the shallow depth of field.

A brighter lens makes sense because it produces better photographic aesthetics than a darker lens, but f/1.4 is not necessary because you are shooting with a smaller aperture.

What lenses are needed for group photos?

Now that we have dealt with depth of field to some extent, let’s move on to the question of photography itself.

What is meant by a group photo?

A group photo or portrait is a photograph of three to five people.

Everything discussed in this article works well with larger groups of people.

What is the main problem with shooting more people?

Even after you have placed the people being portrayed, according to your vision of beauty, at the right moment of shooting, someone decides to scratch and someone closes their eyes.

What does this mean?

It means that the shutter speed needs to be as short as possible to prevent blurring of the movement of one and to allow time to capture the frame before the other’s eyes close.

What is the shutter speed at the time of the shot?

Using high ISO without amplifying digital noise requires a good camera with adequate lighting, a bright lens, and a high-quality low-noise sensor.

Depending on the shutter speeds available for a particular group shot, some points can be ignored.

If the scene to be shot is well lit, bright lenses and professional cameras can be ignored.

You will need to focus on a shutter speed of 1/250 sec.

How to take group photos

You already know that when taking group photos, you need to choose the right aperture for the shot and that fast, expensive lenses may be ignored in certain situations.

The next important point is to choose the correct focal length of the lens.

Ask yourself what the lens needs to be able to do in a group photo.

The group of people being portrayed must fit in the frame, and there should be no perspective distortion due to distortion of the proportions of the bodies or faces of the people being photographed.

In particular, the proportions of the people will be distorted by portrait lenses with focal lengths starting at 85 mm on full-size cameras.

Lenses from 85-200 mm are considered the gold standard for portrait photography.

So where does the group shot take place?

In a small room, it is physically impossible to shoot a group of faces with a 135 mm or 200 mm lens.

Even shooting half-length portraits would be a major headache if possible in principle.

Therefore, photographers use lenses with shorter focal lengths, such as 35 mm, 50 mm, or 85 mm single focal length lenses.

Of course, zoom lenses with focal lengths between 35 and 85 mm can also be used.

Why are lenses with focal lengths less than 35mm not used?

Because perspective distortion of wide-angle lenses begins to appear when shooting at close range.

A person near the edge of the frame will be longer than a person in the center of the frame.

It looks funny in the first picture, but then it starts to get annoying and you realize that this is a serious technical marriage.

Crop and Full Frame

Having mentioned placement in the frame, I can’t resist mentioning the difference between a full-frame camera and a crop.

They differ in the angle of view of the same lens.

A 50mm lens on a cropped camera provides the same angle of view as an 85mm lens on a full frame camera.

The lens on a cropped camera has a narrower field of view than the lens on a full frame camera.

This means that a cropped camera with a 50mm lens will have difficulty capturing full or half body portraits of a serious group in a small room. You will need a lens with a shorter focal length.

When choosing a lens for group portraits, start with the size of the location where the shoot will take place and the format of the camera.

What is the best lens for taking group photos?

It is time to compile the information and select the appropriate lens.

  • Shooting is done with a covered aperture, f/1.2 lenses are not necessary
  • Lens focal lengths range from 35 to 85 mm.
  • For a cropped camera, shorten the focal length of the lens
  • A brighter lens is better, but does not use a wide aperture. Older versions of fast f/1.8 or f/2.2 lenses are not a problem
  • Fixes are preferable to zooms, but zooms are a good choice


All of these lenses have dark counterparts, cost less, and have slightly poorer image quality

There is also a way to take a group photo. If the couple is photographed separately, then combine their frames into one frame.

Follow this link to an article by American photographer Barry Halley on how he combined individual frames to take a group portrait.

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