Shooting a large group in direct sunlight

Discussion in 'Beyond the Basics' started by iolair, Jul 15, 2013.

  1. iolair
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    iolair New Member

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    On Saturday I'm shooting a wedding, and expecting to do the group shots outdoors in direct sunlight.

    I've practiced before shooting 1 or 2 people in direct sunlight, shooting in to the sun and using flash to fill, just leaving the sun to provide some edge lighting.

    Adding enough light to 1 or 2 people is easy. Doing that with 60-100 people for the largest group shots is, I suspect, not going to be - I only have small flashes.

    So, my options are
    1) just go with the available light with the sun behind them, and resign myself to the fact that shooting with the correct settings to keep details in their shaded faces (probably around f/5.6 and 1/250s, maybe down as low as f/4) will leave the background and highlights (with correct exposure more like f/11 at 1/250s) in direct sunlight badly blown out.

    2) As above, but expose to the right and see how much detail I can bring back from the shadows in post processing the raw files - but that carries a risk of the underexposed faces etc. carrying a some digital noise.

    3) Shoot with the direct sunlight into their faces to avoid nasty cross shadows. Not tempting - I don't want a group shot of a hundred people squinting.

    4) Pray for conveniently-placed clouds.

    5) Try to fill in with my flashes. I don't think this is even realistic. I have three Yongnuo YN-460-II flashes, three light stands, two softboxes. The guide number of the YN-460-II is 37 ISO 100 m (according to the manufacturer; a couple of tests online suggest its more like 34). To get the faces etc. just a stop darker than the areas in direct sunlight I want them at f/8. With bare flashes (which might add more harsh details of their own) at full power, assuming I spread the three flashes across the front of the group so each flash was lighting roughly a third of the group, I'd need them 34/8 = 4.25 metres (about 14 ft) away from the group; I can't see that being that close they'd cover the whole group, and obviously don't want light stands in the group shots.

    So, I'm thinking probably option 1, maybe take some option 1 and some option 2 to hedge my bets. That's for the larger groups. For the smaller groups, I guess I'd use two of my flashes bare at full-power, one on each side of the group, for fill (and have the third flash set up with a soft box ready to do the portraits with the bride and groom after the group shots).

    Would love to hear thoughts on this, particularly from people that have actually shot large groups in direct sunlight ...
  2. StandingBear1983
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    StandingBear1983 Active Member

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    Fill Flash in midday is your friend...if it doesn't remove most of the shadows it will fill most of them (depends also on your distance from the subject)
  3. Mach0
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    Mach0 TPF Supporters

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    Get a ND filter. It should help cut some of the light. How are you getting the flashes off camera? You might want to consider a couple of more flashes. Or if the budget permits, rent a few monolights for more power.
  4. jamesbjenkins
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    jamesbjenkins Well-Known Member

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    You just need more wattage. Your dinky Yongnuos aren't anywhere near strong enough, no speedlight is.

    If at all possible, rent or buy a couple of monolights. Paul C Buff is a great inexpensive option. You could get two monolights and umbrellas for less than $600. You could also rent them for about $150.
  5. Mach0
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    Mach0 TPF Supporters

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    OP Cameralensrentals.com has them for around $30 bucks per/ ab800 for 3 days.
  6. Light Guru
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    Light Guru Well-Known Member

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    Cutting down the amount of light means that you have to increase the shutter speed to get a proper exposure. Why would you want a longer shutter speed with a large group of people?
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  7. Mach0
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    So he is within sync speed and doesn't have to be at f11 with speedlights. For some reason, I feel as if I saw in the post f11. If I missed or misread something, please forgive me. I'm reading this while at work and I keep getting interrupted.
  8. grafxman
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    grafxman TPF Supporters

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    I don't know if this would work for you or not however here is what I would at least attempt. Take the photo from a ladder so your camera is angled slightly down for the shot. That should help eliminate much of the brightness in the background from sunlight. I guess the folks might be looking up at you in the shot but it might save a lot of aggravation with overexposure otherwise.
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  9. Derrel
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    Derrel Mr. Rain Cloud

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    #4 is a great solution, should it happen! Pray for those clouds! Who knows--the day might turn out to be overcast, and the sky would act as a ginormous softbox!

    I would say, shoot them in backlighting, and expose for the shadows, and let the highlights go "hot". No flash, just a carefully-determined shadow-biased exposure.
  10. iolair
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    iolair New Member

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    Thanks everyone, I'll just not worry about trying any fill flash on the larger groups. Hopefully I can find a position to shoot down on the group, so there won't be any sky in the shot anyway - that should make life easier.
  11. hirejn
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    hirejn New Member

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    The first problem is planning to shoot in direct sun. The first step in making an image is taking control of the light. There's almost always a way to avoid direct sun. One option would be to look for natural diffusion, like the shade of a tall building, group of trees, or even indoors.

    Another option is to put the subject directly between you and the sun -- directly at the same angle -- and place the subject in front of a dark background. This evens out the exposure and prevents background blowouts that happen when shooting from dark to light.

    You could also wait for clouds to pass, but that's not practical on time constraints.

    Another option is to use the sun for side light and try to fill some of the shadows with flash. That way the flash is simply fill and may not require as much power. This isn't ideal but it's better than no modification.

    It will be difficult for Speedlights to overpower the sun enough to gain control of the background and subject exposures if you're shooting into bright backgrounds, and it will create flat lighting on the subjects.

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