lighting setup for formals

Discussion in 'Wedding and Event' started by william-porter, May 5, 2010.

  1. The group formals have always been my hardest challenge. And the hardest part of shooting the formals for me, is setting up and getting to work quickly. If I could ask the priest and the couple to stand at ease for 5-10 minutes while I set up umbrellas, adjusted the placement of my lights, fiddled with exposure settings on the lights and on the camera, and took test shots, I could do great. I do okay with lighting in my studio setup. But getting things set up at church in a hurry is difficult. It's quite possible that I feel some pressure at this point and that it clouds my thinking. I have actually had some very good outings, but I am not consistent. The last time I did this—after a recent First Communion—when I ran into a small problem that I didn't understand, I abandoned my game-plan (which involved a couple of flashes) and went to a single hot-shoe flash. Results were okay but I've been trying to move beyond "reliably okay" into "reliably pretty good". When I get there, I'll start working towards "reliably outstanding."
    Anyway, my question is, how do you go about getting ready for the formals? That is, how do you set up your lights and your camera and how long does this take you before you're ready to say "smile"?
    *
    I can't really tell you what I'm doing these days, because it changes from event to event. Here's what I MIGHT do, if I were shooting a group photo in a church today. (Actually I am shooting group photos in a church tomorrow, which is partly why I'm posting.) Anyway, the following plan is probably the one I've used most often:
    • Place the tripod in the center aisle and mount the camera on it. Camera has 21mm or 28mm prime lens (= 32 or 42 FF FOV equivalent). I would guess that I'm usually 10-12 ft from the group.
    • Flash #1 into camera's hot shoe, aimed at group.
    • Ask assistant to hold flash #2, aimed at ceiling—probably with a Demb Flip-It attached to push some of the light from flash #2 forward.
    • Camera is in M. Settings usually something very close to f/5.6 or f/6.3, ISO 400, 1/80th sec.
    • The flash units are set to optical wireless mode. Flash in the hot shoe is master, flash #2 is slave.
    • I use P-TTL (Pentax's version of E-TTL/i-TTL). I have radio triggers and use them when I'm doing a portrait. But the radio triggers require that I adjust flash output manually and I just can't seem to do that effectively without taking a number of test shots. By using optical triggering, I can use P-TTL, and let the P-TTL system figure out the right flash output.
    I think that about covers it.
    Note that I have the camera and flash #1 on a tripod, but I am reluctant to bother with a stand for flash #2. As it is, at every event, I'm terribly afraid somebody is going to knock over my tripod. With relatives and friends crawling all over, many of them wearing long dresses, using a light stand just seems to be a bad idea.
    By the same token, I'm not using umbrellas or softboxes. I have them but they seem contraindicated here, for several reasons.
    I have more equipment than I've mentioned above. I could deploy a third flash unit, for example. I just have not figured out WHERE I'd place it or aim it. And that would mean finding a second assistant or volunteer to hold it, which is sometimes difficult. Actually I don't always have my wife with me to help, and I've actually considered bringing a bracket so that the second flash could be mounted on the bracket obviating the need for an assistant to hold it.
    Be grateful to hear what parts of my approach are sound and which you think could be adjusted (or totally rethunk). Thanks in advance.
    Will
     
  2. Addendum:
    I'm not wild about the results I'm getting using P-TTL. (If I were, I would not have posted.) The photos are generally underexposed slightly, even if I goose the exposure compensation on the flash. I am pretty sure that the best results I've gotten come when I have used radio triggers and put the flashes into manual mode. My flash units seem to put out more power in M than they EVER put out in P-TTL. And I get fewer problems with folks blinking, which is a side-benefit.
    But there are 2 problems with using the flashes in manual mode.
    First, if I want to use 2 flash units, I now have BOTH of them off the camera, which means I need 2 assistants or 2 light-stands. As a solo shooter, that is sometimes difficult for me.
    Second, despite the somewhat anemic results I get with P-TTL, it's a snap to setup. I set the camera (as described above), turn the flashes on (channel has been preset), dial in 1+ FEC, and go to work. With the flash units in M, on the other hand, it takes me at least a couple of test shots to sort things out—usually more like half a dozen. This confuses the subjects.
     
  3. Do you usually do at least a few formals beforehand? I'm not sure where you are located, but where I am it's pretty customary to do some portraits before the ceremony to save time afterwards. I get to the church early enough to get my lighting setup all figured out so that I don't have to monkey with it while all the guests and family are milling about...takes up precious minutes during the little bit of time I have before the reception! My setup is simple... two strobes at 45's with pocket wizards. My last wedding was in a very dark, old church. I shot the formals at ISO 400, f 6.3 at 100th of a sec. I shot the pre-ceremony formals, lowered the lights on their stands, closed the umbrellas, unplugged the cords from the outlets and moved them to an inconspicuous corner of the church for the ceremony. During the recieving llne, as the sanctuary emptied, I went back up to the front, pulled out the lights and got ready to fire away!
    I would strongly suggest investing in a couple stands for your flash units and going with radio slaves (like a pocket wizard)...IMHO they're just more reliable. If you use regular or rechargable batteries, there's no reason to fear anyone tripping over cords (and in my experience, those involved in the photos are usually seated in the pews awaiting their turn anyway). I'd also suggest umbrellas! You'll get more out of your flash units with them than without.
    As an alternative... Many couples opt for the outdoor option these days. Why not discuss the benefits of getting out ot the dark church and finding a garden or a tree-lined area on the church grounds? People seem to be more relaxed when they're outside and not faced with giant studio lights. Plus...it can make your whole transition from the ceremony to the reception a little faster...and more fun for everyone involved! Again, this depends on your location among other things...but it works!
    Good Luck!
     
  4. It takes me about 2 minutes to put my Sunpak 120J on a stand, add the battery pack and plug in the trigger receiver. The Sunpak already has an umbrella stand adapter on it (it travels that way) so I plunk it on a stand, add the other stuff and I'm set. I usually set this up before the ceremony even starts, because if I am in a church, I often rim light the processional.
    After the ceremony, since I work alone, I do not follow the couple after the recessional (rarely, I do), since I find people don't put that high a priority on the kissing and congratulating pictures--half the time, you don't see faces clearly. Instead, I double back to my Sunpak on the stand, grab it and put it into formals taking position, grabbing my large 60" umbrella (Paul C. Buff PLM) as I pass my gear case, add it to the Sunpak and place it about 12-14 feet from the altar to my right--in the pews to prevent knock over. Time--maybe another 3-5 minutes.
    The Sunpak is always in manual flash mode. I know what setting to put it to for either the umbrella or direct, at the subject distance I have, for the aperture I want to use. I do not need to adjust it because after my first test shot, I adjust the aperture or ISO, because the adjustment is usually only 1/3 or 2/3 stop. My on camera flash (already there) is fill.
    I drag the shutter so I usually don't need any other separation light. About the only time I might need one is if the wall behind the group is black or very dark--it's happened maybe once or twice. Sometimes my shutter is 1/15th or slower but I am careful to have the flash exposure correct to avoid blurring. This EV is still not full--the ambient is still underexposed by a stop or two.
    I use a tripod, but a bit differently. I have an upside down The Pod on my tripod head (stuck to a RRS rail since my tripod head has a clamp). I rest my camera on the top of The Pod, mashing it down slightly, and shoot that way. Works well for maybe down to 1/8th second. The advantage is quick on and off, and you don't need to leave the tripod and camera in the aisle when you walk up to the group to direct placement--no trip over worries. The camera comes with me on a neck strap and I can stash the tripod into the pew if I need traffic space. Yet the benefit of being able to look over the camera to watch for blinking etc. is still there.
    For churches, I have taken to using the large umbrella. While it is contrindicated re softness, it still helps a little. I have my gear modularly packed, so usually, my Sunpak is in my rolling case. For churches, I bring my 'church case', which is a long case with regular stand, umbrella and tripod. This case doesn't come with me for outdoor weddings, etc., where I don't use the umbrella and don't need the tripod or regular stand (I have compact stands in my case). I can bring everything into the church in one trip from the car, although I do look like a pack mule. I need rolling access, though.
     
  5. When I'm making groups of 4 to 6 or less & I'm not using natural light, I run my Quantum, with umbrella & Pocket Wizard, at 1/2 power at a f5.6 200 ISO. I do not vary the Quantum because I've found it can get real confusing. I put my 580EX on a Custom bracket attached to the hot shoe of my 5D and use as a fill light. The PW transmiitter I mount next to the 580 and use the PC plug on the 5D. For fill I operate the 580 operate in ETTL -2 stops. For groups larger than 4 to six, I run the 580EX as the main light and use the Quantum as a fill as I don't want to worry about shadows.
    This works quite quickly during a fast paced wedding. I've found that people don't like shadows but don't mind more or less flat lighting with large group photos.
     
  6. Heather, thanks for the reply and for a description of your practice.
    I have radio triggers (FlashWave II system) and they work great for me when I have time—easy and very reliable. I have light-stands and umbrellas, too.
    But the light stands are really easy to trip over. I'm not worried about cords—the radio receivers, like the flash units, are battery powered. The problem is with the light stands themselves. Their legs spread out wide at the bottom, and the stands themselves are fundamentally not very stable.
    ...and in my experience, those involved in the photos are usually seated in the pews awaiting their turn anyway
    Ah, well, perhaps you are luckier than I, because this has NOT been my experience. I have people sitting in pews waiting their turn to be photographed, which means they have to get up and walk around when called. I have other people sitting in pews simply watching the photos get taken and perhaps waiting to take a few shots themselves, but they get bored and start moving around too. I always seem to have people milling around everywhere. I tend to stay right by my tripod, because more than once it has been knocked.
    Tomorrow night, I'm shooting a Roman Catholic Confirmation. There are about 60 young people being confirmed, and I'll be shooting them in two groups. The former, now-retired bishop of Dallas will be presiding. The church will be packed and I feel confident that it will NOT empty immediately afterwards as there is no reception to rush off to in this case. To set up light stands, I think I'd HAVE to put them in the pews where nobody could trip over them—and I'm not even sure that's possible.
    I may go with the radio triggers and manual flash settings. I will have a chance to do some testing beforehand (although it's difficult for me to get a group of 30 people to test with!). But I'll probably ask a couple of people to hold the flash units for me.
    Will
     
  7. I"d get better stands, and I have yet to see pews I couldn't put my stands in. There is even a problem with putting stands in pews--sometimes people still sit right next to the stand and light and/or climb over it repeatedly (why, I don't know). I often have to tell people to get out from under my light--that umbrella is pretty large, although in pews, a knock over isn't as disasterous. Also, kids...what can I say.
    I also have people milling around in the aisle. I am constantly (nicely) asking everyone to clear the aisle. Even though I have my The Pod tripod, it is still an irritation, if no longer a hazard.
     
  8. @ Nadine:
    I can't quite visualize your "The Pod" setup. Never heard of The Pod. Found it at B&H. I gather you have the RRS rail attached to the top of the tripod, and the The Pod attached to the rail, and the camera attached to The Pod. Don't understand the "upside down" part. More to the point, I'm not sure I see how this is better than using a quick release tripod connector. It's not too difficult for me to pop my camera out of my Slik or Manfrotto tripods. I don't DO it very often because when I put the camera back into the tripod, it always seems that I have to double-check the positioning and make a slight adjustment. I'd think that would be the case with The Pod, as well.
    Your second post was as interesting to me as the first, because it tells me that you DO have the problems I'm worried about, even with stands in the pews, but that you just deal with them. Maybe my basic problem here is that I just have not yet had the courage to do what I need to do. Maybe I need to start eating Powermilk Biscuits. :)
    *
    @Bill: Where do you place the Quantum—at 45° to the group, and perhaps off to your right (their left)?
     
  9. Yes, I place it at about 45 degrees to the group on the side the bride is located usually camera left, group right.
    I try to have the light as high above the group as it is away. So if it's 5 feet away it should be 5 feet above them. This can be a challenge with people standing or above the light stand.
     
  10. William--I guess I didn't explain it well. The Pod does not come off with the camera. It does not get unclamped, and it isn't attached to the camera. It just sits there on the tripod as an oh-so-convenient place to mash the camera down on so that slower shutter speeds can be used. When the picture is taken, I still have my hands on the camera, mashing it down, but I don't need to have my eye to the viewfinder.
    The advantages are as follows.
    1.) Instantaneous on and off. No clamps, screws--nothing. Just grab the camera and go. I use it during the ceremony too. It does not slow me down at all.
    2.) No fiddling with positioning. Small changes in angle, leveling, etc., all done as you mash. The only thing you do is raise or lower the tripod standard and move the tripod into position.
    3.) No fiddling or adjusting with vertical camera position. Just turn the camera and mash down.
    4.) During formals, you need not worry about knock over, since the camera does not sit on the tripod. I use a neck strap, and I know you just got a Cameraslinger strap. You would keep the camera on the Cameraslinger. If you need to walk around, the camera comes with you, the tripod can stay or be stashed into a pew. I often have to move the tripod to let people in wheelchairs or canes come through.
    Here is a picture. I made the contraption at Christmas time, so my tree is in the background. The Pod is upside down because the 1/4 20 screw is on top, and I use it to screw into the RRS rail, plus I need a smooth surface to mash the camera onto.
    00WOp2-241911584.jpg
     
  11. Nadine,
    Wow, what a brilliant approach. I'm speechless (almost). Thanks for the photos.
    Will
     
  12. For me, I don't have any one approach. It all depends on if I have assistants or I am shooting solo and how much time I might have. I have an upcoming wedding where we will be lucky to have 15-minutes to take pictures after the ceremony at the church. Set doesn't bother me so much as I have all the time in the world with the receiving line. Tear down and getting everything out is another story. My current plan is pretty simple: RRS wedding bracket with two flashes mounted on top. One points forward @ -1 iTTL; fill. I will grab someone from the wedding party or guest to stand behind me and hold a reflector. The 2nd flash fires into that @ probably +1; key. Simple, fast and pretty decent for group shots. At the other end, when I have time and assistants, it's the assistants job to set up an Alien Bee and an umbrella/softbox hybrid. It gets set up to the right, feathered across the group. We have a Sekonic light meter w/PW trigger to trigger the AB and I usually want it set up to something like f/5.6 or maybe 8 with a really large group. I will often set up just a QFlash on a stick, to the right and fire it bare bulb, using the on-camera flash as fill. Yes, it's hard but the on-camera fill helps balance that. And while the umbrella will offer some diffusion, if I am shooting this set up, it is because I don't want to fuss with an umbrella! This set up is pretty quick as well. I just picked up a Cheetah stand so that will really help! Quality of light wise, the AB and umbrella/softbox is fabulous. But it's big, requires an outlet, sandbags and so on making it the most cumbersome. A QFlash on a stick comes in 2nd. Biggest issue here is direct reflections. But the color is great. I have shot with a flash pointed behind me at a reflector and when it works, it's pretty darn good. I say when it works because without a dedicated assistant you really have to watch the person holding the reflector. And I miss that pop of light forward. Which is why I am trying the two flashes on the bracket this next time around.
     
  13. John--how about the Q flash with the umbrella: no cords, no sandbag. You could even put it on the stick and have the assistant hold it. I use my Sunpak 120J reflectorless into the umbrella so the light spread in my 60" umbrella is great--very efficient. I have the predecessor to the Cheetah--and if the latter is the same, the leg spread isn't all that great. Just be careful if you try a monolight on it.
     
  14. John, thanks for the description of the two-flashes-on-a-bracket approach. This, I can understand and imagine doing. Does seem to me you may still be at the mercy of the person holding up the reflector. If they tilt it back even slightly the light could bounce over the heads of your subjects, no?
     
  15. Nadine, it all depends on the crew I am working with. But in general, I don't fuss with an umbrella with the QFlash. And I know I wouldn't trust a 60" umbrella (or a monolight) on the Cheetah stand! For my taste, the umbrella diffused the light but took away my punch. So for the extra time involved and equipment to carry (better stand, probably a sandbag, and the umbrella), for a different, but not necessarily better image (and of course vice-versa), for me it just isn't my thing. That is what I love about the umbrella/softbox: you get it all.
    William, yes, you need to keep an eye on the person holding the reflector. This is why a dedicated assistant is better. But you work with what you have! In the past I have fired a single flash into a reflector behind me and while it was OK (probably better than OK), it wasn't great. I haven't yet tried to the dual flash approach as of yet, other than to test it out on the bracket. But I am looking forward to it. The idea is to keep the one flash forward (with a Sto-fen style diffuser to help prevent specular reflections) and dialed down... but still hard and still giving me that little punch of light. While the reflector behind provides the broad, somewhat softer light. From past experience, the largest issue with the reflector behind you isn't whether the group gets any light, it is watching for diffused reflections in surfaces behind the group.... which again is where you usually want to adjust the tilt more downward. All that said, for fast shooting, I don't see how to beat it. I can shoot right up until the time I need to leave. Then leave. No stands, no nothing. Camera in one hand, reflector in the other. Now this isn't ideal by any means! I usually try to put a flash in a softbox and get a 180mm shot with the bride & groom to really blow out the background. And there are of course other shots I like to get. But if I have 15-minutes, a 16-member wedding party with a large family, I do what I can! And besides, I love the reflector. Just thinking out loud, I can still do an aisle shot having someone hold the reflector to the side, pointing the flash straight into that and still using one flash for a bit of fill. All-in-all I am liking the idea more and more! Only problem: that rig is heavy. Definitely not how I will be shooting all day!
     
  16. I'd love it if I could just walk out of the church with no packing to do after the formals, and I experimented with minimal gear at one point. But I like my off camera flashes too much so I concentrated on efficiency with the gear I wanted for my desired results. As it stands, I can pack up in about 5 minutes once I start. My typical routine is, after the last formal, I leave my lighting gear (not my camera bag, etc.) in the church, follow the couple out to their limo, shooting as I go, do shots of them with and in the limo, and before I let them go, I tell them not to start (formal announcements) until they see me there and that I'd probably be 10 minutes behind them. This is usually the case--sometimes I beat them there since the limo will usually be pokey for full enjoyment.
     
  17. If I'm shooting formals in a church I will often use 2-3 off camera flashes on shoot-thru umbrellas, usually positioned in the center and pointing out to either edge of subjects. I will pick the longest focal length I can get away with - which is usually not long in a church unless something allows me to get safely above the pews. I always use manual flash because 1. I don't have reliable eTTL off-camera units, and 2. I need consistency with my exposures, which manual does much better than eTTL.
    I almost never have the luxury of bouncing flash in a church because the ceiling is too high and sometimes too dark.
    If you have an extra flash you don't know what to do with, put your omnibounce on it and put it behind the groups to see if you can get a good rim light.
     
  18. Nadine-
    How is your on-camera flash set when you are using it for fill on the formals? TTL? Manual?
     
  19. It is in ETTL-averaging. I just comp it down to act as fill. I usually use a Presslite Vertex panel in a white card/bounce situation. Even in large churches with dark ceilings, the 'bounce around' helps a little while the white card makes the light put forth more efficient, going forward, not to mention giving more flash-like/daylight white balance. I probably should use manual, but I am lazy, and the above works for me--or at least, I make it work.
     
  20. Just so I am clear, I prefer off camera flash myself (hence the QFlash on a stick). But I have been in situations where I don't even want to spend 5-minutes breaking down. I have such a case coming up which is why I came up with my two flashes on the bracket idea. Provided I can recruit someone to hold a reflector, that 2nd flash is as directional as I need it to be! A couple of years ago we had a we had a wedding start late, run long and the short of it was we had less than 5-minutes for pictures in the church. I wish I had thought of this two flashes on a bracket back then! As it was, it was on-camera flash and that was it. Yikes!
     
  21. "In the past I have fired a single flash into a reflector behind me and while it was OK (probably better than OK), it wasn't great. "
    I'm wondering: How close are you to the group here? 12 ft? Further? Can you really hope to get the light to bounce that far (12ft x 2) effectively? I guess so.
    *
    "All that said, for fast shooting, I don't see how to beat it. I can shoot right up until the time I need to leave. Then leave. No stands, no nothing. Camera in one hand, reflector in the other. "
    Yes, I can certainly appreciate this.
    Thanks,
    Will
     
  22. Well, I went this evening to the rehearsal for tomorrow night's Confirmation. Actually, I went up an hour early to play with some different approaches to lighting.
    I had no success bouncing my stronger flash into a large reflector. Obviously I'm doing something very wrong, but I don't know what it is.
    I also tried using a bracket, with one flash up high on the bracket's vertical arm and the other in the hot shoe; using optical triggering. Pointed the hot-shoe flash (the key) straight forward, while the bracket flash was turned up to max power and pointed at the ceiling, about 15° - 20° off straight up. As far as I could tell, the bounced flash was contributing almost nothing.
    So for the purposes of tomorrow night, I have decided to revert to what I know works. I think of it as the Neil van Niekerk approach, although I suppose it's unfair to NvN to credit him in this way. The basic idea is: try to expose camera in M for ambient light, then turn on flash and use it in x-TTL to finish the job.
    I took a reading with my light meter, but I ended up setting the camera about -2 stops, because I didn't want to shoot at ISO 1600. Camera settings: ISO 800, f/6.7, 1/125th sec, in M mode. Flash was in P-TTL mode, with FEC of +1. The flash is not pointed straight at the youngsters, but rather, angled slightly upwards, as if I were trying to throw the light at the kids in the back row. The flash I used here is a Metz 58AF, my best (strongest and most reliable) flash.
    Anyway, here's a test photo of the youngsters who will be confirmed tomorrow. Obviously I didn't care too much about posing them here; I was grateful to have the chance to take some test shots. Tomorrow night the bishop will be sitting in the gap in the center, and the kids will be cleaned up and (I hope) looking at the camera.
    [​IMG]
    Unless I can practice some more and figure out something better, this will have to do for now. Next week I am going to get permission to go back when the church isn't in use and work on this. Just need to round up half a dozen kids to model for me.
    Thanks everybody. I've bookmarked this thread and will be rereading all these suggestions more than once, I'm sure.
    Will
     
  23. Manual flash does great for formals because it's extremely consistent.
    In the future....my suggestion is to get some triggers for manual flash, put them on umbrellas/etc., with stands that go as high as 10' or more, and put the prepped equipment (1 or 2 such assembled stands/umbrellas/flashes/receivers) under pews in the back or otherwise out of sight before the ceremony. Once the ceremony is over, bring them out and position them - takes about 2 minutes for me when I do it right. As a standard rule, I use my flashes around 1/4 to 1/2 power, and the exposure is very close with my first test shot - something like ISO400, f/2.8 or f/4 with my old sunpak 383s.
     
  24. I took a reading with my light meter, but I ended up setting the camera about -2 stops, because I didn't want to shoot at ISO 1600. Camera settings: ISO 800, f/6.7, 1/125th sec, in M mode. Flash was in P-TTL mode, with FEC of +1. The flash is not pointed straight at the youngsters, but rather, angled slightly upwards, as if I were trying to throw the light at the kids in the back row. The flash I used here is a Metz 58AF, my best (strongest and most reliable) flash.​
    William, this could just be a personal preference of mine, but I feel that you need to be letting in far more light in order to obtain a pleasing image. The example you supplied is an image with an underexposed background and (what looks to my eye like) direct flash used to light the group. You have room to open up the aperture (I would move in closer to the group, wider angle and try f5) and slow down the shutter speed - no need for 1/125 if nobody's moving.
    Having said all that William, I know it can be a real nightmare doing group shots in dark rooms when you're not using big lighting set-ups - I work alone and typically use only on-camera flash.
    Hope it went well for you.
     
  25. I think 1 stop more exposure on the sample would have been fine.
    The background is a bit dark - and that doesn't bother me - what bothers me more is that the back row of kids is dark... Keep in mind also that they are probably going to be wearing gowns of some type...our church uses white ones - which adds a degree of difficulty... since it (white) reflects light... If they are darker gowns (black - blue) then they will suck up all available light and you will have to add a couple of stops...
    As for the background - it's fine that it is dark - since you don't want to have the focus be on it in the first place.
    My setup for group shots is 2 bowens flashes 45 degrees - with shoot through umbrellas to defuse... Fired via Pocket Wizards - Camera is always set on RAW and Manual... The only time I change this is if someone is shooting over my shoulder then I'll set both up to fire on flash for a few minutes... That usually gets them shaking their head and looking at obscure menus...
    Dave
     
  26. Thanks for the comments on the photo. Very helpful. Actually, I took another photo of a different group of a couple of dozen kids (there are about 60 being confirmed) and slowed the shutter down to 1/90th sec, and had better results. I didn't post that because it was a bit more embarrassing for reasons that had nothing to do with exposure.
    I will do some more practice this afternoon and use my flash meter to test the results. I didn't do that last night.
    The candidates tonight won't be wearing gowns. It'll be worse than that—more like a wedding formal. It's my understanding that the girls will be wearing dresses and the boys will be wearing suits.
    Will
     
  27. I'd say--if you aren't setting up off camera flash, a bit more shutter drag, and get higher, so your flash is instantly that much higher, so it lights the back rows more. You might even use an off camera shoe cord and hold it up with your hand. A flash bracket at the highest position could also help. These are two things you can do to improve a shot without off camera flash helping. If you get higher, I wouldn't use a wider focal length, because then you'd be getting into body distortion.
     
  28. Nadine says:
    I'd say--if you aren't setting up off camera flash, a bit more shutter drag, and get higher, so your flash is instantly that much higher, so it lights the back rows more. You might even use an off camera shoe cord and hold it up with your hand. A flash bracket at the highest position could also help. These are two things you can do to improve a shot without off camera flash helping. If you get higher, I wouldn't use a wider focal length, because then you'd be getting into body distortion.
    Thanks, Nadine. This confirms something I'd already decided to do. I do have a good basic bracket that will allow me to raise the flash up almost 2 ft above the camera. Since the Metz 58 AF-1 is my best (strongest) flash, I think I'll use it. I have a cord for triggering my Pentax units but the Metz would have to be triggered via radio, which is fine.
    Will
     
  29. Here is a shot I did with someone I grabbed to hold a reflector behind me and I shot the on camera flash into the reflector. I tried to pick a shot that showed the diffuse reflections I could get in the background when my spur of the moment assistant wasn't tilting the reflector down. This was ISO 800, f/6.3, 1/80th. Is it ideal, no. Is it relatively soft, yes. Is is fast, yes. If I had added forward fill, it would have been better. Hence my new, yet untried, approach!
    00WPJg-242149584.jpg
     
  30. Thanks for that picture, John. I'm getting the idea.
    I have just come back from the church, where I did some more practicing—and a little experimenting. I have decided to place a second flash behind the group.
    Woops—posted that before I was ready. Here's my setup now:
    [​IMG]
    UUnfortunately, I didn't have a group of kids to practice with—just my daughter—so I am really not sure that tthe flash behind the group is doing anything at all. But with the main flash raised up on the bracket and bounced using the Demb flip-it card, I seem to be getting somewhat software results. Have to keep it simple for tonight. Can experiment more later.
    Thanks again to everybody for your help!
    Will
     
  31. I think you can afford to get physically higher yourself, plus the bracket reach. Just maybe a foot higher. Stepstool (?)--I just bought a folding one that folds flat.
    Re the flash behind the group--for what purpose? If you drag the shutter more, the background should not be black, and you won't need back or rim light for separation. If you mean to point it at the background, you may get reflections since the background is a bit shiny.
     
  32. Also, a Demb Diffuser doesn't go very wide. Don't know what focal length you have there, but you might want to attach a wider white card to the Demb.
     
  33. Nadine writes:
    I think you can afford to get physically higher yourself, plus the bracket reach. Just maybe a foot higher. Stepstool (?)--I just bought a folding one that folds flat.
    Got a folding one myself. I'll take it and use it. That's easy.
    Re the flash behind the group--for what purpose? If you drag the shutter more, the background should not be black, and you won't need back or rim light for separation. If you mean to point it at the background, you may get reflections since the background is a bit shiny.
    No, I'm not trying to illuminate the background, for the reason you suggest. That's why I didn't point the flash at the background.
    Well, I'm not sure why I put it back there. Hair light? Seemed like a good idea? I think I was thinking that it would bounce off the ceiling from behind and add some light to the heads and faces. And where it's placed, it's not in anybody's way.
    Also, a Demb Diffuser doesn't go very wide. Don't know what focal length you have there, but you might want to attach a wider white card to the Demb.
    This I do know. I already have a 14" x 6" white cardboard card taped to the Demb card and angled slightly at the edges of the Demb, so it looks a bit like a radar dish. I think it will help a little.
    I'll be shooting with a Sigma 28mm f/1.8 EX DG Macro lens = 42mm FF FOV. I have an excellent Pentax 21 limited. Would that be better?
    Is it safe to drag the shutter as slow as 1/45th sec?
    Will
     
  34. William,
    How are you getting your Pentax Af540 to fire off-camera? I've played around with the wireless system, but found it to be a waste of time--it will just not fire if it's off to the side. Only PWs for me.
    Scott
     
  35. Scott, I'm using radio triggers (FlashWave II's).
    The Pentax optical wireless system works pretty well—but it's reliability decreases as the lighting environment gets more complicated, either by the size of the room or the reflectivity of surfaces or other things, or distance of the slaves from the controller/master.
    Before I got radio triggers I used the built-in wireless system at a number of weddings and it worked okay. Allowed me to start getting a feel for using more than 1 flash. IN a way, the flexibility of radio triggers has (I fear) confused me by giving me lots of options I never had before. Step forward, half a step back.
    Will
     
  36. I am not sure why the light behind either? I don't know much about the Pentax camera, but if it can do ISO 800 well, I would use that instead of 400. How big of a print do you think anyone will want? I agree that the Flip-It won't be of much use. If using a flash on the camera, a Sto-fen style diffuser is your best bet. Since you must be able to operate the 2nd flash wirelessly, I would put that on a light stand, as high as you can and point it down towards the group from, from camera right (or left I suppose), no diffuser. Use the on-camera flash for fill to help soften any shadows. Flash should freeze any movement @ 1/45th, but a tripod never hurts.
     
  37. I'm thinking the flash behind won't act the way you are hoping. No, I don't think the 21mm is better--since you are getting higer, the tendency to distort is more with a wider focal length. It is safe to drag the shutter at 1/45th if your flash is correctly exposing people. The problem would be for the kids in the back row. If you shake or move, you'll see blur if they are underexposed. Just be ON your exposure--maybe even a bit overexposed, for the sake of the back row. You can pull the highlights back in post processing without much ill effect. In fact, you can even out the lighting in post as well.
     
  38. Many formal images that get posted here look underexposed, or unevenly lit to my eye. There are often cast shadows from front people thrown on people behind them because the lights are to low ... or people hidden behind others because the photographer/camera are to low in relation to the group.
    I think William brings up a really big challenge ... time verses getting it right. This is a challenge I am still struggling with myself. However, it is a challenge worth undertaking if a wedding photographer wants to separate themselves from the growing pack of less experienced shooters flooding the market ... whom, with a little input, can drag the shutter and use an on-camera flash just as well as anyone else ... thus producing that flat-on lighting look. Getting the lights off camera is the challenge ... followed by what lights to use ... followed by how to set them up and tear them down quickly.
    Here is my ramblings on the subject.
    In my experience, when shooting formal group portraits in relatively dark and unevenly lit venues, dragging the shutter to much can introduce a whole other set of odd cast shadows on faces and other parts of the image that are often a different color temperature. While one can gel the flash, getting the right color temperature can be hit or miss depending on how intense the ambient is, or if they are even a tungsten light source. Then there are the backgrounds ... some can have adequate ambient lighting and some not ... some are far away, and some are close to the subjects.
    To counter this requires more powerful lights with a consistent color temp output. IMO, today's on-camera speed-lights just do not pack the punch to enable true control of most any lighting condition we may face. Even doubling up two shoe-mount speed-lights on a stand is still relatively wimpy light. I tried this recently, and it was a complete failure. Just not enough light to take "command and control" of the ambient situation. Plus, when you use some of the more recent speed lights at full manual power and shoot rapidly, they shut down when hot due to a capacitor limiter. One can over-ride this on some flashes but at your own risk. These flashes were simply not made to replace studio strobes.
    The next step up is a bare bulb unit like the 120Js that Nadine uses, or the Quantum flash others here use ... usually these are a bit more powerful at full manual out-put ... but more importantly they are bare bulbs with round parabolic reflectors that make more efficient use of that extra output when shooting with round umbrellas. While more than suitable for small groups and individual portraits, even this solution is relatively under-powered for really large groups ... forcing you to drag the shutter and lose control of the ambient mix in order to get enough light to into the camera ... the more you drag the shutter the less "clean and pristine" the light quality. Life sucks : -)
    In a perfect world, the real solution is the use of two or three 500 w/s or 600 w/s mono strobes and 60" ribless umbrellas ... There is a reason that you NEVER see a fashion shooter or commercial shooter using speed-lights or even bare bulb units: Light quality and fast recycle. Add stands that can go high enough to fire down on the groups and you have that control with "clean and pristine light that you can place for effect. Unfortunately, a perfect world is hard to come by ... and is an almost impossible solution without an assistant. Everything is bigger, heavier, and the Monos require a mains outlet and usually some long extension cords. Alternative use of batteries for these monos make the over-all kit even more unwieldily.
    Here's a simple example of two bare bulb units on stands fired into white ribless umbrellas that produce a touch of specular light but soft enough for people shooting. The lighting ratio was at one-to-one, but I moved the right light a bit closer and behind the subject and feathered it to add a touch of dimensional rim lighting on the subject while lighting some of the background. Sony A900 @ 1/80th, 85/1.4 @ f/5.
    00WPRb-242225584.jpg
     
  39. Here's another in B&W where I moved the left light closer and the right light further away to create a more dramatic lighting effect.
    00WPRi-242225784.jpg
     
  40. OK, post mortem. Here's the real photo.
    [​IMG]
    Settings:
    • ISO 400, 1/45th sec, f/4.5. I did double-check with my depth of field calculator beforehand to confirm that this would give me enough depth of field.
    • Used the 21mm lens.
    • Main flash (the Metz) was on the bracket, extended about 1 1/2 ft above the camera. This flash was angled forward toward the group about 45°, with Demb card and my extra-long extender card. Flash was in M mode, power 1/1.
    • Second flash (the Pentax 540) was slightly off to the side, on a light stand about 8 ft high, with its three-legged base partly in the aisle and partly in a pew. This flash was in M at 1/1, as well, although the Pentax's full power is lower than the Metz's. This flash was pointed slightly forward but basically aimed up at the ceiling. No card or other modifier.
    I took Nadine's suggestion and stood on a short stool. You can kind of see that I'm shooting down at the group.
    I think the lighting is definitely better than in my earlier shot. My practice yesterday and today helped. So did all the excellent suggestions I got in this thread.
    *
    Unfortunately, it's not all good news. I didn't get a chance to hear Nadine's opinion that the 21 wasn't a good idea before I had to leave for the church. Knowing the 21 would give me a little more depth of field, and get me a little closer to the group and THEREBY give me a little more light, I decided to go with the 21. I'm glad that the distortion isn't too significant a problem. (If you think I'm wrong about that, don't tell me. )
    There was a problem, though. The Pentax 21 limited is a wonderful lens—but it's one of Pentax's pancakes. I won't explain why but I decided at the start of the event to manual focus everything, which is what I did throughout the ceremony. I was shooting the Mass with a Sigma 105 on my main camera, which has a Katz-Eye screen; focusing was easy and effective. The other camera was using the Sigma 28 for most of the Mass. I didn't switch to the 21 until just before the formals. And I didn't have time to ask myself if I should stick with manual focus. Bottom line: it's hard to focus the 21 manually, at least in these circumstances. I took my several shots, then announced to the parents that they could take their shots. While they did, I chimped my photos and saw that they weren't well focused. So I apologized to the bishop and asked for another shot. Used auto-focus. Shot was acceptably focused. I feel really bad about the girl scratching her nose in the front row.
    *
    Final note about timing and the light stand.
    As the Mass was drawing to a close, I took the 105 off my main camera and replaced it with the 21. I attached the bracket and main flash to the main camera. I attached the other flash to the stand. I was ready to go before the end of the Mass. EVEN SO, I kept everybody waiting. I don't really know how this happened. The woman who was shepherding the children apparently had them turn around at the back of the church after the recessional and march right back in. I thought I was in great shape and looked over and noticed that the children and the bishop were in place waiting for me.
    Getting the stand from my position at the front of the church (off to the left of the group photo), through the crowds of parents, to the main aisle, was, well, difficult, bordering on downright dangerous. I should NOT have opened the stand before positioning it. I should also have had an assistant to carry the stand, because carrying it AND carrying the camera with bracket was extraordinarily awkward.
    The stand, once placed, did not get knocked over, but it's only because my guardian angel took pity on me. There were parents all over the place. I practically got knocked off my little stool.
    Still, I DID IT. Badly, and at risk of injury to myself, the equipment, and possibly somebody else, but thank goodness, nothing bad happened, and I'll be smarter next time. I think an assistant is probably essential here. I would need to know beforehand which pew to place the stand in, and have the assistant move the stand there and set it up IMMEDIATELY after the service is concluded. And then stay with the light stand to keep people from trying to walk through the pew and climb around it.
    Thanks again to everybody. I haven't had a chance to digest Marc Williams' thoughtful post and will reply to it later, perhaps tomorrow.
    Live and learn.
    Will
     
  41. Aside from the focusing issues you encountered forcing you to rush to correct that ... the final image is underexposed. The darks are not separated, and the last row of people is underexposed even a little more, and underexposure creates a muddy over-all color especially for skin tones which is difficult to fix in post. This reinforces my assertion that with inaquate light output you end up fighting one problem after another. A bit more shutter drag would have helped here, but I don't know what the ambient was like so that's pure speculation.
    Here's an old old example of a big group shot in a cave of a venue ... literally no decent level of light because this is a historic landmark church and lighting is kept to a minimum. Not only that ... the front pews are very close to the altar. So I had to use a 16mm to get everyone in ... which introduces a whole other set of issues in terms of distortion ... especially with the poorer quality 16-35/2.8 zoom I was using then.
    Canon 1Ds @ ISO 400 using 1/100th shutter, 16-35/2.8 @ f/20 (to get the background in focus ... at 16mm, should have been f/8 with a lower ISO) ... and two 500 w/s Photogenic monos with 60" umbrellas. The right strobe was set a 1/2 stop or so hotter because on the men's side there is always more darks.
    BTW, with more light you can stop down more and being able to stop down more mitigates any focus errors when in a rush. Can't tell you how many times f/8 or 11 saved the day with big group : -)
    00WPYz-242289584.jpg
     
  42. Marc Williams writes: "Aside from the focusing issues you encountered forcing you to rush to correct that ... the final image is underexposed. ...
    Agreed.
    "...This reinforces my assertion that with inaquate light output you end up fighting one problem after another. A bit more shutter drag would have helped here, but I don't know what the ambient was like so that's pure speculation."
    Ambient light was lousy, but c'est la guerre. It's not quite that the church is dark, it's that the light is coming from unhelpful locations. Not being able to use flash during the Mass, I shot entirely between ISO 1600 and 3200. The ceiling of the church is white wood, but pretty high.
    *
    I understand that I need more light.
    But I am also certain that I'm not deploying the equipment I have as effectively as it could be deployed, in this situation. I say "in this situation," because in a more controlled environment where I have more time—for example, in my home studio—I do a much better job. I'd even say that, sometimes, I've actually had pretty good results with the formal group photos: the problem there is, I'm not sure what I did to get better results.
    I have more lights than I used last night. I could have deployed three, even four flash units, if I'd known what to do with them and had time to set them up. I could have used reflectors (I have 'em) and/or umbrellas (have a number of those, too). I'm inspired by the work of folks like y'all who have helped me in this thread. (Truly, I am.) But I am also, well, not so much inspired, but motivated by, on the one hand, the excellent work of other photographers who I know are not using equipment better than my own, and also by stuff I read like Joe McNally's Hot-Shoe Diaries, where he seems to be able to light anything (including a jet plane) using speedlights.
    Anyway, it's clear to me that, to continue to get better with wedding and event photography, I need to be able (a) to analyze the challenge in front of me more accurately and (b) more quickly, and (c) use the equipment I have to its best effect. When I feel I've reached THAT point, then it will be time for me to consider stepping up to bigger, better lights. (Although I don't rule out buying another Metz sooner rather than later.)
    *
    Now that I've had a chance to sleep on it, and to come back this morning and look at the photos with coffee in hand, here's my take.
    Don't laugh but the first thought that occurs to me is that a third light would have been a good idea—at least it could not have hurt. I could have placed it behind the group or off to the side or even behind me, on a tall stand. Bounced off ceiling if close enough, or pointed towards the group. With the help of an assistant I could have that up quickly.
    The next thing that occurs to me is that, if I'm shooting a portrait, I never use direct flash the way I used it for this group. I'm always bouncing, or placing the flash at an angle. It's not the diffusion that I'm thinking of, it's more the contrast. Having my main flash on the camera pointed right at the group, definitely produces a flat look. Actually I didn't have it pointed RIGHT at them: I had the flash head angled, and was using my Demb + cardboard reflector to push some of the light forward. Only a small difference. Anyway, what I would do next time (and this is inline with John Deerfield's suggestion) is have the main, more powerful light off-axis; and use the weaker flash on the bracket as fill or secondary light.
    I could also have shot at ISO 560 or even 800 and wish I had done so.
    *
    After I get through the next couple of weeks I'll have the time to go back into a church, perhaps with the help of some of my daughter's friends, and do some more practicing. If there's a simple formula for easy excellence here, it's eluded me. It seems that practice (and experience) are necessary.
    A THOUSAND THANKS again to everybody, especially Nadine, John and Marc.
    Will
     
  43. John Deerfield writes:
    I don't know much about the Pentax camera, but if it can do ISO 800 well, I would use that instead of 400. How big of a print do you think anyone will want?
    Yes, I could have gone to 800. Perhaps should have.
    Nobody will order a print of the group shot larger than 8"x 10" (I'm pretty sure). I have had orders for 20"x30" in the past and have printed a number of my own shots at that size with very satisfying results, but those were natural-light photos, I think, without exception.
    *
    "I agree that the Flip-It won't be of much use. If using a flash on the camera, a Sto-fen style diffuser is your best bet."
    Ah, well, next time. I'm always worried about the light loss with the Sto-Fen Omnibounce. Upon reflection (no pun intended) I think I see—at least I can imagine—that pointing a Sto-Fen'd flash more or less directly at the subjects might do a better job than trying to bounce of the ceiling and in the process losing a lot of power.
    For your amusement, here's a photo of my camera rig, showing the Demb + taped on cardboard reflector-extender.
    [​IMG]
    I put it on a tripod here just so I could take the photo. Remember, I was standing on a footstool while using this, with an angry mob of parents seething right behind me. Okay there wasn't a lot of anger. But there was some seething, I'm sure of it.
    *
    "Since you must be able to operate the 2nd flash wirelessly, I would put that on a light stand, as high as you can and point it down towards the group from, from camera right (or left I suppose), no diffuser. Use the on-camera flash for fill to help soften any shadows."
    Yep, that's what I will do next time.
    *
    "Flash should freeze any movement @ 1/45th, but a tripod never hurts."
    Motion, thank goodness, doesn't seem to have been one of my problems. The church was dark enough that any minor fidgeting outside the flash's duration was lost. As for camera shake, that's not much of a problem, either. I normally DO use a tripod at weddings and in other circumstances where I have the time to work properly. But one strength of the Pentax cameras is in-body shake reduction that is quite effective. And of course, the shorter the focal length the less likely shake is to be a problem. I don't much like to go below 1/30th sec even with a wide-angle lens but I have occasionally shot handheld at weddings (without flash, when I really had to) down to 1/8th sec and gotten nice sharp photos. So I could almost certainly have gone to 1/30th sec here.
    I use a tripod when I can not so much to stabilize the camera (as that isn't a large problem for me) as for two other reasons: so I can LOOK at the group while I shoot; and so I can compose the shot carefully and then have it stay put. One problem I do have when I shoot handheld is that I myself may, without realizing it, move slightly from one shot to the next. Last night, in one of the group shots, I cut off the toes of the kids in the front row.
    *
    Thanks again, John. I'm still intrigued by your two-flashes-on-one-bracket idea. Have not yet figured out how to make that work. Do you put one flash in the hot shoe and the other on the bracket arm, and connect them via a cable?
    Will
     
  44. William- you could make that shot look a bit better in post. Don't be afraid of the Fill Light & Blacks sliders (in Cam. RAW) to bring some detail in the shadows back. It'll definitely help the bricks too. I'd bring down those prayer shawls too- either with the Exposure slider, Recovery slider, or Parametric curve. It's not great, but this took about 2 secs. I think if you work with it some more, you could get a more acceptable result.
    I think the biggest problem with this shot is the frontal light. It just blasts everything. Those prayer shawls and the stairs reflect everything they get hit with right back into the camera with the way it's set up.
    00WPej-242345584.jpg
     
  45. Señor: Thanks for the note. Yeah, I will work on the photo for a minute or two today in Lightroom 3 and I expect I'll do it a bit of good. I posted it last night after getting home, and without a lot of thought about post-processing.
    But more and more, my goal really is to TRY to get things as close to right as possible at the time of capture. Because as I get more work, I find myself hating the time I spend in front of the computer more and more.
    Will
     
  46. Sounds like the root of your problem is that you're shooting formals in the church right after the ceremony, where there is going to be pressure to move on to the reception on the part of bride and groom and guests, and maybe from the minister either to clear the church for the next wedding or because he doesn't like his church being used as a photo set. Others have suggested doing some of the formals ahead of time. You could also do the formals afterward at the reception location. Depending on the venue, you might be able to grab a separate room where you can set up your lights and even backdrops and make sure everything is all set before you drag anybody in. Or the same out in the venue's garden, etc. I don't do weddings any more but at most weddings I've been to recently, doing formals at the reception seems to be more common than at the church.
     
  47. Craig S. writes:
    Sounds like the root of your problem is that you're shooting formals in the church right after the ceremony.... [A]t most weddings I've been to recently, doing formals at the reception seems to be more common than at the church.
    Well, I would like to be able to say that my only problem is that I'm being pressured. But as I said earlier, I feel like I need (a) to be able to analyze the lighting problems better and (b) analyze them and respond more quickly. The pressure issue only comes in with (b), but dealing with (b) comes only after I've licked (a).
    I do in fact do much better in smaller rooms. Actually, at my own home, where I practice a lot, in my own large living room, I AM AN AMAZING PHOTOGRAPHER! <g> I have bright windows with oblique sun, a beautiful sky light, and the rest is white walls and ceiling to bounce light around. If only I could get all my clients to come over to my house for the formals, I could be a contender.
    And I would like to do more group shots at the reception. I have done this a little already, sort of by accident, and the results were better than I expected, so I'm now suggesting this to brides.
    However, there's no getting around the church formals in every case. Everybody's there. Corralling everybody later at the reception sounds like it presents a different set of logistical problems. The priest or minister is often not at the reception.
    And I have always shot a lot of church and school events that aren't weddings and don't have receptions afterwards. Last night's was a Confirmation. The kids were were there, the bishop was there, and that was where the shot was, so I had no choice in the matter. I want to be able to get better at that kind of shot even if I figure out a way to take it less often.
    Thanks,
    Will
     
  48. William--considering everything, I think your final image looks pretty good. I think it is a bit underexposed, but you can work with it in post and even out the back row lighting. I also think you could drag the shutter more. But you got the job done. Besides the girl touching her nose, what about the boy in the back row whose face is hidden, though? Maybe you have another one that you can use to graft him in? Or of her (without the nose touch), to graft her in?
    I am not sure what to make of your grappling with group photo issues. I am wondering why you didn't just bring an umbrella, or two units and used either the key/fill or one on each side set up. Either one, with lights set high to try to offset the difference in back row/front row exposure, would be 'nicer' than just frontal light, or at least, more even. I don't see too much evidence of the off camera flash.
    Maybe there are two other parts you may want to think about that don't have a lot to do with gear or lighting. First would be people management, which involves anticipating and planning to make your job easier, and second would be standardizing on gear, with several choices of options in lighting, and having everything worked out for efficiency and fast set up and breakdown.
    For instance, you mention parents swarming around you--why? If this happenend I would make them all sit down or at least clear the aisle until I got my shots and then I'd turn them loose with their cameras. I would also tell the guy in the background to move (nicely of course). I understand you had to shoot twice, for the focus issue. I would not have decided to manual focus, or at least, if I did, I would have reverted to my old ways with wide angle lenses, which is to double check myself with the distance scale. In any case, this brings me to my next point, which is having an efficient plan that works (isn't an experiment or untried).
    As stated above, it would have taken me maybe 5 minutes to set up my key light in my big umbrella (set up in the back during the ceremony, but everything closed for transport to the front after). Then open up my stool or ladder and tripod, take one test shot. Without posing time, I would have been ready in maybe 8-10 minutes. I would not be rattled by seeing the kids ready. Standardize on one or two methods that you know will work quickly.
     
  49. "I would not have decided to manual focus, or at least, if I did, I would have reverted to my old ways with wide angle lenses, which is to double check myself with the distance scale. In any case, this brings me to my next point, which is having an efficient plan that works (isn't an experiment or untried)."
    Oh, I agree absolutely with that. It was precisely in service to this goal that I was up at the church the two previous afternoons trying to come up with a better approach. This also explains why I didn't use an umbrella this time. I simply have not had an opportunity to practice with them in this setting. I will be practicing with at least one umbrella in the next couple of weeks.
    Using the 21 was simply a mistake—a violation of the rule of doing what I've planned and practiced. Should have stuck with the 28, which is easier to focus manually.
    Thanks again,
    Will
     
  50. I use a RRS Wedding Pro bracket, though I am sure many other brackets will do just fine. Below is a picture of my proposed set up. The shot I showed earlier was from a single flash point behind me (essentially the smaller DB800 in this shot) into a large reflector held by a on-the-spot assistant. You can certainly see some shadows (and proper holding of the reflector would have helped) but the shadows are pretty soft. I am thinking by adding the flash forward as fill, I can soften them even further as well as give me a little extra pop. And, this isn't my preferred set up. Not yet anyway! Just my really fast set up/tear down. BTW, the 2nd flash is simply controlled via the built in wireless system. Which again, I do not like, but it works well enough right beside the commander!
    In your image, I don't think the flash off to the side is doing much. I would have pointed it down on the group instead of the ceiling. Kind of "aiming for just off center, middle row. By aiming down, I am not so much worried about fall off. Now this light will be hard, but guess what, a group this size with shoe mount flashes is going to be hard lit! Then use the Metz forward, but again, I would have just used a Sto-fen diffuser, for ease of use if nothing else. I know I would NOT have shot with the modified Demb in the orientation you show. I have never liked that, I really think it affects the spread and throw of light. In any event, even modified, it isn't going to be all that soft. Hence my use of the quick and simple dome!
    What I love about your description is what is so hard about teaching photography, it often has nothing to do with photography! At some point you just set up as best you can to get any shot.
    Finally, when you do touch it up, I might clone out the guy in the back on the left. No need for that butt to be there!
    00WPig-242383584.jpg
     
  51. John D. writes:
    Below is a picture of my proposed set up.... Just my really fast set up/tear down. BTW, the 2nd flash is simply controlled via the built in wireless system.
    Thanks for the picture. That's kind of what I thought you must be talking about but it's useful to see it. I understand what you're doing and its advantages.
    *
    I would have pointed it down on the group instead of the ceiling. Kind of "aiming for just off center, middle row. By aiming down, I am not so much worried about fall off. Now this light will be hard, but guess what, a group this size with shoe mount flashes is going to be hard lit! Then use the Metz forward, but again, I would have just used a Sto-fen diffuser, for ease of use if nothing else. I know I would NOT have shot with the modified Demb in the orientation you show.
    Well, it was actually tilted a little more forward than it is in the picture of my bracket set-up. But I understand your point.
    *
    Finally, when you do touch it up, I might clone out the guy in the back on the left. No need for that butt to be there!
    Not my strong point but I've done this already. :)
    *
    Thanks,
    Will
     
  52. This has got to be one of the most interesting threads I've read in a long time.
    Thank you William for walking us through your experience. I for one have learned from it.
     
  53. RT: Glad somebody else found it valuable. I know I learned a lot. So far, I'm afraid that it's still in the form of what Aristotle might call potential knowledge, that is, it's knowledge that isn't yet know-how. But I certainly have a bunch of things to ponder, and practice.
    Will
     
  54. Since we're turning this into an educational/sharing thread, I'm posting an example of my large umbrella formal plus how I have my Sunpak 120j for wide spread inside the umbrella--that is my low tech cheat sheet pasted to the head). The specs are ISO 400, f7.1, 1/25th, using my funny tripod, and my 46" umbrella (didn't have the 60" yet). Looking back, I should have gelled the flash, because wood is very reddish, plus tungsten ambient lighting. I won't lie and say this image hasn't been worked with to even out color temperature and light spread, but the increments for light spread aren't that big.
    I put the bride on the right, facing the group because of her asymmetrical gown and broach on her left side. I would have corrected a couple of things but in the rush, these small details get by. Those things are--woman in white jacket's shoulder should be in front of person in the back's arm, and bride should be holding her flowers a bit lower and possibly with two hands.
    I happened to have my large umbrella out today to test something, and took some readings, in case it helps anyone. My Sunpak 120j at 1/2 power gives f5.6 and 2/3 at 10 feet (from the umbrella inside surface), ISO 400. If you have an on camera fill at approximately 1:3 ratio, your final aperture will be 1/3 to 1/2 stop smaller, meaning, with the above, your final exposure will be approximately f8. Light is additive so if you are dragging the shutter a lot, that will figure in too.
    I then tested my 580EX at full power (1/1) inside the umbrella, with the wide angle diffuser pulled out for maximum light spread. It tested f5.6 and 1/3.
    00WPrO-242463584.jpg
     
  55. Never mind, I see the photo now. Wasn't there for a few secs.
     
  56. " .... for example, in my home studio—I do a much better job. I'd even say that, sometimes, I've actually had pretty good results with the formal group photos: the problem there is, I'm not sure what I did to get better results."
    Me too William. What is probably a contributing factor to better results in your in-home studio is that the lights are closer, and the light is bouncing around in a smaller environment (unless you live in a church : -).
    Nadine, your set-up example is pretty much how I use a bare bulb and an umbrella. I don't have the "L" bracket, but use an umbrella adapter with a slanted slot that places the bare bulb centered.
    Question for Nadine: your light measure was @ 10'. If you can recall, what was the distance on the photo you posted? From the well placed and well filled drop shadows, it appears the key light was camera right at about 8' high or so? Also, what was the mm of the lens used?
    This is not to question anything, your results speak for themselves. However, I am just now reconfiguring my lighting kit and am trying to mitigate any need to even out light-spread and color temps on formals because to be truthful I hate post work on group shots. If you have a lot of groups, it's a real time hole in front of the computer, and eliminating that work is now my quest, with getting it right in the camera the goal. I understand that the work on your example may have been minor, but we all know there are times when it isn't minor because of complex ambient conditions ... not unlike those described by William in this thread.
    I know this thread is more focused on basics per William's inquiry, which has been covered quite well so far. However, we all deal with this as a fact of life, and I truly believe this is one aspect where one can separate themselves from the growing number of less experienced shooters competing for wedding jobs.
    Yes, there is ample evidence the speed-lights are okay ... yet, it still seems to me that the lighting in rarely clean and pristine when dealing with larger groups ... and most group-shot lighting tends to look a bit cookie-cutter and frankly "old-fashioned" looking compared to some of the stuff I've been researching recently ... (which, I admit, may be all anyone actually wants). For example, Ben Rubenstein (who used to post here frequently), recently over-hauled his lighting and I found it jaw dropping in quality.
    So, while I have been a propionate of dragging the shutter in past, I am now seriously questioning that practice with-in the context of this off-camera lighting thread. I've been following some threads on other forums that is trending toward a fresher look to the lighting scenarios for weddings ... and to my eye, they are much better looking right out of the camera.
    Also, there is a growing practice amongst some wedding shooters to get mobile with off-camera lighting for smaller groups and single subject posed work. However, this requires light modifiers not readily available for speed light use ... like beauty dishes used on a hand-held boom arm using an assistant. The results are absolutely stunning.
    I think this may be happening because more commercial and fashion shooters are now doing weddings due to the poor economy ... but I like the influence they seem to be bringing to the party.
     
  57. I wrote,
    " .... for example, in my home studio—I do a much better job. I'd even say that, sometimes, I've actually had pretty good results with the formal group photos: the problem there is, I'm not sure what I did to get better results."
    And Marc responded:
    "Me too William. What is probably a contributing factor to better results in your in-home studio is that the lights are closer, and the light is bouncing around in a smaller environment (unless you live in a church : -)."
    Woops, there's a small misunderstanding here, which is my fault. I meant to say that (a) in my home studio, where I'm in completely control and have the time to work and where the conditions don't change, I can do pretty well, and (b) EVEN IN CHURCHES AT PAST WEDDINGS I've sometimes done a good job. I failed to make it clear that I was switching from home studio to church weddings there.
    I know why things work well in my home studio. I'm not so sure why I've had sometimes had reasonable success with group formals in churches in the past. I have, in the last day, looked back at some old photos and ruminated a little. I can think of a couple reasons that MIGHT explain things.
    First—and this is a caution for others who might be in my position—in the past, as I was shooting my first weddings, I tended to keep things simple: One flash, on the camera, in P-TTL, end of story. I think to some extent, the problems I encountered this week come from trying something new and (I hope) better, but not yet being able to do it well. I see this kind of thing happen a lot, not just in my own experience but in the experience of others. People buy a new DSLR, shoot raw, and then complain that their pictures aren't as good as they used to be with their point and shoot. People who've been shooting with on-board flash pointed forward start trying to bounce and start missing lots of shots; etc. I know the solution to this problem: Practice.
    Second, at least one of the weddings I shot last year was a mid-afternoon summer wedding on a bright sunny day in a church with lots of windows, bright white interior walls, and a relatively low ceiling. Actually, I could almost have shot the formals in that case without flash at all. At another wedding out in the country, the formals were done in the living room of the rancher, with the groups backed up to the fireplace. I think I used only one flash there, too, but it was a small room, with low ceilings. I think I dialed in +2 FEC, then just turned the flash around and bounced it off the wall behind me. In other words, the situation was pretty similar to shooting in my own living room, where I do a lot of basic practice.
    *
    Trying to get better, means greater challenges, and that means the opportunity for greater failures at least as first.
    My first several weddings, I shot formals with one flash. I can't remember but I probably had the camera in Av and the flash in P-TTL. Had the normal problems you get with hot-shoe flash but the approach was fairly reliable.
    Then I began to add a second flash using Pentax's optical triggering system. An advantage of the optical triggering system is that it allows me to keep using P-TTL metering, in other words, I can set my exposure on the camera in M, and then let the system calculate the right flash output for the scene. Far from perfect—that's why I have kept trying to learn something new and better—but it would be more than fair to say that the P-TTL system was smarter than I was, and the results were sometimes not bad.
    Then last year I broke down and started using radio triggers, which meant that I now had a lot more flexibility about where I placed the lights. And suddenly, I opened myself up to a whole new range of mistakes, a couple of which were on display here.
    Will
     
  58. Will,
    Your experience describes many of us. I am now "fumbling" with 2 off camera strobes and 1 on camera fill flash. TTL seems to work itself out a lot of times but then you go with wireless triggers/manual flash it just gets harder outside the studio. Heck, even Nadine has a cheat sheet on that Sunpak of hers so I don't feel so bad. (Assuming that's not her dry-cleaning receipt of course.)
     
  59. Marc--The umbrella was probably about 10-12 feet from the subjects. The focal length was 30mm, and you are right--the key light was 8' high, camera right. This was with my 46" umbrella. I recall I was a little closer than I normally like, due to the pews. I like to put my umbrella more like 12-14 feet for better coverage on bigger groups, and use focal lengths more like 35m. I will post my unmodified image (save for general white balance and sharpening). You realize you're making me reveal all my warts. :^)
    You will see the orange tungsten light on the left side, and I did some light spread tweaks, so the girl on the right isn't as bright, although she has pale skin anyway, the boys behind her have brighter faces, and the back row is a bit brighter. I work with Lightroom, and the white balance tweak and light spread tweak could have been handled with the graduated filter and then applied to all.
    What are the fresher looks you are talking about? Anything we can see? I've seen some beauty dish shots, even outside, and they are nice. I wouldn't say it was anything radically different though. Since I work alone, always have, it would take something really, really stunning for me to consider hiring a human light stand. I suppose the Hollywood Lighting style could be a selling point, but probably not for my clientele. Still, can't say until I see it. Got any links?
    00WQ6h-242629584.jpg
     
  60. Forgot to add, it would have helped to gel the flash, and I only pulled the exposure up .10 stops for the above. the biggest problem was the difference in white balance from the left to right. That was pretty deep shutter drag--maybe 1.5 to 2 stops underexposed from ambient, but everyone is sharp--there is no motion blur or handholding shake.
     
  61. I just attended a Joe Mc Nalley seminar on Friday for location lighting. It was fantastic what he could do using only Nikon flashes and an assortment of reflectors, large stand mounted and hand held shoot through diffusers, softboxes, shoot through umbrellas and a whole bunch of sb 900's and accessories. He did things that are not possible with the Canon system. Too bad for me. The effects could be recreated with a little extra effort and conventional flash and some practice. If you get a chance to attend one of his seminars it is well worth it. It really gets you thinking in a different way about lighting. I am wondering what a 3x6 shoot through diffuser with three high powered shoe mount flashes held up high by an assistant for all the formals would look like. Something like that could be used outside for fill also. He also does some great stuff with high speed sync and shallow DOF outdoors. Definitely worth checking out. He has a trial and error method of getting to the right lighting, which appealed to me.
     
  62. John, you confirm both of the things I had concluded from McNally's book "Hot Shoe Diaries." It's an interesting book but less practical (I'm trying not to say "less useful" although that's kind of what I'm thinking) than Neil van Niekerk's book on on-camera light. Anyway the two things I'd concluded from McNally's book were (1) that the Nikon CLS can do some pretty nifty stuff that I certainly can't do with my Pentax system, and (2) that he spends a fair bit of time setting up for his shoots. In other words, he's facing different challenges with different equipment and meeting them in a different way.
    Still I found the book pretty interesting, even inspiring. (Upon reflection I decided I could use that word.)
     
  63. Nadine asked: "What are the fresher looks you are talking about (Marc)? Anything we can see?"
    Sure Nadine, and I'll even keep it close to home .... my former assistant Marcin Harla, whom has now inspired me to get off my behind and start lighting weddings more professionally. Sorry, I don't know how to insert a link on P.net, so here is his URL:
    www.marcinharla.com
    I just spent the afternoon with Marcin and asked him how he works to get these results. Frankly, I was amazed at the transition he had made in his work in a very short time. His answer was simple ... he stopped using on-camera flash (except for occasional fill when shooting candids), never uses speed lights for off-camera ... and started lighting like we do for commercial or fashion assignments. You had mentioned "Hollywood" type lighting Nadine, and some of Marcin's work came to mind. It has literally changed his cliental base overnight, and Marcin is now a young, wealthy photographer ... (assuming money is still a motivator for some of us : -)
    Marcin uses one assistant ... his wife. Generally it's one or two lights ... much of which is done with a Monopod mounted strobe and a battery to provide mobility ... he frequently uses a 1' X 4' strip light or a beauty dish. It's not really all that hard when you analyze the posed work using off-camera lighting on his site. Marcin was frank with me, the posed stuff, lit like that, is what transformed his wedding business into a profit machine. It also fueled a huge leap in portrait assignments from which he now makes more from than from weddings.
    Now, this may not be everyone's cup of tea. Yet, it is hard to argue with success (even in a depressed market like here in Detroit), and it isn't the same old thing we see over and over and over. There is a certain celebration of beauty where a client spends a fortune to be a celebrity for at least a day and looks like it in the photographs. Couple that with some insightful candids using ambient like Jeff Ascough does, and that's quite a thing to offer someone ... or perhaps at least something inspirational for some here to strive for.
    Message to William. Just a consideration for you to think about ... IMO and experience, you can by-pass the struggle with speed lights and not worry if Nikon or Canon lighting sytems may be better than your Pentax system. Which camera, or how old it is, becomes irrelevant when you free yourself from the "little lights". Besides, how many SB 900s would you have to set up to equal a single, well placed strobe? How much does 4 or 5 modern speed lights cost? ... how much work is it to set up all those lights and tear them down? How much work are you willing to do in post to fix what the lighting should have done in the first place?
    I think there are a lot of shooters fixated on using speed lights that is fueled by photographers that make money by promoting that concept. I will say it again (related to the style of posed photography), in my long career as an art director, I have never once seen a commercial or fashion photographer use speed lights ... If they could, and it worked as good or better, they would ... but they don't.
    At least just think about it. (BTW, there are solutions that don't cost an arm or a leg either).
     
  64. I think there are a lot of shooters fixated on using speed lights that is fueled by photographers that make money by promoting that concept. I will say it again (related to the style of posed photography), in my long career as an art director, I have never once seen a commercial or fashion photographer use speed lights ... If they could, and it worked as good or better, they would ... but they don't.

    At least just think about it. (BTW, there are solutions that don't cost an arm or a leg either).
    Marc,
    Thanks for hanging in there with me. I really do appreciate it.
    I take it that your basic idea is, a single big (powerful) light could be used to illuminate an entire big space more simply and more effectively than several puny hot-shoe flash units. Is that about right?
    I'm not sure that what's right for commercial photography—or even for studio portrait photography—is what's right for on-the-fly wedding photography. BUT I AM VERY WILLING TO CONSIDER IT. I am also already thinking very hard about the whole "on the fly" idea, in fact, I'm pretty close to chucking this idea altogether. It's pretty clear that I get better results when I work more deliberately.
    I think we event photographers have to balance a number of considerations: portability, setup speed, reliability, results, and of course, costs. I am almost inclined to say that each of these is about equal in importance. There's a final consideration that somebody in my position has to consider, which is, well, I'm not sure how to describe this factor. Readiness, I guess, comes close. There are some serious photographic challenges that I'm pretty well up to. Unfortunately, this isn't one of them. So I don't want to make the mistake of jumping from my current lightweight approach (tripod, camera, and a couple of radio-triggered flashes) to, you know, something that is closer to what a NYC fashion photographer would use to shot a cover for Vogue. In other words, I don't want to overreach myself. I like to take things one—or at most, two—steps at a time.
    With that in mind... You say that there are solutions that don't cost too much. I'd be grateful if you or somebody could suggest some specifics. My ability to be seriously interested at the moment will be inversely proportional to the cost. I think I'd also be most interested in something that works on batteries, if that's feasible. If it's not, it's not.
    I know how to search at B&H or Adorama. My problem is that I don't know how to evaluate the search results. So a recommendation with a detail or two would be tremendously helpful. Many thanks,
    Will
    P.S. We have a good used camera equipment store here in Dallas (Don's Photo Equipment) and they carry a fair bit of used lighting stuff. I would probably start by visiting them, but as I said, I need to have an idea what I'm looking for.
     
  65. Hi William.
    I don't think that the suggestion is to equip ourselves like an NY Fashion studio that faces all kinds of scenarios. The notion is to learn from them as applied to what we have to accomplish ... and at least consider that tools other than shoe-mount type speed lights may be more appropriate. It is meant to discuss other possibilities before acting.
    Often, that can be a fairly simple set up when it comes to groups ... as demonstrated by Nadine's posted example ... one light set camera right, 8' high as key, and another light in-line with the camera for shadow fill. That Nadine uses a Sunpak 120J bare bulb flash does help here as it is a little bit more powerful, and bare bulbs tend to more evenly distribute light with-in an umbrella compared to a speed light, (as demonstrated how she has the bare bulb set into the umbrella in her demo photo).
    Now, if one wanted to increase their control over different lighting scenarios we may face at a wedding, then we could look at increasing the versatility of the tools themselves rather than trying to push a less capable tool designed for something else.
    For example, using Nadine's scenario ... if the light on the stand was just a 400 watt second (w/s) strobe head, and the 120J was the flash set in-line with the camera for shadow fill instead of being the key light ... more possibilities then make themselves available. First off, strobe heads are much more powerful and even more efficient than a bare bulb when used with an umbrella or soft-box. The strobe tubes are round with inner bounce reflectors and there are outer shaping reflectors designed for umbrellas ... and you just slide-in the umbrella until the modeling light shows that it has reached the full edge of the umbrella.
    To put it in simple numbers, a Canon 580EX-II is probably around 90 to 100 w/s (if even that) when set to manual full power and the 580EX's reflector set to cover a 40" umbrella ... compared to a simple modern 400 (true) w/s strobe head which also more efficiently uses that 400 w/s. That translates into more light getting back to the camera so you can stop down more, use a lower ISO, or use a larger umbrella for broader distribution of more light.
    This also doesn't take into account all of the light modifiers available for a strobe head compared to a speed light.
    As to set up and tear down, it's the same amount of gear ... but the strobe head and one battery of course will be bigger. I use a small roller bag I bought used for $40. for mine.
    One place to just start looking is Alien Bees.
    My solution is a 400 w/s Elinchrom Ranger Quadra which is pretty darned small for what it can do. Not as inexpensive as Alien Bees but rather than spend more money on cameras and lenses I figure the biggest bang for the buck will come in upgrading the location lighting for weddings.
    Again, this isn't meant to convince anyone of anything ... just to offer up alternatives to consider before committing to one approach or the other.
     
  66. Marc writes,
    ... Again, this isn't meant to convince anyone of anything ... just to offer up alternatives to consider before committing to one approach or the other.
    NO, of course, I understand that nature of your suggestions completely but I greatly appreciate it.
    When I can, I try to contribute answers here as payback for all the terrific answers I've gotten myself. And this has certainly been one of the very best threads I've ever had the pleasure of starting. Thanks again to Marc, Nadine (as always!), John and everybody else for your quite varied but all thought-provoking suggestions.
    Will
     
  67. Marc--I do think Marcin's work is excellent. I see the magazine and fashion influence and it all works wonderfully. I am not, however, sure that the use of big lights makes 'that' much difference in the freshness. Don't get me wrong--I like my parabolic reflectors and bigger power over shoemount flashes, but beyond a certain point, it is more about how the subjects are handled. Some of his work reminds me of Ed Pingol's, who is a local (to me) shooter who uses shoemount flashes. I think he uses 2 580EXs on a light stick, womaned by his wife. The two flashes are for faster recycling, used at 1/2 power each. I think he has begun experimenting with small softboxes, although I'm not sure about this.
    I can see the slight difference in light quality from a beauty dish or parbolic reflectors or softbox, but the difference is small. I've always used my off camera flash on a stand and carried it around. At first it was a Vivitar, then a Norman 200B, then my Sunpak 120j. The latter does quite well outside against bright sun, but of course, you can't have too much power. I know people who use a larger beauty dish outside, even against bright sun, with big flashes, because the knock over factor is less costly (it just gets dented). Sometimes, I can see the very even light it produces, but many times, I don't, and it looks pretty much like my Sunpak 120j light.

    I've taken to trying to incorporate a home made light stick that is smaller than most and can be clipped to my home made strap, to have handy all the time. I can even put my Sunpak 120j on it, since the latter runs on AAs too. I've also made a home made modifier to mimic a round reflector for my 580EXII (nothing new--like the ABBC and latest Demb reflector) and a home made mini beauty dish that really works--very even light, but of course, not appreciably softer, but more like my 120j light with the regular reflector. I also have a 20" white umbrella that I can Velcro on my shoemount (or 120J). This is so I can have directional light when I can't have a stand (too much wind, no place to put one). It works well but I found my arm is very tired if I have to do an entire formals session (group shots and all) with it (my camera arm, not the light stick arm). Of course, I can't think of a suitable alternative to a 1x4 strip light, although I have a Honl grid for the shoemount.
    In any case, two things. First, one has to evaluate what one wants to accomplish with lighting, and what is necessary in the way of gear to accomplish it. Then how to accomplish it. I probably will never shoot with assistants. I prefer to work alone, actually--the smaller the 'entourage', the better, IMHO, for both clients and me. I don't have to worry about giving directions--just concentrate on what I am going to do and try to stay in the background. About the only time I've ever really, really wished I had an assistant is when I needed to be dropped off and not worry about parking the car. I also think a permanent assistant is different, and a spouse, of course, is very nice, since you could act as one, knowing each other so well (don't have one). But this is my choice. I have selected gear to fit my needs exactly. If I decided I needed more power, I would get it. Or a different modifer, etc.
    A commercial or fashion shooter doesn't use speedlights because they don't work better--but he or she has the luxury of time and command of assistants. Wedding photographers traditionally don't. They can, and some now do, obviously, but the time constraints are still not quite the same, IMHO. I do see the logic of a Hollywood approach on marketing, however, and if it works, it works, can't argue with that. Probably not going to be an approach that works for me, though.
    Second, for group/family formals, I'm OK with keeping things traditional. This is what my clients expect me to do, and I want to do that well. This is why I bother with bringing my church case to church weddings. I need the taller, stronger stand and the larger umbrella--I decided I need them. By the way, I could use the Sunpak 120j on full power, since I attach external battery packs to them, and that would give me another 2/3 stop (don't know why it isn't 1 full stop, like it is supposed to be). I do not see myself using monolights, corded or not. Those make me very nervous (top heavy) in the kind of situation one faces for formals. If I didn't have my Sunpak, I'd get a used Q Flash or revert to my Norman 200B. I have a very low tech (maybe no tech) 'cutter' for it that would bring the flash down in power (it's most serious flaw in this age of high ISO). So far, I haven't wished for a lot more power, and I don't have the kind of time to assemble and carry softboxes.
     
  68. William, I do agree this has been one of the more interesting threads in a while, and thanks for kicking it off with your questions. As I mentioned earlier, I'm hashing all of this over myself and want to make the right next move without wasting any money while improving my product to separate the over-all level of perceived quality from the influx of more shooters entering the market. Lighting is one of the major ways of accomplishing that IMO.
    Nadine, I fully understand your POV, and you have a stable client base that has defined expectations which you have equipped yourself in versatile ways to accomplish. So, a shift in style and what's needed to get there may be a detriment rather than an improvement. My market situation is different ... as a part time wedding shooter in past, I didn't depend on wedding income. Now I do, and I need to ramp up my offerings on a number of levels, one of which is to get the posed and portrait stuff on par with my candid work to make more sales. The question is what is needed to do that? Thus the extended discussion.
    To be honest, I'd be remiss if I didn't say that I do not see the evidence of "little difference" ... my eye sees a difference. I took the time to view Ed Pingol's work, (which is very creative), and to me it looks like speed light work in most cases (not all) ... harsher, sharp drop-off in tonal spread, hot spots, and various stuff like that. That's what I'm trying to escape from. It lacks the subtlety that defines what I see from shooters like Marcin's later posed work.
    Much of it looks over-cooked in post also ... which may be his style (eye of the beholder and all that) ... I know first hand that Marcin (for example) does very little post work. Evidently, those subtleties collectively add up to a more than subtile difference, and aren't lost on some elements of the market given Marcin's raging success in a very short time. I'm sure Ed is very successful also, and his approach is creative, so what he uses may be exactly what he wants to accomplish that ... he IS using off camera lighting which is a vast improvement in any case, and a good lesson for anyone looking to separate themselves from the growing pool of wedding photographers.
    I also understand that if you are strictly working alone, that can become a real driver of what you choose to take with. Yet, if one could ramp up income, an assistant isn't all that expensive ... and besides, we are always talking about teaching beginners on the job, but if we work alone how do you do that? Forums like this are great, but pale in comparison to the real thing.
    I asked Marcin about set up time and what he takes with, and he just shrugged and replied he does what's necessary to get the job done. I asked the same question about timing, and that was yet another difference he had implemented ... he sells quality over quantity ... much the same way I recall Jeff Ascough countered clients requests for copious quantities of photos in his interview here. As an advocate, but admittedly not an effective practitioner, of limiting the rush to stuff as many set-ups and images as possible into a day, I'm struck by the differences in style, but a similarity in being selective as to what and how much is delivered. There is more control and a better sense of optimization of what is really important rather than the all the fluff that no one ever orders, or even looks at after the first time viewing.
    Size of lighting gear is why I'm interested in the small Elinchrom kit I mentioned. A compromise in some respects, but more manageable that traditional strobes ... while increasing my options without being a MacGyver and jerry-rigging various solutions ...which works for some shooters, but has never worked well for me.
    Still thinking about all of it : -)
     
  69. Marc--I certainly see a difference in light quality, but I am not sure that, for me, the difference warrants changing my methods pretty drastically. Ed's work is definitely not the same as Marcin's--didn't mean to say it was, just some of the fashion influence is similar, but his work is done with speedlights and the strobist sensibility, which provides a counterpoint, and why I mentioned Ed's work. I'm not sure the average client can see a difference in the light quality. I would say not, save for some that might be into photography. I would say the client would pay more attention to the images themselves--the style or overall effect--rather than lighting specifics, and the fact that big lights are used over speedlights is not a big factor, given both use off camera flash in creative ways.
    I know that one can pay for an assistant if one charges more to begin with. That isn't the only factor in my liking to be assistant-less. I personally don't like working in a group, I really don't like the 'take over' of photographer and assistant(s) whenever they arrive at a location. It becomes a show, and that's the last thing I want. I like to sink into the background (as much as one can for a person who uses flash), only taking control when I need to. So I only do what I can myself, with my off camera light on a stand and my personal light stick. As you say--less quantity, more quality. I've always done that, which is why I like my 'ramped back' approach. I don't understand the trend, these days to have second and third photographers at weddings.
    As for teaching, I've done my share of that. As I said above, it makes a difference if you have a permanent assistant. I can't see having a stream of new assistants, who all need to be trained to work the way you want them, and who disappear quickly (these days). Then you start all over again.
    It comes down again, to what you want to do, and I can't see you (judging from what I know about you) doing what I do. But we have totally different markets and goals, so that is no surprise. I'm sure you, with your in depth marketing knowledge, will arrive at the perfect method for you.
     
  70. "I would say the client would pay more attention to the images themselves--the style or overall effect--rather than lighting specifics, ..."
    Totally agree with this ... yet it is the lighting effects that contribute heavily to what the client perceives, or what their general take away is from the work. Photography IS lighting ... natural or artificial.
    " ... and the fact that big lights are used over speed-lights is not a big factor, given both use off camera flash in creative ways."
    Yes, as I said above .... the important part is getting the light off-camera if one wants to advance their lighting technique. As to whether what lights you use is a big or small factor is debatable. IMO, the least I'd work with are Bare Bulb(s) ... Like a 120J or Quantum ... similar to what you and other here use, including me.
    "I really don't like the 'take over' of photographer and assistant(s) whenever they arrive at a location."
    Not sure what that means in context to this discussion. Being with or without an assistant doesn't dictate one's demeanor at a wedding shoot. Like you, I work fly-on-the-wall for 85% of my photography. Even with an assistant, clients comment on not being aware of us at all. But posed work is an entirely different matter ... which is what we are discussing in this thread. The photographer's presence is obvious when shooting formal groups and portraits ... whether the photographer's personality is aggressive or not has nothing to do with wether there is an assistant or not.

    "I don't understand the trend, these days to have second and third photographers at weddings."
    While I don't like it, I do understand what has happened to cause this trend. A copious consumption mentality ... ramped up by those offering 2,000 or 3,000 images from a 6 hour wedding. Sometimes Clients send me shot lists which have me in three places at the same time. Of course I educate them ... but sometimes logistics call for a second photographer. The trouble lately is that clients don't want to pay for it and go with a "team" studio if you ask for more to pay the second shooter. I can't afford to subsidize people's weddings anymore by paying a second out of my pocket just to get the work.
    "I can't see having a stream of new assistants, ..."
    I have a different take on this than you do. To start with I am honest with them and let them know they will be carrying bags, parking the SUV, setting up lights, and watching the gear like a hawk. Teaching is mostly done before and after during the ride there and back. The rest is observation on their part. Pay is low because they don't know anything much going in. In this economy, assistants tend to stick around longer ... especially if there is something I can still teach them.
    Back to the lighting subject.
    I'm not sure this is about what you do, or what I do (or want to do). Each of us is obviously different. It's about discussing alternatives ... and most of this thread was about "strobist sensibilities" ... which is the only reason I brought up other ways of solving the problems repeatedly discussed on this forum.
    In some ways, I see the "strobist sensibilities" as not making a whole lot of sense sometimes. Battery driven double speed-lights on a dual bracket with makeshift light modifiers and radio triggers to get to a relatively inefficient light output?
    That's like $900. to $1,200. worth of stuff that doesn't equal one $360., 640 w/s strobe with a $300. battery and $140. worth of CyberSync radio triggers (total = $800.). Not to mention all the light modifiers you can use with the strobe for weddings and portraits.
    I do grasp that one can use their existing speed-lights ... which is the attraction I suppose. Yet that seems like a lot of set-up and necessary tear down, and seems to be punishing duty for those little lights ... many of which now shut down for 10 or 15 minutes if over-used ... been there done that.
    Personally, I LOVE your "Church Bag" notion ... never thought of it quite that way ... it's what is in that bag that I'm questioning.
     
  71. I totally understand and agree with most of what you said. Here are the things you seemed unclear about (what I said).
    1.) I don't agree with the fact that big lights vs. strobist lights would play a huge part in a client's perception (even unconscious perception)--what they take away. I think how the lights are used and how the subjects are shown play a huge part. You and I, and any other photographer, will notice the nicer transitions, etc., from a softbox or beauty dish but not the client. I am talking about generally, not specifically about group formals.
    Shots taken outside at night, or outside in bright light, lit by a softbox or beauty dish, do not, IMHO appear that (there is a difference, I agree) much different from shots lit by speedlights. Of course, I use my 120j outside so I am not advocating speedlite use. A lot of my work is done outside, save for church wedding formals. Typically, I'll ask a bride where she wants her formal, individual shots done, and probably 99 percent of the time, if it isn't raining, she will say, "outside". Plus, speedlight shooters also bounce their flashes inside, although not usually for formals in a large church, for instance. Heck, if there are nice white ceilings and walls, I also bounce my speedlite, even for individual and small group formals.
    So maybe we agree to disagree on this.
    2.) 'Take over' refers to (and I've witnessed this), a wedding photographer arriving with several assistants or second/third shooters. They basically take over the place. It looks like a mini movie set, sometimes complete with walkie talkies and cell phones. I realize it isn't always this extreme, particularly if you have just one assistant, well trained in being discreet and requiring a minimum of talk. My comment has nothing to do with the photographer's demeanor, but the way several bodies are used in a totally non discreet way just to take wedding photos.
    3.) Re assistants coming and going--just my opinion and preference.
    4.) My comment about what you do and what I do was in response to your saying you're looking for/thinking about a suitable lighting kit and method (which, in turn, affects one's marketing, in light of how well Marcin is doing).
    5.) Obviously, I like my parabolic flashes, so I understand your aversion to speedlites and strobist sensibilities for formals, particularly church formals. I see the difference in light quality. I'm not advocating strobist sensibilties but I use some of the techniques--since I work alone, and the techniques help me use off camera light by myself. I use my home made modifiers and they work well for me. However, these are not used for group/church formals, although I might use them for individual and small group formals where I simply had no time to set up my 120j on a stand.
    I believe one of the supposed advantages of using speedlites is high speed sync, etc., and wireless, dedicated triggering. Not an attraction for me. I agree with you. I'd say the bare bulb portables are where I stop, re flash 'level'. And I don't go beyond umbrellas for modifiers on these, since speed is always an issue for me. However, I am looking at the Paul C. Buff foldable softboxes, wishing they had a larger foldable strip box. I'd use these if they are as fast to set up and take down as umbrellas.
    6.) I believe the fact that one has a 'church bag' usually means that what is in the bag isn't strobist gear. My choice of flash is the bare bulb portable, but I require a big stand and won't give up my 60" umbrella. I also bring the front cover to the umbrella, to convert it into an umbrella box. What's in your bag (besides the Ranger)?
     
  72. "6.) I believe the fact that one has a 'church bag' usually means that what is in the bag isn't strobist gear. My choice of flash is the bare bulb portable, but I require a big stand and won't give up my 60" umbrella. I also bring the front cover to the umbrella, to convert it into an umbrella box. What's in your bag (besides the Ranger)?"
    All the other stuff we just differ on and that's fine. We actually don't disagree on many points and it's mostly degree rather than black or white. That you prefer bare bulb is where we do agree ... my interest is whether that can be ramped up without to much consequence.
    So, point 6 is where the meat is IMO ... and is the part I'm investigating for any changes ... balancing amount of gear, set up time and versatility/quality of light, and of course modifier options.
    I'm currently using a Light Caddy ... which is basically a golf cart with wheels and a shoulder sling to carry two 12' A.P.I.C Air cushioned stands (won't surrender my big stand either : -), two 60" white/semi-silver ribless Photogenic Eclipse umbrellas which are also convertible to shoot through, a light stick (A $25. Interfit Strobie Boom arm that extends to 86" with padded grips), a couple of small umbrellas for the light stick like a gold one and a translucent one ... and various accessories in the pouches like radio controls, batteries, etc.
    So in that we are quite in-tune concerning the "church bag" even if the brands differ ... all of which exists for off-camera options.
    So, the only thing different is that I'm "investigating" is the use of a small shoulder slung battery driven Quadra which either provides more power than even 3 Speed lights, or when ramped down to to the level of a speed light @ full power provides a recycle speed of 0.5 seconds without tripping a capacitor limiter like has been happening to me.
    And the kit comes with two tiny heads (8 oz each), that allows use of two stand mounted strobes with asymmetrically distributed power for key and fill when shooting larger groups ... distribution of which is all controlled from the camera using the EL Skyport transmitter so power levels and distribution can be altered without going to the flash unit (the EL Skyport receiver is built into the Quadra pack).
    The light weight head and shoulder slung battery seems perfect for highly mobile light stick work using an assistant.
    IMO, this solution is in-between a bare bulb, and a studio level strobe set up.
    BTW, this doesn't effect my primary style, which is candid and a lot of available light. Just indoor "Church" stuff ... I probably do more inside formals than you because it is crappy here more often than in California : -)
     
  73. "So, the only thing different is that I'm "investigating" is the use of a small shoulder slung battery driven Quadra..."
    Marc,
    Is this what you are talking about?
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Y7vgJaMqjOk
    Will
     
  74. That's it William.
    Pretty dinky huh?
    Yet 400 w/s : -)
    Seems made for off-camera wedding stuff.
     
  75. Yup--looks like a great kit, Marc.
    William--if you wanted approximate equivalent power in a portable kit for less money, older, used Lumedynes and Norman 400Bs would work. You don't get any of the tech features, but you get the power. Inside a modifier and against bright sun with the regular reflector, you'd be fine. Used in a 'church bag', they'd be fine.
     
  76. I arrive at the church 15-30 minutes before I am acheduled to start shooting.. this allows me pleanty of time to setup my stuff and take several 'practice' shots to make sure everything is where and how i want it.. i just have my assistand stand where they willl be standing while doing htis... works great for me and noone is usuall even in there while im doing it, so when they get there everything is ready and they think I did it fast and flawlessly, haha Just like a pro!
     

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