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Old Dec 16, 2008, 7:00 PM   #1
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I'm scheduled to take a family Christmas picture next Saturday (not of my family) of a rather large family (2 grandparents, 3 married kids with 7+ grandkids). I've done a bunch of reseach on posing, but I'm concerned about setting up flash for the photo. They want the picture inside with them in front of their tree. Its apparently a large 'great room'. I have a flash kit I bought on eBay with 2 150w/s flashes, 1 110w/s flash, 2 softboxes, several reflectors...

How do I best set up flash to capture the mood of the room and also get good exposure on the family? I'm assuming I won't have much natural light to work with..

Any help is greatly appreciated...


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Old Dec 16, 2008, 11:31 PM   #2
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I am not an expert but in ideal world you would have access to the room way in advance and prelight and meter and take test shots to get your lighting settings down.

You did not mention how you intend to trigger all your lights, what brand and model etc.? what Camera and Lens you intend to use, etc.

Of course having the measurements for the room and wall color would be a second choice.

Alternatively if you have decent Automatic Flash (again we do not know what Camera etc.) But a flash somthing like a Canon 580ex II, Sigma 530 DG, Nikon SB00, Metz AF58 etc. might be the way to go. You could keep the flash on Auto and the camera on Manual or Auto. A shame not to use all your lights but if you can not get a lot of set up time this might be the best option.

And in fact these Flashes also allow you wirelessly trigger dedicated lights. ******And these On camera Flashes also can provide a non obtrusive red light beam for contrast detection focusing in low light.

Good Luck.
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Old Dec 19, 2008, 6:34 AM   #3
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Working with studio lighting is hard and I'm still trying to learn. All I will suggest is go for balanced even lighting, nothing fancy, keep the light simple and focus on a good pose. Look at the background as well, keep this neat and everything well framed but leave more space around the shot so you can give them options on print sizes.

Let us know how you get on, I don't envy you in this.
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Old Dec 19, 2008, 4:45 PM   #4
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Make sure that your subjects are looking into the camera lens, not at you the photographer but directly into the lens, especially if you decide to use a tripod. So many portraits are ruined by the subjects looking everywhere except into the lens. Of course, if you're taking candids, then that's a different matter...

Good Luck!

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Old Dec 19, 2008, 6:10 PM   #5
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Well you have had some good advice. I truly believe that it is important for you to make it easy and to be at ease. Get there early. Expect to have some set-up time, and only when you are ready, do us ask the family to take their positions. Be sure to follow Will's advice. Everyone in the family has to be lookingdirectly into the lens. If there are multiple rows of family members, you may need be concerned about obtaining some depth of field to maintain sharp focus among all the family members

I would have your camera on a tripod. It looks much more professional. I would not mess with any studio, or pseudo studio lighting. I would use camera mounted bounce flash with a diffusser to soften the flash. The whole issue is for you to keep your self confidence and your cool. Then it will be easy for you.

Now, please won't you tell us what camera and what flash unit will be primary. We are all anxious to know. BTW will you be using a wide angle lens to handle that group?

Sarah Joyce
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Old Dec 19, 2008, 6:36 PM   #6
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I'll be using a Canon 50D with the 18-55mm lens. I don't have an on-camera flash, but I do have a basic studio kit with 3 strobes/stands. My plan is to use a tripod, set up 2 of the strobes with softboxes reflected off the ceiling. I tested this out at home with moderate success. This should provide pletnty of light help with DOF. I have a wireless remote, and was thinking about using that as well, but I may not if I want the subjects to be looking directly at the camera. I've made arrangements to be there 30 minutes early to set up and I'll have a helper with me to do some test shots.

My rough idea for posing is to set the grandparents seated in the middle and go from there with the rest of the family. I still can't figure out how to get good light on the people without the tree lights being completely washed out. Any advice there? Would it be crazy to try a long exposure with that many people (including a bunch of kids)?


By the way, thanks for all the advice! I'll post the results tomorrow...


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Old Dec 19, 2008, 9:07 PM   #7
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I would honestly stay away from the long exposure strategy. In situations like that, particularly, if they are held in the pose position too long, they get real figety, especially the kids.

This might be theSaturday to invest in a Canon EX-580 and a diffusser.

Sarah Joyce
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Old Dec 20, 2008, 12:46 AM   #8
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I do not think 30 minutes is enough set up time. I really think you should consider exclusively using on camera flash or triggering with an on camera flash such as a Canon 580EX II, Sigma 530DG, Metz 58. The Sigma is available for around $230 and I am quite fond of it. The other two are around $400. For your purposes all 3 would work though since non Canon units have been reverse engineered (as all Non Canon equipment is) there are sometimes issues with newer canon Cameras. Buy from a place like Amazon with a return policy (non one of their eshop tailers) and test.

You are going to have to snap a lot of shots to get a few where everyone looks decent. I would not worry about the tree lights. You will still see the tree. A defuser is not a bad idea. You can also potentially bounce the light but that is tough with a big group and one light source.

If I had to guess you would need more like 90 minutes of prep time including some test shots if your going to use your strobes. You will need to play with Power Output of the strobes, the F-stop, Shutter speed even the ISO. When you have a lot of light you can even use things like ISO 100 which you normally eould never do for an indoor shot.

You will probably need power strips and extension cords too.
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Old Dec 20, 2008, 12:46 AM   #9
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I do not think 30 minutes is enough set up time. I really think you should consider exclusively using on camera flash or triggering with an on camera flash such as a Canon 580EX II, Sigma 530DG, Metz 58. The Sigma is available for around $230 and I am quite fond of it. The other two are around $400. For your purposes all 3 would work though since non Canon units have been reverse engineered (as all Non Canon equipment is) there are sometimes issues with newer canon Cameras. Buy from a place like Amazon with a return policy (NOT one of their eshop tailers) and test.

You are going to have to snap a lot of shots to get a few where everyone looks decent. I would not worry about the tree lights. You will still see the tree. A defuser is not a bad idea. You can also potentially bounce the light but that is tough with a big group and one light source.

If I had to guess you would need more like 90 minutes of prep time including some test shots if your going to use your strobes. You will need to play with Power Output of the strobes, the F-stop, Shutter speed even the ISO. When you have a lot of light you can even use things like ISO 100 which you normally would never do for an indoor shot.

You will probably need power strips and extension cords too.

If I had to a wild guess and assuming the walls are light colors you would take your shots at somthing like IS0 100, F 7.1/F8, 1/200 of a second with your flash or strobes somewhere around 1/8 to 1/16 power depending on your equipment.
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Old Dec 20, 2008, 4:36 AM   #10
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I agree, give yourself more time, I usually allow an hour + when setting up in a home. I personally wouldn't consider bouncing strobes unless you have a good white ceiling.

style="BACKGROUND-COLOR: #000000"Look for shadows where people are in the way of others, this is always a problem when you are working in tight spaces. I'm a jpg shooter, but here, make sure you have RAW or RAW and jpg, to give yourself room for correction.

style="BACKGROUND-COLOR: #000000"When using strobes I work at 1/160s as a rule to allow for a good dof.

style="BACKGROUND-COLOR: #000000"One thing we have not considered is the problems with 'blinkers'. Usually you will find that there is one person who regularly blinks at the wrong time. Keep an out out for this in the early shots and then work with getting them to have their eyes open. You can get them to look own (only with the eyes, not the head) and when you say look at the camera or if this doesn't work get them to close their eyes and open when you say. Also if you take a few shots of the same pose without people moving then you can generally do the eyes in PP.

style="BACKGROUND-COLOR: #000000"On the first shots, don't spend a lot of time getting people posed, get them in a general position and relaxed siting, standing how they like, this will get them used to the setup and then you can get them fine tuned. This should help with natural shots rather than nervous, stiff, uncomfortable ones.
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