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Thank you all so much for your feedback. So much to learn.

I'm currently using matrix metering mode, which appears to work best in these environments where there is little light, and light that varies greatly from one area of the frame to another. Is that correct? Using matrix metering also enables the BL, or balanced fill-flash, on the SB-700. I'm currently also using iTTL mode.

The points I was trying to make about having a wall directly behind the subjects was regarding the depth-of-field focus area. Isn't the in-focus area of the center area of the picture dependent upon there being some area behind the center? I don't understand why sometimes I can produce a picture at f/2.8 that's in-focus throughout the entire picture, and not in focus when taken a certain focal lengths but not others.

There was a suggestion that I should have taken it at f/5.6 with ISO 800. I'm almost never able to get a nice blurred background in the picture when taken at anything beyond f/4 and I don't know why. Doesn't it really depend on the lens? Or was the comment made without the expectation of getting a blurred background, instead only that it be fully in focus?

My last question is about the comment that I should have lowered the shutter speed. This might deserve a separate post, but I'm confused here too. Every time I lower the shutter speed below 1/160th, there's motion blur. The flash is supposed to stop motion, but I don't know what I'm doing wrong that it doesn't do that. Even at 1/160th, if there's significant motion in the picture, it will show at least some motion blur.

I realize these are somewhat novice questions. I'd appreciate it if you had any input or could direct me to specific docs/videos/info that helped me to understand.
For flash shots, you don't need to meter anything, just put it in iTTL, and fire away. For NON-flash photography, I think I would have used spot metering mode. Matrix metering includes the subjects AND the surroundings, which may or may not even show up in your shot.

If your subjects are asked to stand near a wall and sort of line up in a straight line, then most people will tend to be the same distance from the lens as well as from the wall. (human nature)

If you want the BG to blur, then follow the variables in the DOF calculator. You will find that not only the aperture, but the focal length and distance all contribute to background blur.

I think I said if you're hand-holding, and if the background has some light on it, then your surroundings (background) will show camera movement blur, so use the ROT regarding shutter speed/focal length: Shutter=1/FL or faster. Some people can hold a slower shutter speed with practice, and some people need to increase the shutter speed (much shorter time) because they just can't hold very still. Yes, flash will "freeze" motion of subjects that are in the flash, but the background (which is not well illuminated by the flash) might show movement blur.
 

Derrel

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For this kind of event work, f/2.8 inside of 15 feet us really asking for disappointment...when you have a decently powerful flash, you need to stoo down to at least f5.6 or preferrably f/6.3 or f/7.1...otherwise there is a lot of uncertainty.
 

tirediron

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...you need to stoo down to at least f5.6 or preferrably f/6.3 or f/7.1...otherwise there is a lot of uncertainty.
There's a reason that the old news photographer's expression was "F8 and be there!", not, "F2.8 and be there1' ;)
 
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The blur effect is what people love :)

It's good to know that I'm not missing some major detail about how to do this.

Perhaps the part I am still unclear on is that I don't believe my SB-700 would ever be able to light the area with f/5.6 or even f/7.1 unless the shutter speed was well below 1/100th or ISO was well beyond what this camera is reasonably capable of doing, unless I'm really missing something.

I'll experiment.

This is also one of the reasons why I bought a lens with f/2.8 through the whole range :)

Thank you all so much for spending time to help me and not just telling me to RTFM :)
 

Derrel

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It seems like you would rather have a blurred background than everyone in focus. If you want blurred backgrounds in this type of social photography your best bet would not be shooting at F 2.8, but rather buying yourself a full frame camera.

Most regular people want to see sharp, clear faces, not blurry backgrounds. Newcomers to photography often key in on the wrong things. Shooting a D500 at ISO 800 at 5.6 with an SB700, you would not have simple group shots giving you headaches. BUT shooting at f/4 has given you a photo that an iPhone 11 could better.

Until you are more experienced it might be useful to practice and see how to arrange groups to get the heads closer to one short plane. One idea is to shoot at the same distance so that you get a better feel for how much depth of field you have... when you shoot some frames at 7 feet, some at 10 feet,and some at 12 feet, you are making things much more difficult than they should be. The single biggest influencer of depth of field is distance, it's not focal length or f-stop, but distance to the subject. If you stay at 10 or 12 feet, you will magically be free of all sorts of problems. It's kind of like keeping your speed down in bad driving conditions- if you go 45mph there are very few situations which you cannot correct from, whereas if you drive at 75 or 80 even a small miscalculation can be fatal. If you keep your distances at the 10-foot minimum, you will have much less exaggeration of perspective. Also stay away from really short focal length lenses, since these tend to exaggerate perspective and make noses appear uncomfortably large and make people in the corners of the frame appear distorted.

Older manual focus lenses often have quite precise focusing distances. The old idea was that you would learn to shoot with one focal length at one or two distances and in this manner you got pretty good pretty fast.

You may have purchased an f / 2.8 lens, but that does not mean it should be used at F/2.8 in this type of situation, where you are using flash. If you have a Porsche 911, would you, just because it's fast, drive it at 95 to 115 miles per hour on the way to work? If you bought a pickup truck with a 5.7 liter engine, would you drive it balls to the wall all the time? The type of photo that you are showing us can easily be done at f/ 5.6, or f/6.3, or f/7.1 or even f/8, and paying customers will get group shots which have every single person in them in-focus and sharp and clear and not out of focus, but with a blurry background. The goal once again is to get the people sharp and to let the background take care of itself.
 
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Derrel

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Your SB 700 does not have to "light the whole area", just the people in the group. The background is lighted by ambient light and that is controlled by the shutter speed and the iso and aperture. A flash shot of this type is in reality two different exposures. You should experiment with what is known as dragging the shutter. I do not agree with JB Photo above that setting 1/60th of a second as the slowest safe speed. I think 1/15th to 1/8 second is usable under most conditions like this. Your speed of 1/160 of a second looks "okay" at ISO 1250, but I think you would do much better to slow the shutter down significantly and also to check into your Nikon flash instruction manual. From my own experience I do not think that you have a full, firm grasp on how powerful the Nikon SB700 flash actually is. At ISO 800 you have plenty of power from that flash. The back wall of a party can be exposed with a much slower shutter speed than you went with. 1/160 second is way too fast to pick up much ambient light....try 1/80 and you will Double the background exposure, which would allow you to cut the iso down to 640 and maintain the same brightness.

This type of party/wedding photo is not where f/2.8 should be used...it's like driving 65 mph in a commercial district...it's just not good practice...I know you bought an f/2.8 lens, but you need to be wayyyyy farther back, or...stop the lens down some.
 
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Derrel

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People like the blur effect when the background is blurry, but they do not like the blur effect when it is the closest person in the group who is blurry.
 

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A good rule of thumb with a full frame camera is that a 35 mm focal length lens covers about one foot left to right for each foot you are from the subject, so with a full frame camera and a 35 millimeter lens if the group is 5 ft wide you'll get the whole group in a horizontal photo from 5 feet, but that is too close a distance for a number of reasons. If you want to study some depth of field tables, that's fine, but you have to know at what distance you are learning. I would suggest 10 feet, or some other distance which is scribed on your lens Barrel. Set the focus distance and then establish your shooting position. This gives you an automatic command of the most important variable, which is camera-to-subject distance and when you are using an on-camera flash gives you an automatic, easy guide number divisor.
 

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I do not agree with JB Photo above that setting 1/60th of a
second as the slowest safe speed. I think 1/15th to 1/8 second is usable under most conditions like this.

This is easily tested by simply taking a shot at slower shutter speeds at the event with the ambient lighting and checking the cameras LCD. Bearing in mind ambient continues to burn in the exposure while the shutter is open which may result in the subjects moving during the exposure. You may see blurred subjects and a sharp flash subject image overlapping. Additionally, any camera movement will create ambient light bulbs or bright subjects to be seen as camera shake, I’d advise no coffee before that shoot, lol. Remember there are no rules, just results. Do what you need to to get the shot.
 

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No rules, just results...I like that.
 

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Perhaps the part I am still unclear on is that I don't believe my SB-700 would ever be able to light the area with f/5.6 or even f/7.1 unless the shutter speed was well below 1/100th or ISO was well beyond what this camera is reasonably capable of doing, unless I'm really missing something.
Your thinking is at cross-purposes with your actual practice.

If you want the whole area well-lighted, then why are you trying for background blur? Background dark, or background blurred. Either effect will provide the desired separation of subject and background, so you probably don't need both at once. In fact; if you let the BG to go dark, then what kind of blur will be seen anyway?

Yes, people see blur on the internet, and you want to give your clients what they want, but since they really don't know good photography from mediocre, then maybe you can help educate your clients as to why you do what you do. I say show them some good photography and educate them on why it's good. It's better to have an educated client paying you and telling all their friends about you than simply giving them the same thing they see on social media.
 

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Perhaps the part I am still unclear on is that I don't believe my SB-700 would ever be able to light the area with f/5.6 or even f/7.1 unless the shutter speed was well below 1/100th or ISO was well beyond what this camera is reasonably capable of doing, unless I'm really missing something.
Your thinking is at cross-purposes with your actual practice.

If you want the whole area well-lighted, then why are you trying for background blur? Background dark, or background blurred. Either effect will provide the desired separation of subject and background, so you probably don't need both at once. In fact; if you let the BG to go dark, then what kind of blur will be seen anyway?

Yes, people see blur on the internet, and you want to give your clients what they want, but since they really don't know good photography from mediocre, then maybe you can help educate your clients as to why you do what you do. I say show them some good photography and educate them on why it's good. It's better to have an educated client paying you and telling all their friends about you than simply giving them the same thing they see on social media.

Sufficient contrast between the subjects and the background also might allow for relatively quick post-production artificial manipulation of said background. I can't speak to paid software, but GNU Image Manipulation Program allows one to use a threshold tool to create a black and white layer based on characteristics like brightness, which when used for the purposes of creating a mask, allows one to then select a portion of the image corresponding to those brightness characteristics. I'm sure the results aren't perfect, but some additional selection or deselection would allow one to copy-out the subjects to a fresh, higher layer, to then add blur to the base layer only, giving some bokeh characteristics or at least downplaying the background.

Such an effect wouldn't be a whole lot different than literally taking a photographic print of the image in the darkroom, making a cutout from that original print, exposing the subjects with the background excluded to fresh paper, then swapping cutouts to exclude the subjects and throwing the enlarger out of focus to adjust the background on a second exposure.

Pardon me if my terminology is wrong, it's been 25 years since I did any work in a darkroom and it was part of a high school photography class, so I have no doubt that I'm not using the right wording.
 

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Your thinking is at cross-purposes with your actual practice.

Cutting right to the heart of the matter. The iPhone 11 has good "Portrait Mode" which blurs the background via software processing, which can now be done pretty well in Photoshop, as was mentioned above.
 

tirediron

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...Perhaps the part I am still unclear on is that I don't believe my SB-700 would ever be able to light the area with f/5.6 or even f/7.1 unless the shutter speed was well below 1/100th or ISO was well beyond what this camera is reasonably capable of doing, unless I'm really missing something.
You'd be surprised at what your gear can do. This is a single SB800, handheld on a TTL cable at (IIRC) 1/2 power.
WWRBC2018%20(11).jpg


Your shutter speed will only affect the amount of ambient light in the exposure. It will have ZERO affect on the flash.
 

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Agreed, the shutter speed does not affect the exposure of the flash-lighted foreground areas... but only the areas where the flash does not illuminate. NIKON HAS a feature called " Balanced TTL" which to is designed to balance the flash with the ambient light level. There is also regular TTL mode. There are two very different ways to approach Flash in this situation: the old school way is to shoot at the highest possible flash synchronization speed, in order to get a perfectly black background or at the very least a very dark background. The other way is to quote drag the shutter, which involves using a fairly slow speed which can be as slow as 1/6 of a second. In the early 2000s I had a couple of internet friends who specialized in nightclub photography and they shot a lot of photos at 1/6 of a second to pick up dance club lights I was skeptical at first and I thought that movement of the camera would spoil a lot of The Flash shots, but my own experimentation showed that speeds between 1/6 and 1/20th of a second were quite possible, and easy to make.
 

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