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On Assignment: Two-Speedlight Group Shot

I am spending this beautiful spring day flat on my butt, stapled to the bed and trying to kick a bug that I very much hope will not keep me from shooting the Preakness race in two days. So today's OA will be a simple one, to spare the three brain cells I apparently have left at this point.

Any time I talk about group shots, I get a lot of feedback from you folks. Which tells me that many of you have to shoot these things. I'm sorry to hear that. Unless of course you are getting paid by the person, in which case I am jealous.

The group shot above was hastily pulled together as a request from Sunday's seminar students in London. The idea was to do it with a little edge, and to make use of two speedlights and our environment. (It was a typical ~20x35 classroom with a 10-foot ceiling.)

Before getting in the specifics of this shot, let's talk about some of the ways we could have done it.

First things first, we kill the fluorescents. Always, if possible. They are not helping us, so why leave them on? We could correct for them, but that would cost 2/3 of a stop of light from our flashes due to the light loss from the correcting gels.

Option number one, and the most likely should you need to extract maximum power from your flashes, would be to simply fire them directly from forty-five-degree angles in the front. This is what I would do if the shot was outside during the day, for instance, and I just needed to fill shadows from the sun.

I would also use this method if the group was very large, and I had to cover a big area.

(Tip: Ask your people to position themselves so they can each see both ot the lights, and the photographer. That way, they are all lit by both sources, and can be seen.)

I would back the lights up, to smoothly light the whole area. Then by adjusting the beam of the flashes (aiming them up a little) I could place the nearer people on the edge of the light beam and get an even exposure from front to back.

Another option might be to do the same, dual-45-angle thing and bounce the strobes off of the ceiling. This would create a two-soft-light zone that would probably be the most flattering method.

But in this case I wanted to create a little separation between the group and the dark grey background, (which was a room divider.) So I wanted to light all 34 people with one light and use light #2 to add some punch.

The front light was easy to do. I stuck a flash on a stand just out of the frame at camera right, set it to half-power and fired it into the ceiling. Why half power? Good mix of power and recycle time. If I need more aperture, I could go to full power. But I would rather have that quick, second-shot capability if I can get it.

Here is the result (note that I am doing this before all of the people into position to save time.)

Not too bad, actually. And if I only had one flash, I could live with this. In any case, I know my front light will do the job. It's giving me f/3.5 at 400 ASA, which should hold focus reasonably well if I focus on the person in the center of the second row. (That'd be the orange sweatshirt guy in the final photo, which includes the front row people.)

That done, let's go for a little separation.

My first thought was to stick a flash outside of the room in the hall and fire it through the door at back left.

This works fine, really, and creates separation between the back-left folks and the background. I had a CTO (tungsten) gel on it to create some color separation, too. A perfectly good option, actually. But I'd still like a bit more punch.

So I brought the flash inside and stuck it directly behind Ant Upton, who is the center person in the back. You should know the light is behind him, because the separation light wraps all the way around his head. If not, back to Lighting 101 with you.

I now have separation out the wazoo. But with the flash set on ultrawide (to backlight the group from close range) I am getting a lot of spill. This is bouncing off of the ceiling and screwing up the color balance more than I want.

Easy fix: Stick a gobo on top of the flash to keep the light from reaching the ceiling. Problem solved. I still have some excessive warmth to the color balance. But I am okay with that for a group shot with a little edge.

As you can see by this no-flash version, we had a little window light creeping in. It helps some, but I was actually trying to do this with flash (on principle) so I did the shot at my max sync speed of 1/250th.

So, as you can see, the flashes are doing all of the heavy lifting. If I were balancing the light, I would simply put the front flash in the left side and open up my shutter speed to exploit the window light. But not this time. Actually, I could probably do a rather nice one-light shot this way.

Looking at the final again, I think we have something with a little edge and three-dimensionality for a shot set up with two small lights in just a few minutes' time.

If you happen to be in this picture, and haven't done so yet, I hope you will go to the photo's Flickr page to box and label your head. (If you are relying on my memory to remember your name, you are screwed.)

Besides, I had an absolutely wonderful time and London, I and would like to be able to better remember all of the great people I met there.

Ditto for the Saturday folks, who's ad-hoc group shot is here. Mind you, this was grabbed from an exercise in which we were trying to create a zone of decent light for most off the room with just two small flashes. So this one really is not a very good group shot.

And another request to the Sunday attendees: If you happened to shoot the setup of the clamshell light with blow-away white background, I'd love it if you could upload it to Flickr and post the link in the post London thread. I'd like to do an OA on that shot, and a setup pic would be most helpful.

But as for now, it's time to go back to sleep and get well.

Next: Steve at Google


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