I am enrolled in community college, majoring in photography. I currently do head shots but I want to do vintage(ish) portraits of families of say 4-5 people. I have a studio set up with a vintage sofa like the one in the following image, and I have a 10x10 damask backdrop. How do I get it all in the photograph? I am working with a 50mm 1.8 lens.

Photograph of family sat on sofa in a field http://www.jessicasmithphotography.com/blog/wp-content/uploads/2012/10/IMG_2658.jpg

  • Can you explain a little more what aspect of this you would like to replicate? Is it just the angle of view and depth of field that you have questions about?
    – mattdm
    Jul 5, 2013 at 11:23
  • It's the angle of view mostly. Having the entire sofa, full body shot with my backdrop showing top and faux floor showing bottom. Maybe a bit less on the sides than the example photo. Jul 5, 2013 at 15:17

4 Answers 4


Try moving back to fit the composition you want, use a tripod, and stop that 50 down. The blur and general lack of sharpness may be due to shooting wide open at f/1.8. If your composition calls for bokeh of the type that f/1.8 provides, consider calculating a precise dof and positioning your subjects very carefully, keeping in mind that your range of acceptable sharpness will change with the distance to your focal point, at any aperture.

eg. With an aps-c sensor, 50mm at f/1.8, a focus point 7 feet away will yield about 5 inches of acceptable sharpness. Try to keep your subjects' eyes in that zone of sharpness while respecting your composition. Stopping down a touch will help, if you don't need the wide open bokeh.

edit: check that you're not missing focus, too. tripod helps for manual focus, especially because you are in complete control of your environment.

  • I would rather have the subjects and backdrop in clear view without bokeh. Just a sharp, bright, crisp image with everything in focus. Jul 5, 2013 at 15:06
  • here is another example lh4.ggpht.com/-NBC4WkslESQ/T8eMstwKNnI/AAAAAAAAHNk/nEh5rwE4S2c/… Jul 5, 2013 at 15:25
  • If you want everything in focus, stop down to get the required depth of field, after you move back to get the composition you desire. The example is helpful: if that couch was 8 feet away from my camera and i wanted the couch+bg in focus, I'd try stopping down to f/16, giving about 5 feet of dof. You may need to stop down more as you move closer. Practice & experiment to learn how much dof you get as you move away and toward your subject.
    – TroyR
    Jul 8, 2013 at 14:13

50mm should work perfectly fine, an 85mm might be a bit too long assuming the photographer was on the same (level) ground and of average height. Judging by the example photo you provided it appears that the angle of view is relatively close, with a small aperture (maybe f/8-f/16 at 50mm) when looking at the bokeh. The size of the camera sensor would affect this, so I'm comparing to full frame camera. If a longer lens was used, the person would likely need to stand on something otherwise the horizon would start to come into view, as the perspective is slightly downward in the example.

You could also use a wider lens (e.g., 35mm) with larger apertures if you don't have enough room to move back for the desired composition. Just be aware that lens distortion might become a factor if you have straight lines anywhere, or subjects near the edges of the frame; most wide angle lenses tend to be softer toward the edges.

With regard to the lighting, it looks like it was an overcast day as there are no strong highlights on the people. There are also no discernible shadows on the ground except for under the sofa, and the plants do not appear to have strong contrast. You could use some sort of diffuse (a bed sheet held overhead or to the side), but it might look weird with the rest of the scene showing stronger shadows. The cloud-diffused sun appears to be above and slightly behind the subjects. There was probably some reflected lighting from in front and to the side of them as well as they are very evenly lit.


You may need a longer lens so that the narrower field of view means a similar subject size, but the background can fill the FoV.

  • Any suggestions? 85mm or possibly a 105? Also, I have taken practice shots and the sofa is 6ft away from backdrop, and I have tried shooting at around 7ft away from sofa. Everything fits except I have a terrible blur on faces sometimes and others it's just not as crisp/detailed as I'd like. I have 2 softboxes L & R and one overhead softbox. Aperture mode, 1.8 and 100 ISO. Jul 5, 2013 at 4:44
  • Since the angle of view is determined by both the lens' focal length and the size of the image sensor, it would be helpful to know what camera you are shooting with. Also, how many feet can you back up before you hit a wall?
    – Michael C
    Jul 5, 2013 at 6:10
  • 1
    The EF 50mmm f/1.8 is fairly soft at f/1.8 compared to when it is stopped down a little. And f/1.8 is a little shallow for groups (as opposed to individuals), even if you are using an APS-C camera. The problem with stopping that lens down is that the 5 blade aperture diaphragm produces some fairly harsh bokeh. At f/1.8 the bokeh is better because none of the blades are in the light path, but the plane of focus is not as sharp.
    – Michael C
    Jul 5, 2013 at 6:15
  • 1
    @vintagegirl to echo what Michael says, f/1.8 is far too wide an aperture for group portraits. If you want to throw the background out of focus then a longer focal length at f/2.8 or f/4 is the way to go. But you're going to need to back up a long way from your subject and space may be an issue depending on the size of your studio. There's probably a reason the photo you linked to was shot outdoors!
    – Matt Grum
    Jul 5, 2013 at 8:26
  • I want everything in focus for the most part. Because of the look of my backdrop being a damask pattern ( like french wallpaper) and my vintage sofa, I am going for a look. No bokeh needed. I have a d5100 and the distance from my subject that I have to work with is 12-13 feet. That is minus the 2ft out from wall that my 10x10 backdrop is, then the additional 5ft from backdrop that my sofa is. (leaving me roughly 12-13 ft. Maybe I need a bigger backdrop too. Jul 5, 2013 at 15:10

Seeing that this is a studio shoot. I think the most important consideration is the backdrop you will be using and the distance have available in studio to distance backdrop from subjects.

The charm of you example image comes from the fact that the background "surrounds" the subjects. see the grass in front and flowers next to bench. Using natural looking backgrounds will like obvious fakes with this type of shot layout. Safest would be neutral infinity background. in this case aperture will not be a priority to blur the background much, so shoot at the sweet spot for your lens. have the background as far away as your lighting and space will allow.

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