Group Shots - Sometimes You Should Leave Your Wide Angle in the Bag

Group Shots - Sometimes You Should Leave Your Wide Angle in the Bag

When you think group shots, what lens immediately comes to your mind? Often, the initial reaction to a "group picture" is to reach for the widest lens in your bag. It's a safe option that makes sure you'll fit everyone in the frame. It could be said group shots are more about accounting for everyone who was present rather than being a work of art. However, if you care about the quality of images you're creating, maybe your widest option shouldn't be your default.

I've been a wedding photographer for a few years now and have had a chance to compare different perspectives of the same shot. The more I've shot, the more I've felt that in general, a group picture looks better when it's zoomed in. Here are a some comparisons of what I mean.

*Note that all focal lengths were shot on a crop sensor. I did not factor in the 1.6x addition to the listed focal lengths.


24 mm




By backing up and using twice the zoom, I was able to simplify the subject matter within the shot and frame all of the group within the trellis.


24 mm


70 mm


By backing up and zooming in, I was able to eliminate a lot of the distracting buildings on the sides of the picture.






By backing up and zooming in, I was able to surround the couple with only live oaks and remove the distracting breaks in the trees and house from the edges of the shot.


As you can see, there can be great benefits to choosing a longer focal length for posed photos. When you have the room to step farther from your subject, you gain control over what background you want to include in your shot. It is far easier to remove distracting elements from the scene and keep your pictures looking clean. As well as a cleaner background, you also can create a more beautiful bokeh with longer focal lengths. When you double the length of your lens at any given f stop, you decrease your depth of field by half. Shooting f 2.8 on a 50 mm will give you a little less than half the depth of field than f 2.8 on a 24 mm.

Of course, there is always a time and a place to pull out a wide angle lens. There are instances where you simply cannot back up, you may find the perspective is better from a close distance, or you simply may want to draw attention to one subject within the group. Though you shouldn't neglect your wide angle option, next time you have a group in front of you, consider if your shot could be improved by backing up and zooming in.


David Strauss's picture

David Strauss is a wedding photographer based in Charleston, SC.

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My iPhone 5 has a prime lens of 4.1mm. Is that good?

if only you could get an 4.1mm f2.0 lens on a larger format...

Beautiful results with very clear demonstrations of the concept. Thank you.

not to mention that the folks at the edges get fat when using a real wide

Yeah...I was surprised David didn't mention that in this post. That fact alone makes me reach for a zoom lens.

maybe cause he uses a 24mm on a cropped sensor camera, so that's probably not a big issue for him

Congratulations on discovering perspective compression.

Next week of fstoppers: putting batteries in your camera makes it work heaps gooder.

Fstoppers aims to service photographers at all skill levels.

Just because you've been in the game longer, doesn't mean you have to show animosity towards posts that aren't tailored to you. This website wasn't built specifically for you, Jack.


I found this post very interesting to read. If you have something against it, try saying something constructive or useful that might improve it.

"[I've] have had a chance to compare different perspectives of the same shot"
This article isn't about "discovering perspective compression". It's about discussing aesthetic choice.

*Next week ON fstoppers (and gooder isn't a word but it's cool, I'll assume you were trying to be sarcastic and witty but failed at both!)

If you already know about a basic photo technique, why are you reading the article in the first place? As was stated by some other readers, not every article on fstoppers is for everyone, they're trying to cover a wide range of skill levels and if you've outgrown this site then so be it, I'm willing to bet the community has outgrown your sarcasm too!

Awesome. Now all you have to do is learn how to pose a group and you'll be golden. Why is this such a lost art? Ladies - bend your leading legs. Gents - hands in pockets, their partners arm linked through theirs. Dad on the end looking like a lemon. NO. Groom sticking his groin toward the camera…NO. Bride and groom both hold the flowers, build the group around that.

Yes, dad does look like a lemon, the groom looks odd and the girls look uncomfortable but the photog is genuinely excited about his discovery and we should remember some of our early images and discoveries about photography! I think we should give him a break and ask FS for some more input from one of their regularly promoted professionals on how they go about all the issues associated with group shots..

Telephoto lens is also my first choice for group shots when I know there's space to back up. Once I did a photo for a dance group (16 members) in a basketball gymnasium. I placed my camera at one end of the court and then posed them several feet beyond the center circle. And then I pulled out my 70-200 and did that shot using the 200mm focal length.

IMO, 200mm is too much compression for a group shoot! You lost the 'sculpture' of the bodies with long focal lenses!

You may have a point. I find that oftentimes I shoot within the range of 85 to 135 focal length. But for that particular shot, 200mm worked just fine.

Some nice points for beginners. It would be good to see one professional wedding photographer talk through a whole group shot scenario covering location, lens choice, composition, posing and see how many critics still jump in.

wow.... stuff some people know since the 1920 and before......
shows that buying gear does not make one a good photographer.
and dont take pictures up the nostrils... not even when it is angelina.

Those are all some great suggestions on how to expand this post for the more well established photographer. Thanks for suggesting them!

Amateur Here: One thing that hasn't been mentioned, and should especially be so since considering the subject of using longer focal lengths for group shots, is depth of field.

When shooting a multi-row large group of people, it is absolutely imperative to ensure that all sets of faces are in focus. Shooting at a larger aperture such as f/2.8 on a cropped DSLR with a longer focal length (70mm) will net you a 1.8ft zone of in-focus at 15 feet away. (

However, if you shoot at a larger aperture, you will ensure a larger depth of field is available to capture more rows of people. Finding the sweet spot is up to you as the photographer, but I personally start with no larger than f/8 on a standard lens when I know I'll be shooting a group. Shooting at f/8 in the same scenario as above, nets you 4.27 feet of total depth of field, enough to cram a couple rows of people in.

Also, the longer your focal length, the shorter your depth of field will be: A 200mm lens focused to 50 feet at f/8 nets about 5.73 feet of total depth of field, but will offer better perspective compression and subject isolation than a 70mm lens.

Another for avoiding wide-angle lenses, and I'm surprised this wasn't mentioned: The wider your lens is, the more distortion you will see at the edges of your image, the less chances for lens flare when shooting towards the sun, and generally less chances for chromatic abberation.

not to mention that when you shoot with a longer lens with a fast lens you will get a more "creamy" background as the background is compressed more.

For the last photo, it is awkward that the legs of the groom seems short.

Very concise, well explained and spot-on examples. This is why I love F-Stoppers!

I do this in the studio all the time. Backing up as far as I can, while assuring the model that I don't think they smell. :-) I also follow the "tighter is better" philosophy, generally. I don't shoot much outside, so this is something good for me to remember when I do.

Oddly, of the examples given here, the one used as the "leading example" is the one where I prefer it wider. I like how the arbor frames the group in the wider shot.

And on a humorous note... the advertisement that appears for me at the bottom of the article is a Lensbaby ad with the motto, "Go Wide". :-)

Does anybody remember Albums!!!! HELLO!?!?! All very lovely, except when you are printing an album. I'd rather shoot it wide if I know I might print it for an album of my clients choice size. It's a nightmare when you need a full bleed pic and you have nothing above and below in the print from which to crop! Sorry, But I want to make real MONEY with MY photography and most if it is made in the printing.

Trolled ^

Idiot. ^ Maybe you shouldn't be a Photographer either.

If shooting groups outdoor, using longer focal length ( I think using 50mm on aps-c sensor is good enough?) is great since we have a lot of space to use.

But indoors....a wide angle is a must. Not to mention all the other snapshot photographer messing in our frame while shooting wedding indoors. Their cameraphone/DSLR/compact/ head/hand is messing with the picture!

you just tend to do it tighter since a wide lens achieve the same, can be corrected for distortion and ability to crop. And, there's a slight advantage of better blurring the background.

I think galaxy 4 is ok tho. has a larger screen. but iphone... nuh! go to hell Tam Nguyen iPhonographer. Nicolas Dunning aka "stunning" is right -- you shouldn't call yourself photographer, because you suck.

First off I agree that a mid range focal length or something
more standard like 50mm is substantially more pleasing than 24mm or wider for
group portraits. However, I find it funny how people who try to make a point about
something and do it with such bias. All of the longer focal lengths are shot
with better light (fill flash or at least processed better) and the pose or
expressions are so much more pleasing for the image. In the case of the third
example the focal length was the smallest of changes (getting lower, stepping
to the left, and choosing vertical over the original horizontal). Again I agree
with the idea about 50-70mm (or in the case of these cropped sensor images
80-112mm) being more pleasing, but I found it laughable to make this point with
such dramatically different images (outside of the change in focal length).

why shots with wide lens were made from higher point of shoot?

Most photographers have problems with wanting to include TOO much in a photo. Getting a message across requires careful thought and composition. Pairing down the to the essential always leads to a stronger photograph.

Good article. This sort of stuff should be second nature to photographers, but unless somone occasionally point these things out, some of us fall into bad habits.

I understand its an old post. Still valid on perspectives. Most I agree.
Specifically on the couple sitting, I prefer the 24mm, if it had a different composition that is. Possibly by photographer walking a couple of paces left, to include only the tree in the background, couple in front of tree trunk area, on the right vertical thirds of the picture.Would possibly make a good leading line.