I've been asked to take some pictures at my sister-in-law's outdoor wedding. She likes the pictures I've posted over the years of small kids & small birds. While that hardly qualifies me to do weddings, she's assured me that she understands I'm not a professional photographer. Hopefully the groom's family understands that as well...

So, I have some familiarity with portrait-style pictures, but the family & group shots worry me. From limited experience with neighborhood gatherings, it seems like pictures with ~15-20 people are a whole other type of photograph. I've read many of the pages on this site, such as Tips on getting group shots for family; those seem useful. When I use the Depth of Field calculator to estimate what a good aperture will be for my Canon APC-C (70D) camera, it's telling me that at 28mm and 15' away, f/4 gives 16 feet of acceptable sharpness. Does that seem right? 20mm at f/2.8 says the same. That makes it seem like having enough depth of field for the entire group should not be a problem, and I should worry most about lighting, and shooting enough pictures, with fast enough shutter speed, that I get one or two without blinking or talking. Does that sound right?

  • Separately, is it crazy to rent a Canon 5D mk 3 for the weekend if the only DSLRs I've used are the T1i and my new 70D? I'm already planning on renting the 70-200mm f/2.8 II, and maybe a macro.
    – Michael H.
    Jun 9 '14 at 16:47
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    All of the things you have said are crazy, yes. I would strongly advise against going through with this for your own sake as well as the bride and grooms memories. I never recommend being the main photographer as your first experience with wedding photography. Posed portraits of kids and bird photography is not preparation for a typical wedding day. Look into second-shooter gigs and go from there. Also, I wouldn't shoot any portraits at 28mm(especially not 20mm) even on APS-C. Renting a body you aren't familiar with is a bad idea for such an important event as well. Sorry to be harsh.
    – dpollitt
    Jun 9 '14 at 17:44
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    I'd suggest jumping in chat to talk about this in more detail since there is more to cover here than really fits a Q/A format.
    – AJ Henderson
    Jun 9 '14 at 18:20
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    What exactly is your question? Is it about the group shot specifically or about the wedding in general?
    – rfusca
    Jun 9 '14 at 18:36
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    @mattdm - I don't think it's a duplicate since I was aiming for advice on taking pictures of groups outdoors, and the wedding was just the context. But believe me, I've read through that page more than a few times in the past few months!
    – Michael H.
    Jun 12 '14 at 5:47

Depth of field shouldn't be an issue if you are far enough back to fit groups of 15-20 people in the frame and have plenty of daylight. Anything over f/4 with about a 50mm lens should be good.

This photo was shot using a full frame camera and 50mm lens at f/3.5 from a ladder about 1/3 of the way across a dimly lit basketball court (and then cropped slightly). I made the mistake of focusing on the front instead of middle row, but the DoF for anything but a gigantic print is still acceptable. If I had focused on the middle row as I should have even f/3.5 could have been printed up to about 50x32 inches. Although some of the portraits from a wedding may need to be displayed that large, I doubt any of the group shots would need to be.

Group of 16

This larger group of about 60 was also shot with a full frame camera and a 50mm lens at f/3.5 from further back (I was at mid-court and bounced a single flash connected by an off shoe cable off of the opposite wall behind me). The DoF doesn't hold up quite as well at larger sizes, but was perfectly acceptable printed at 8x10 in a high school athletic program. Oh, and the shutter speed was 1/50 second.

Group of 62

In my experience getting large groups to all pose correctly for the same instant is more about how you approach them and communicate that you need ONE good pose. If you take 15-20 shots each person will think it is OK if they have their eyes closed in just 2-3 of them. But the laws of probability say if each of 60 persons are not right in 2-3 of 15 pictures then the statistical odds say that on average 12 of the 60 will be blinking in any one shot and the odds that you will have even one photo with everyone correct is pretty much zero. You'll never get a group that large with everyone perfect, but I find I get a better results with fewer bad faces when I emphasize that this is THE shot (and then cheat a little by shooting a 3 shot burst). All but one of the frowners in the large group above are the drummers that think they are too cool to ever smile for a photo.

On a more general note my biggest piece of advice for large groups is to shoot from an elevated position. If there isn't a natural spot with the light at a good angle for that time of day, then use a ladder.

Also remember that most depth of field calculators are based on the assumption of an 8x10 print viewed at 10 inches by a person with 20/20 vision. For a larger display size viewed at the same distance you will need a narrower aperture to get the same depth of field.

  • I like your examples - thanks! I understand the raw statistical angle; thanks for the tip on manipulating that. 50mm on FF is about equivalent to rfusca's suggestion of 30-35mm on crop. Do you actually do 4'x3' prints? I have never tried. I would be very surprised if the particular people involved in the wedding want prints that big; digital photoframes are more the style for most of them. ;-) 1/50s - wow. Maybe it was the little kids raring to go Easter egg hunting, or maybe I was shakier than usual, but my pictures of 4-year-olds standing & primed to race were way too blurry.
    – Michael H.
    Jun 10 '14 at 16:09
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    1/50 is way too slow for most four-year-olds unless they are sleeping!
    – Michael C
    Jun 11 '14 at 3:55
  • The largest I generally print is 20" on the long side. I was just saying that particular image (in the high resolution version, rather than the downsized version uploaded here) would hold up to about that size, which means any smaller size will have plenty of DoF.
    – Michael C
    Jun 11 '14 at 3:58

-Since your SIL is asking for your help, I assume the groom is your brother. For clarity, I would also chat with him before the wedding to make sure he also understands your wedding experience limitations. Family weddings are sensitive - family wants "pro quality" photos for one of the most important days of their lives - for "free." Maybe this can be your wedding gift?

-In general, I would not let a family wedding be your first wedding outing where you are the "official" photographer. If there are no options for other photogs and you are committed at this point, I suggest you shoot as many family-style events as possible before the wedding ... so you can get familiar with moving quickly and using the camera for different types of shots.

-Would not rent an unfamiliar camera body for a wedding shoot. Stick with what you have and are most familiar with. The 70D should be fine. I would focus on getting proper lenses. A 70-200mm is fine for candids from a distance and portraits. Not sure why you would want a Macro at the wedding - for up close "detail" photos? If it were me, I'd supplement the 70-200 with a general purpose, smaller range zoom, or a wide angle for the large group shots. Main suggestion would be to keep your equipment down to a minimum since this is your first wedding shoot. Need to keep it really simple. Two lenses at the most. Go for simplicity. If you really want simplicty - a single 50mm would save you.

-Lastly, can't say that I would ever recommend any aperture size bigger than f5.6 for group shot. For a group shot, you want as much depth of field as you can get to get everyone in sharp focus, and 5.6 for a group of 5 or 6 (get it?) is the biggest aperture I'd recommend. At best, if you are shooting outside with decent light, I suggest f8 or greater.

-See my two sample images below from recent wedding. Both are shot at 5.6 on FF camera with 50mm 1.8 lens. Both shots could be better if I had stopped down to smaller f stop. You may not be able to tell on these internet shots, F5.6 did not even keep all 4 faces in either pic sharp. In each pic, you would able to see that only one pair of eyes are sharp in each group. Shot 1 is out in the sun, and you can see hard shadows. Shot 2, I positioned the group in the shade (with some sun coming thru from top to light bride's head a bit for a glow). No hard shadows this time.

-Good luck to you my friend.

Shot 1

Shot 2You a

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    More likely the SIL is the sister of the asker's husband or wife. Otherwise she wouldn't yet be the SIL.
    – Michael C
    Jun 12 '14 at 1:28
  • The question mentions groups of 15-20. To get that many in the frame you'll have to shoot much further back than your examples. This means the DoF for the same aperture will be much deeper than if the subjects are closer to the camera.
    – Michael C
    Jun 12 '14 at 1:33
  • Thanks for the feedback. Michael C. is right, it's my wife's sister and wife's sister's fiance in question, but otherwise your advice is apropos. =) I will keep in mind to have narrower aperture for smaller groups as you suggest. I'm renting the 70-200 f/2.8 II and 24-70 f/2.8 II for the weekend and, as you and I think AJ Henderson suggested, skipping the macro. I was just thinking of ring shots & cake details, but will use the 70-200 for that instead. Thanks for the advice!
    – Michael H.
    Jun 12 '14 at 5:43
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    Another important point for group photos - especially since you don't really know the groom or his family - is to have an assistant who can corral the appropriate collections of family members for each shot. You'll be too busy setting up the shots to try and work out which relative is Great Aunt Whatever and ensure she is nearby to be in the next shot. Jun 13 '14 at 23:35
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    @DavidRussell - good tip, thanks. I'll coordinate with the groom to figure out who can do that (since it won't be the groom).
    – Michael H.
    Jun 19 '14 at 0:21

First off, let me say that I have never done what you are about to do, so take my advice with a grain of salt.

You don't want to use a shallow DOF for a large group. You also don't want to shoot from up close unless you have no other option. The closer you are to your subjects, the more distortion you are going to get due to the relative distance from your camera between the people in the middle (closest to you) and those on the sides (farthest away). The impact of this is worse the closer you are to your subjects.

So, assuming you are shooting outdoors in daylight, I would stand back a reasonable distance and probably shoot at around f5.6 - 8. Narrow your aperture enough so that DOF is not even an issue. This will, of course, require good lighting.

You also don't need fast shutter speeds for blinking, just take a couple of shots. You also control the group so they know when to expect the picture to be taken. Don't forget, the faster the shutter, the less light.

  • Thanks. For some pictures I took of a group of kids, I was very worried about this, and was between f/8 and f/11, with shutter speeds around 1/50s. The results were terrible. And to make it worse, I was too close (10'?) and using a field of view around 20mm (on crop). Curved & with a lot of motion blur due to moving kids. I'll try to get back farther, use a more normal angle (30-35 was suggested by @rfusca). And take lots and lots of pictures.
    – Michael H.
    Jun 9 '14 at 20:40

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