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08-24-2012, 04:00 PM   #1
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Advice for first family small group portrait

Hi,

My father's 70th birthday is approaching & he wants a portrait of himself, my family of 4, and my brother's family of 3. I have done a lot of one & two person shots but never a group with this many people. I was planning on shooting it on a 9ft roll of either gray or white seamless with him sitting in a funky old chair we have (kinda looks like a throne). I was thinking of putting the 3 year old & one year old on either side of his lap, while the 4 adults and 5 year old stand around him. I was gonna shoot on the white but am thinking to go with the gray in case I wanted to cut everyone out. I understand it's easier to do a cut out on gray? And gray may look better as a background if that's what I end up using?

I actually have a good amount of lighting gear to work with. I was thinking of lighting the background with 2 Alien Bee 400's through 43" shoot through umbrella's and using an Alien Bee 800 in a 60" shoot through umbrella up above and in front of everyone as the key. I have some foam core and reflectors to use as fill if I need it. I'll be shooting this in my garage BTW which has an 8 foot ceiling.

Do you think 1 60" shoot through will cover 8 people all real close together well? I also have a 4 ft octabank but figured that it would be too small to light everyone. The camera will be locked down on the tripod & I'll be triggering the camera with an infrared remote from "behind the chair". I was also thinking of putting a small TV next to the camera so the kids are at least looking in the camera's direction hopefully some of the time. I was thinking f8 or f11 on a Sigma 50 - 150 would be good to get everyone sharp? I am shooting with a K20D.

I am hoping to set up the seamless & lights & meter everything before everyone gets there so once we all get positioned I can start shooting.

Does this sound like a workable plan or have I missed something? Without having any time to test in advance I'm wondering if that 60" umbrella will do a good enough job. I know the light will be a bit flat but I can play with some dodging & burning in PS if I need more contrast. Depending on how the shot actually comes out I may cut everyone out for a different background or even play with a B&W conversion.

I appreciate any thoughts or advice from those of you who have done this kind of shoot before.

Thanks!

George

08-25-2012, 06:42 PM   #2
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I think the gray background is the better bet. With white there is almost an expectation of high key, and so not only do you have to get your background illumination perfectly even, but if your foreground lighting is a little shadowy it looks out of place.

Now I like to light my backgrounds with a standard parabolic and barn doors. If you don't have barn doors, you can always rig up a piece of foam core as a flag. In my opinion shoot-through umbrellas are not ideal for lighting a background, there's just too much light that ends up spilling onto your subject. In a pinch I would opt for a bounce umbrella, but make sure to focus it pretty tight (i.e. slide the stem in further than you think you need to.) I'm guessing since this is your garage that there won't be a tremendous amount of separation between your subjects and the background, but do what you can to get them out of the path of the background lights.

That means that unless your garage is huge the Sigma 50-150 is just going to be too long, especially if you want some separation from the background. I would think nothing longer than a 35mm but preferably a 24~28mm.

f/11 is probably where you want to be to capture a group and still keep everyone sharp, BUT, you'll have to do f/11 the hard way. That is, you want the strobes as far away as possible so that you'll get less fall off from the front row to the back. Remember our old "friend" the inverse square law. Yes, it'll make the light a bit harder, but in my opinion hard light is better than underexposure. Bump that ISO up a bit if you need to, you won't really have to worry about shadow noise in the studio.

The 60" shoot-through... not my first choice for a key. It's fine for one person, but for a group I think you're better off with a 45/45 set up and your main and fill in a fairly close ratio to one another (that'll make f/11 easier to achieve anyway). Cross them like you would for a background. Or, you might take two pieces of that foam core and put them in the back corners of the garage, and fire the strobes into them. Distance is the key, you want as much as you can get when shooting a group.

Let me know if I can clarify anything, and good luck.
08-25-2012, 08:00 PM   #3
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Max

Thanks for a lot of great info. I am going to try and test a setup or 2 before I have to make the shot next Saturday. If I don't find myself having enough space between everyone and the background ( may be about 8 feet) I'll try and put everyone close and light it with my key. I like your idea of using 2 smaller umbrellas on the sides, I hadn't thought of that.

Thanks again,

George
09-03-2012, 12:26 PM   #4
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We had our family shoot Saturday. It didn't go perfectly well because of having to deal with 3 small children and no wrangler but I think the family will be happy (I hope) with the result. Getting the kids to look at the lens was of course the hardest part. We had no baby wrangler but we had a Kindle Fire playing a cartoon on top of a TV that I was using to preview the images as they were taken. I thought that between the 2 screens in front they would be looking, but it was hard. I snapped about 50 shots and ended up having to comp a couple of images together in PS to get the result you see below.

I did experiment with some lighting setups before the day & ended up going with a 43" bounce umbrella about 6 feet in front either side of our set. The tops of the umbrellas were touching the 8 ft ceiling in my garage where we did the shoot. The lights were pointing pretty much straight on but feathered out towards the edges a bit. With an AB400 in each I was getting f11 +- 1/10th of a stop across the entire area of where everybody was going to be positioned. The strobes were a little less than full power. I was using an infrared remote with a 3 second delay to fire the camera from where I was standing, while holding my 4 year old son (that is me directly behind my father).The kids of course wanted nothing to do with sitting in my father's lap so what you see is how we were able to make it work. It was shot with a Pentax K20D at ISO 400 1/125th at f11 using a Sigma 50-150 lens at 55mm. I know that the lighting is pretty flat but I just didn't have enough time to play with different setups before I had to take the shot.

The image below is hopefully what will be the final. I processed the RAW file in LR3 and then did the rest of the editing in PS. I whitened teeth, eyes, did some dodging and burning, softened a little skin, removed a few blemishes and wrinkles, and did a curves adjustment and sharpened while soft proofing for my printer. I made (5) 4 x 7 test prints before getting what you see here. I will probably not look at the test prints for a few days before I make the final 8 x 10 on matte paper to go in the frame to be given to my father next Sunday..

I would appreciate any comments on the photo, lighting, or PP & retouching. This is the first time I have attempted anything like this and am always looking to learn and do it better.

Thanks again for looking!

George




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Last edited by gsrokmix; 09-03-2012 at 12:31 PM.
09-03-2012, 10:31 PM   #5
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That's a great shot, you did very well. If I could change one thing I might like the lights a little higher to put some more shadows under chins and noses, but it sounds like you did the best you could with the space you had, and that's what it's all about.
09-04-2012, 12:44 PM   #6
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Max,

Thanks for the comment and the help before I did the shoot. The single 60" umbrella just wasn't cutting it so I went with your idea of the smaller umbrellas on either side. I probably could've angled the lights down a little more but I was also trying to get the background to be lit evenly and I wasn't getting that as much with them pointed down. I know there a bunch of problems with the posing & clothing and such but it was a circus & I'm lucky I got anything usable at all!

Thanks again!

George
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