18-20 person group shot with a single SB-600/umbrella?

Discussion in 'Photography Equipment & Products' started by Sn00bies, Nov 10, 2009.

  1. Sn00bies

    Sn00bies TPF Noob!

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    I've been making orders for a small lighting setup for my SB-600. So far I've ordered cactus v4 triggers, light stand/shoe mount multiclamp (with new locking shoe mount), and a set of reflectors. Since I'm ordering this now, I thought it might be perfect timing to get some practice in before the whole family flies in for Christmas so I can get a good formal group shot. I've never used any type of studio lighting yet. Familiarizing myself with my SB-600 and bounce flash is the extent of my experience thus far, but after some reading I'm starting to think that one SB-600 and an umbrella might be a little lacking (certainly not optimal) in lighting for an 18-20 person group shot, not only for lack of light sources ( isn't at least 2 preferrable, one from each side? ), but lack of power from my SB-600. Do you think achieving great results with such limited equipment is possible? I'm mostly worried about power of and positioning the flash. Is it faux-pas to put a single light in the middle (placed directly behind and above camera)? Or could I put it slightly to the side for a more flattering light, while still getting adequate light on the far side? With my wide angle sigma I could get closer to the group so I would be able to bring the umbrella closer to help more light to reach the subjects, but then there would be the distortion factor. Would anyone care to share their expert opinions with me? I realize there's far better options, like buying more equipment, but I'm trying to make it work with what I've got. Thanks!
     
    Last edited: Nov 10, 2009
  2. Big Mike

    Big Mike I am Big, I am Mike Staff Member Supporting Member

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    Positioning your light to the side, is ideal for portrait photography because it gives the subject shape and depth etc. You can create a ratio between light & shadow etc.

    For group shots however, it's not quite that easy...especially a large group.

    If you have one light and place it to the side, the people closest to the light will be a lot brighter than the people farthest from it. So instead of creating a ratio on one person's face...you might be creating a ratio between people on either side of the grouping...and that's most likely a bad thing.

    So yes, for a group shot like this...I would think it best to place the light on the camera axis (if you only have one light). You could still get attractive light on your subjects if you have nice ambient light, then use the SB600 for fill (if you even need it).

    Shooting large groups it easiest when you can shoot outdoors (preferably in shady or overcast light) and not have to worry about flash.

    My advice: keep it simple. With a group shot, it's more important that you have everyone clearly visible and in focus, than having dramatic lighting.
    If you want to use your one light and a reflector to get some creative shots, keep it to one, two or maybe three people.
     
  3. Derrel

    Derrel Mr. Rain Cloud

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    Positioning one,single light source, very high up, is the *classic* way to photograph large groups of people. In the olden days of photography, this would have been a single, large M-class flash bulb in roughly a 5- to 7-inch reflector, elevated high enough that the shadow from the flash would drop down and behind the subject. Even with a group three ranks deep, if the flash is positioned high enough and roughly centered, the shadow from the people in rows 1 and 2 will be thrown down,and behind, and so each face will be well-exposed.

    At longer distances, like say 20-30 feet away, a single speedlight flash in a smallish umbrella, say from 30 to 45 inches, will still be a fairly 'hard' light source, and the loss of light output will be rather significant. You might just as well eliminate the umbrella, and concentrate on using the speedlight bare, to maximize the output. Use an exposure where there flash helps fill-in the shadows and gives a little bit of help to the underlying, ambient light exposure.

    With a single flash up very high,and in the center of the group, the amount of light fall off is actually rather minimal. Think of something like a 13 foot light stand, right behind the camera position. There is a special flash head, made expressly for this type of photography: it is basically a pencil-style, bare flash tube, that is held in front of a roughly 5x8 inch,white,flat metal 'reflector'. For the life of me I cannot recall the name of the small company that makes these flash heads...
     
  4. Sn00bies

    Sn00bies TPF Noob!

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    Thank you both so much for your input. Not having done something like this before with this type of equipment, it's helpful to have some ideas of how to start experimenting with it.

    Derrel could you help me understand this more? Maybe it's just plain and simple as you put it that it will be hard, but I was under the impression that light from or through an umbrella produced more "soft light" results, which made them the effective tool that they can be in portraits and what not.
     
  5. Derrel

    Derrel Mr. Rain Cloud

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    Okay, I managed to recall the flash head manufacturer--http://www.litelight.net/litelight_flat_reflectors.htm

    There is a diagram,and several samples of lighting done using this ages-old method, but instead of flashbulbs, this company makes a bare-tube flash head and a simple flat reflector for use in team/large group photography.

    The most important thing to take away from this is the underlying concept, and how to elevate and aim the flash.
     
  6. Big Mike

    Big Mike I am Big, I am Mike Staff Member Supporting Member

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    Good advice from Derrel.
    What he was saying, was that if your flash is farther away, there would be little difference in the quality of light between an umbrella and a bare flash.
    [lesson]
    The 'softness' of light is determined by the size of the source and the distance from the subject. An umbrella makes like soft because it increased the size of the source. But if you move the light back far enough, the light gets 'harder', reversing the effects of the umbrella
    [/lesson]
    Another thing about an umbrella (or softbox etc) is that it steals some of the light output. You loose light when you use it (or you just require from from the light/flash).
    Also, light falls off at an inverse square to the distance. So at 30 or 40 feet, you need A LOT of light power to light up your subjects. If your flash isn't really powerful, you might not have enough power to use it 40 feet away...especially if some of the light is being eaten by an umbrella...and since an umbrella won't make much difference from that far away...it's better to use a bare flash (or reflector dish if using a studio strobe).
     
  7. Derrel

    Derrel Mr. Rain Cloud

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    Big Mike has eloquently explained the Inverse Square law in practical terms, and he has explained exactly why a single medium-sized umbrella at long range is in fact, a handicap over a plain, bare speedlight.

    One thing I'll say about Big Mike's advice on lighting is that he knows how light works, in the real world.

    Everything Big Mike stated above is exactly in line with my thoughts and experience. I agree with his comments 110%. :thumbup:
     
  8. flea77

    flea77 TPF Noob!

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    I will change one thing Big Mike said, or rather clarify it. The 'softness' of the light is dictated by the apparent size of the light. Apparent size is dictated by actual size and distance. If the apparent size of the light source never changed, distance would not matter. Here is an example:

    A 30" umbrella 1' away from the subject will provide softer light than a 60" umbrella 10' away, this is because in relation to the subject, the 30" APPEARS to be larger because of its close distance.

    You can feather the light from an umbrella however. If you put the umbrella to the far right of the group and aim it towards the far left side, allowing only a little of the edge of the light to spill on the person to the far right, you can help mitigate the light fall off. This works (at least for me) best with two lights, one on each side doing the same thing.

    One last tidbit, the power of the flash is irrelevant, it is the apparent power of the flash. You need lots of power to balance direct sunlight, not so much indoors. If the room is well lit and you only need a little fill, or poorly lit and the flash is really the only source of light, you do not need as much power. For example, when I shoot portraits I usually have two SB-600s in front, one on 1/8th power, one on 1/16th, shooting f5.6, 400iso, 125th/sec.

    Hope this helps.

    Allan
     
  9. Big Mike

    Big Mike I am Big, I am Mike Staff Member Supporting Member

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    :thumbsup:
     
  10. iolair

    iolair No longer a newbie, moving up!

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    For a group that size, your best bet (given your current equipment) may well be to take them outside - weather permitting of course. Perhaps, to mimic the effect of one light to the side, you have an area where the most sides are relatively shaded and one allows more natural light in. As you go around your neighbourhood, you could keep your eyes open for nicely lit areas with good backgrounds :)
     
  11. Sn00bies

    Sn00bies TPF Noob!

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    Awesome information guys, that is exactly what I was looking for as far as understanding soft/hard light. It was kind of obscure to me understanding what changes light from hard to soft, so I tried playing with my hand and a flashlight to see what I could create. This info though makes it a lot more clear though!
     

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