Large family group portraits tomorrow - Best dSLR settings?

Discussion in 'Digital Photography' started by GinaBlaine, May 21, 2010.

  1. GinaBlaine macrumors newbie


    May 21, 2010
    Edmonton, Alberta

    I'm shooting large family portraits outdoors tomorrow for 25th anniversary.

    I have a Canon Rebel Xsi with Kit Lens. I've photographed groups before and they come out great and full of spirit but the crispness of the people in the group is never what I want it to be.

    Any advice on what settings may help?? :eek:
  2. Gold89 macrumors 6502

    Dec 17, 2008
    Consider the position of the sun and most importantly the background, you need a small (think f8) aperture to ensure a large enough depth of field and a quick shutter speed to ensure crispness. For this you will need a well lit scene. :)
  3. kyzen macrumors regular

    Feb 8, 2010
    try for around f/8 to provide a larger DoF, ISO 100 or 200, and the fastest shutter speed you can get (though if you can't get faster than 1/60th, you'll have to open up the aperture). Keep your lighting even across the groups - don't have half the group in a shadow, the other half brightly illuminated.

    There's no universal settings that are always going to work, but when photographing groups, keeping everybody in focus with a smaller aperture is rather important.
  4. madmaxmedia macrumors 68030

    Dec 17, 2003
    Los Angeles, CA
    Most important thing before the camera is the lighting. Is the lighting suitable/flattering for group portrait? And, is there sufficient light to ensure fast enough shutter speed for a crisp shot?

    After that, you can think about camera settings. Lack of sharpness could be due to poor focus, inadequate depth-of-field (aperture settting), or subject movement (slow shutter speed.)

    If there's plenty of light, you can dial back the aperture to f/5.6 or so (which will ensure adequate DOF and I believe is in the sweet spot of that Rebel kit lens), and still have sufficient shutter speed to stop movement. With an XSi, you should be able to shoot anywhere from ISO 100 to 400 without any significant decrease in quality, ISO 400 will give you more flexibility with the other settings. IIRC, the Canon kit zoom is sharper at wide angle than zoomed in, which is probably good for a group portrait.

    If the shot is for tomorrow, I would take some test shots today at around the same time as the shoot tomorrow. This will also help you a lot in terms of finding best lighting/positioning.
  5. HBOC macrumors 68020

    Oct 14, 2008
    Also if you have a tripod, that would help a ton as well, as you wouldn't need to worry about available light AS MUCH.
  6. funkboy macrumors regular

    Apr 25, 2008

    OK, sorry, I couldn't resist that, I've had a bad week :-(.

    previous posters are correct. Your kit lens may seem a little fuzzy because it's not being used at its optimum aperture, which is around f/8. Hopefully your kit lens is the stabilized version, as its optical quality is far superior to the older version (as well as the obvious advantage of IS). IS or no IS, keep your shutter speed above 1/100s (or at least 1/60s) to avoid blur from people moving. If you don't have enough light for f/8 and 1/100s or faster feel free to bump your ISO up as high as 400; if you're exposing properly you'll likely not notice the difference in the final image unless you're making really huge prints. If you're outdoors, not in the shade, and it's not getting dark, you should be fine at ISO100 though (read this if you really want to know).

    Your camera & lens are light enough that you should be able to get away with using a fairly inexpensive tripod. make sure that the camera platform is as level as possible, and try not to shoot in a windy place so that the wind doesn't shake things around. Use the self-timer as well (which I assume you're doing anyway if you're actually in the photo).

    Your lens exhibits a fair amount of barrel distortion towards the wide 18mm end (this means that straight lines look curved and people look funny; most wide-angle lenses do this, some more than others of course), so you want to place the camera somewhere that you can get everyone in the frame between the 28 and 55mm settings on the zoom. When I'm using my GF's IS kit lens it's usually in the 35mm position (where it's physically shortest) & I only change the focal length when I can't physically move to get the framing I want.

    Depending on where you are, about +/-2 hours after dawn & before sunset is usually when the light is nicest. Avoid direct overhead midday sunlight or shooting when it's too dark or with the strong color cast and long shadows of late sunset. Cloudy days can actually be good for this sort of thing if it's just mild overcast as the shadows are a lot softer, the time of day matters a lot less, and no one is squinting or wearing sunglasses or a hat.

    Shoot RAW, and expose to the right if you're comfortable with that (jpegs are fine if you get the white balance & exposure right at the shot, but RAW enables you to fix things later). In general, it's a really good idea to shoot some practice shots in the light & environment where you'll be shooting and go check them out on a computer (not just on the back of the camera) to make sure they're acceptable. Netbooks are really handy for this sort of thing if you have one.

    good luck & have fun.
  7. GinaBlaine thread starter macrumors newbie


    May 21, 2010
    Edmonton, Alberta
    This is all awesome! Thanks so much!

    At some point I will be getting a few new lenses, I also have 2 remotes (1 wireless, 1 wired) to help steady.

    Again, thanks, this is great!
  8. toxic macrumors 68000

    Nov 9, 2008
  9. bocomo macrumors 6502

    Jun 29, 2007
    New York
    take a lot of shots too

    someone will blink or whatever and you can sub those from another shot
  10. AlaskaMoose macrumors 65816

    Apr 26, 2008
    Good idea to open-up the lens (f/8 is a good start), since more DOF is needed for a group of people.
  11. esaleris macrumors 6502

    Oct 18, 2005
    Aside from SLR settings, you might want to try taking a few shots with the family all talking amongst themselves while standing in position, like smiling, laughing and making faces, etc.

    Sometimes that comes out as the best shot, and comes out really well.

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