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Lighting notebook: Group portrait

From: Lighting with Flash: Sports, from Action to Portraits

Video: Lighting notebook: Group portrait

Alright so here we are on the lighting for the fencing group shot. But before we get to that I wanted to talk about something that frankly is a little more important. And that is how do you find yourself in a situation where you can have the access to people like this to photograph them. You know, the first thing I can tell you is you have to ask. You have to always keep your eyes open and always be willing to put yourself out on a limb as a photographer to fall into cool situations. Joe McNally says, one of my favorite sayings, if you're pictures aren't good enough, try putting your camera in front of more interesting things.

Lighting notebook: Group portrait

Alright so here we are on the lighting for the fencing group shot. But before we get to that I wanted to talk about something that frankly is a little more important. And that is how do you find yourself in a situation where you can have the access to people like this to photograph them. You know, the first thing I can tell you is you have to ask. You have to always keep your eyes open and always be willing to put yourself out on a limb as a photographer to fall into cool situations. Joe McNally says, one of my favorite sayings, if you're pictures aren't good enough, try putting your camera in front of more interesting things.

And that's something that I've really grown to subscribe to lately. And I will you know I'm not shy at all about saying hey this is a cool operation I'd really like to come out and photograph you guys. No money involved because I'm the one asking its not like they're asking me. And what I'm wanting to do is to, to intersperse the assignment work I'm getting. With the types of things that let me shoot the exact kinds of pictures that I want to shoot. Because those are the things that feed my portfolio, and feed my soul, and feed my connections to the community. And all of those things are very important. So that's exactly what I did at the Baltimore Fencing Center, at their Convia branch.

my daughter had fencing lessons there just as a quick summer camp. And I walked in, and I immediately wanted to shoot there but I didn't have a reason to shoot there. So you've got to invite yourself. You've got to walk up and be willing to talk to somebody and maybe have pictures on your iPhone that you can show them on a moment's notice. And get them interested, all that sort of thing. So long story short, a few months later we went in and spent an evening. And as a result We made some cool pictures, including one that pretty quickly dropped into my portfolio and I'm very happy with it. We'll get to that one in a few minutes, but right now, let's talk about the lighting group shot. Alright, here we are.

We have our seven people, and that's always a little bit of an interesting thing to to pose. I like to stagger people, make them a little less formal. Small people in front, everyone turned towards the center, and just generally be fairly loose. one critical thing I'm going to ask people, is I'm going to make sure that they can see me with both of their eyes. that's something that I can easily check, but I'm also going to make sure that they can see the keylight with both of their eyes. And that way I know the keylight is going to be reaching into their face. And speaking of our keylight, it is a, a Nikon SV800 and it is a set inside a Photex Softlighter II. Which is a 60-inch umbrella that has a diffusion panel that goes in front of it. And the the shaft of the umbrella unscrewed, so, so that's a neat little setup.

It's a, it's a big, old octabox on the cheap. They're under $100, and I'm a big fan of them. We're finding that SB800 over m at one quarter power. And I'm just going to walk in. And before we shoot I, I grab an assistant and stuck him in the front or I can shoot my hand or whatever. And rather than need her for that lighting and get all fancy, I'm going to stick my hand in front of it at quarter power. And dial in my, my my f-stop until my hand looks good. I've already taken my shutter speed down to 250th of a second so the, the ugly fluorescent light, which is running about a 60th of a second, f 2.8 at ISO 400.

Is not going to be an issue here, we're building all of this light with flash, and we're building it on a warm color base. So let's say for the sake of argument, and I do believe that we're at, we were at f8. And so that's going to be my key. That's my aperture and that's where I'm going to base my whole shot. That's going to give me enough enough F stop to cover focus on all those dancers, sorry, not dancers, it's fencers. Please don't hurt me guys. but it's also going to give me since I'm shooting at one quarter power, the ability to go pop, pop, pop if I need to do that.

So if they fall into a neat little sequence of expressions I'm going to be ready to grab that. I can just lay down in the shutter and I've got a four shot clip on full auto before my flashes are going to deplete themselves of their power. So let's look at our light in the background now. the first light it says an SB800 but looking back I actually used a Lumapro LP160. Which I use pretty much interchangeably with the SB800's. Because they both are full manual flashes, and they just got flipping awesome slaves built into them. You can the Lumapro LP160, you can have it sitting in a room and, and slowly walk into the next room.

And bend down and whisper the name Dock Edgerton and the flash would go off out of recognition. It 's a great little piece of gear and at a 150 bucks they're, they're brainers/g. If if you're looking for an alternative to searching out expensive used Nikon speed lights. So, that's just up on a stand and running at very low power. Not going to need very much, because all we're doing is rim lighting the, the fencers with that. I've got a full CTO gel on there to give it some warmth, and to give it a little color key to the picture. And speaking of gels, on the overhead light, we've got a one-quarter CTO gel Which is my standard warming gel anytime I'm photographing people.

So now we're going to have a fairly dark background back there. And I want to throw a little interest in that background to give it some 3 dimensionality. So we're going to set another flash on the floor and that is an SB800 and we're just firing it back there on very low power again. Literally just laying the flash on the floor and tilting it up and letting it paint that wall. So here's just a quick out of focus grab shot. I'm just looking to make sure those lights are sinking. I don't care about my composition here. I don't even care about a, about my focus. I just want to see relative levels and that the lights are sinking to the main light, no problem. They are, so the next thing I'm going to do is I'm going to hold my hand in front and do a quick snap.

And this is just standing back with a wide angle lens. So the perspective's going to be all warped. And the spotlight on the wall's going to be very much smaller. But I want to see the relative level of of that that background light, and that little rim light as it's hitting my hand. And I can isolate out those two lights by keeping my hand out of the out of the lash of light for the main light above. But this is just a quick tech quick check, and shows me I'm in the ballpark. And everything will be minor adjustments when I get the people in, which is what we do next. So now we got everyone in, and people are just standing around talking. While I'm talking with them and building a little rapport, this is the time to to check my main and check my background light.

And, and check my my little rim light coming in there. And I see that everything is fine. But one thing I want to notice is, is I'm getting, I'm getting a lot of falloff, even though they were in light. It's very cool, and frankly, I could separate them by throwing some light on the floor in the back. And looking back at it, maybe that would be a better way to approach it next time. Because I could leave that darkness and than mysterious quality down there around their feet. But another way is, you could take a, you could take an on access fill. In this case, you know, bing, surprise, orbis ring flash.

I'm, I'm a little function key that you hit that, and, and I know this frame flash pops out sometimes. What can I say? But that gives me the ability to, to push a fill light up in there in a way that doesn't call attention to itself. And, and in giving some separation and some tone inside those pants down at the bottom when the key light is running out. Alright so all my lights are synced to the orbis. they are, they're all slaved. And again, in working in a multi-light situation you only have to have one light go off and all the others are going to start to see it. So the more slaved lights you have in the set up, the more likely you are for every light to trip.

So ironically if I'm just using one flash I'm likely to be using a pocket wizard. if I'm using two flashes maybe i'm using pocket wizards and maybe I will slave each flash to the other flash. To be, to be extra safe, but if I'm using 17 flashes, why bother? I'm just going to sync one flash with hard core, maybe pop it onto the camera. And I know that if any one of those flashes that are slaved sees my synced flash, they're all going to start a cascade and they're all going to go off. maybe you can slave one flash. Who knows? Is the room small enough? Is the ambient light dark enough? Guaranteed you can, you can slave 100 flashes because they all like to start talking when they see each other.

So here's the final picture and again, you can see the, the, the detail that, that orbis dials in to the legs in the bottom. But it really doesn't call attention to itself and it looks a natural fall off. And that detail is contretly completely controllable in one third f stop increments. So that's an easy thing to to dial in or dial out if I want to do that. But again, as an alternate here, you could have very easily swashed the light on the floor back there and left those legs darker. Which would have given a different picture, little more epic, little less reproduceable. And, so, you know, it's a baker's, baker's dozen or, I guess six and one half dozen of the other. but, and this, this is the most important thing about the lighting is. You can't make this picture unless you have the the courage to walk up to people that you want to photograph and say.

Hey, my name is David Hobby, I'm a local photographer this is my website, for instance. And I would love to photograph you all one evening and I'd be happy to share pictures with you in exchange for your time. That's the key to this picture and nothing in here happens, until that happens.

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Lighting with Flash: Sports, from Action to Portraits

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David Hobby
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