Sunday, November 17, 2013

Don't Miss Opportunities!

Whew!  Man it has been quite some time since I've had time to sit down and write a blog post.  Family matters, a full time job and shooting on the side certainly takes up a lot of our lives, but I don't think I'd have it any other way.  Also, any day I have a camera in my hands is a good day for me, regardless if its a paying job or just documenting my family and friends.

Recently we found out that our oldest daughter is going to be blessing us with another grandchild!  I know what you're thinking, I'm much too young and good looking to be a grandfather ...of two, but strange miracles happen every day. :)  We try to get all the kids together at least once a week for dinner just to hang out and talk about what all is going on in our lives, so this weekend I thought it would be a good opportunity to get a photograph of all the kids together since they were here.  Actually, I should point out that this was our granddaughter's idea, not mine

This was quite the informal process as no one was clothing coordinated, or even looking their best, but one thing I have figured out is, don't miss out on these opportunities because some day, they might not be there.  Plus, its not exactly easy to talk everyone in to getting their portrait taken individually, let alone in a group photo.  I also have to admit, that this in no way represents my best work, but it most definitely represents some of my most important work to me.

So, even though I wanted this post to be more about not missing opportunities, I couldn't help but include a few technical details as well.  This was actually a pretty easy portrait to put together quickly.  The portrait above was shot on a 4 foot wide white seamless.  If someone had asked me if I could take a family portrait for them on a white seamless, I would never have attempted that on this background because it is just not wide enough to accommodate shots like this, but you can in fact make it work.  I do have the ability to do family shots on white, but just not in my home studio.  I keep the 4 foot set up at home just do single portraits, small commercial projects and headshots; for that it works quite well.

To get a group of 5 on a 4 foot background, you really have to compact the group and think about positioning to make it work.  Also, it doesn't hurt that some of the participants in this shot were "smaller than average".  Again, its not a shot that I would suggest to potential clients, but for my purposes it worked out quite nicely.  Since our oldest daughter is pregnant, we put her in the chair and set her daughter on her lap.  Our youngest daughter is the next smallest so it made sense to just slide her next to them.  Then, since both of our boys are quite tall (and thankfully slim) I just positioned them in the back... man, they grow up so darn fast!  I was only able to get two shots before the group lost interest and this was the better of the two.

To light these guys, I simply used two Nikon SB-800s camera left and camera right in Westcott shoot thru umbrellas at the same power setting.  This created a nice, simply broad light that illuminated everyone evenly and added a little light to the background as well, since I had my models positioned so closely to it.  Both flashes were triggered with my pop-up flash using Nikon's built in CLS system.  To test my lights before my subjects stepped in, I relied on my old tried and true light metering method... my hand and the LCD on the back of my camera.  It took two exposures to get my lights set where I needed them, see the high tech method below. :)  Both images are straight out of camera other than putting them together in post.

For what its worth, I have the LCD on my camera set to match the same output that shows up on my calibrated monitor, that way I can be certain of the image on the LCD.  Also, I use the highlight indicators (the blinkies) on the LCD to help me see any blown out areas.

Also, so you can see the very limited space I have to work in and the light set up, check out the iPhone pic below.  You can tell right off that the background is pretty darn narrow.  Also, what is hard to tell in this pic is the direction those umbrellas are pointing.  I have each one moved slightly past center so that the light will feather a little, providing a broader sweep of light.  However, since I was using those shoot thru umbrellas, which throw light everywhere, the actual positioning could have been different, but whenever you are lighting anything, inches really matter, so I always try to get my lights set in the best position possible to eliminate any tedious post work later.

I should also note that the ceiling in this room is white, and less than 8 feet tall, so its going to throw back a little fill light on my subjects when using umbrellas.  If I didn't want that fill, I would have chosen to use softboxes or something that has an edge to it, or a grid on it, to keep that light from flying all over the place.

As far as power settings go, I believe I was using slightly more than 1/4 power on each flash.  Generally, with single portraits I can get away with 1/4 power and a larger aperture, but since I was shooting a group of 5, I chose to stop my aperture down f/7.1 to make sure I kept everyone in focus, then just increased the power a little.  At a power setting of 1/3.2 I was still getting good recycle times so I was able to bang off a few shots quickly before my subjects lost interest.

My only real critique of the portrait at the top of this post is, had I had a little more time to play with the lighting, I probably would have added one more, very slight fill light to the center, to eliminate that shadow on the background between the two boys' heads.  Its not a big thing, but still annoying to me... every photographer should be their own worst critic.

One other quick lighting set up shot I wanted to share... sometimes you have to take whatever models you have available to check your lighting setups. :)  
I hope this post reminds everyone of the importance to never overlook opportunities to create memories for yourself and your family.  The portrait I took won't win any Pulitzer prizes, but it brought a lot of smiles to my family and will most likely be around for many years to come.  In my mind, there's really no more important quality to a photograph than that.



Will said...

Great article! I am learning the importance of lighting since moving from outdoors where lighting is simple to indoors where lighting is much more challenging! Thanks for sharing.

John said...

You're very welcome Will! And remember, don't be afraid to experiment and practice. Lighting is easy, the hard part is developing a sense of creativity. ;)