Need advice on a studio shot

Discussion in 'Lighting Equipment' started by sauerwine, Dec 5, 2003.

  1. I've been tasked to do some family shots for someone on a budget. My
    studio experience as far as set-up is pretty limited. (I've always
    shot what my mentor set up, just taking a quick reading to be certain
    things were on base.)

    I have to shoot about 13 people, from 3 years old and up to
    grandparents. I plan on shooing in my garage, which has nice, high
    ceilings. (14 feet). I have to make my own background, and am also
    having trouble finding material that isn't classified as
    a "background," and am searching because i am able to sew it;
    provided seams can be blown out or obscured by exposure. I'd, of
    course, like to buy a background, but they're not paying enough to do
    this.

    I have one brand x (rokunar/soligor) studio strobe, with a good guide
    number; though I forget what it is off hand. It obviously exceeds
    100. It is a powered, non-supply unit, with adjustable output.

    A second strobe is a slave unit, which I've got to fiddle a lot to be
    certain it fires. (A periscope, mirrored slave port) This is
    apparently less than half as powerful as the better strobe. There
    are no power settings on it.

    For umbrellas, I have those (I really do like these) Larson
    Reflecasols (two square and one hex soft-box umbrella.)

    I have an led-style flash meter, with 1/4 stop resolution; and a
    gossen lunapro with a flash head.

    I'll be shooting 35mm negative film.

    I also have slave flash ability with vivtar 283/385 and a Sunpak Pro
    flash...if needed for whatever reason.


    Here are my questions, and if you all have any suggestions, let me
    know!!! I know it'll never be a perfect system, but I'd like to get
    decent results. I know THIS is possible.

    1. What color background would you recommend? Black/white/med tone
    (blue, grey, mauve...) One that gives the least ammount of
    complication.

    2. How do you think I should arrange the strobes/flashes and
    umbrellas?

    3. Do you think it would be smarter in this particular situation to
    go with tungsten lighting and shoot with, say, an 80/81A filter? I
    realize I'd have to buy matching bulbs so that any unfiltered light
    could be printed out at the same filtration across the entire shot.

    4. Should I go with the more modern, but cheaper, meter, or stick
    with the Gossen?

    5. Any artistic advice as far as a group this large is welcome! I
    have a few ideas, and will be surfing the net to look for others, but
    anything you can offer I'd be happy to hear!

    Thanks so much for your time in this!!! The shoot is scheduled for
    December 16th. I'd be glad to post the pics around the first of the
    year, if you'd like to see how your advice worked out!!! :)

    Thanks again!
    -Shawn
     
  2. I really don't understand questions like this and I know people always seem more than willing to come in and answer but I really have to know. Do you realize you're pretty much asking someone to do everything for you except buy the equipment and press the shuttter. The only reason I'm replying is because you mentioned you have a mentor. I would suggest you try and get him to start mentoring you instead of using you as a human cable relase which is what it sounds like. Or maybe it's the student at fault here for not asking more questions. Either way... You're in a position where you can presumably learn a lot for a real life person that you most likely trust to some degree. Not everybody has that so take advantage of it. Unless of course you can't go to him because he wouldn't be too happy that you're branching out on your own already instead of bring business to him.

    What the hell. I'll answer some.

    1. Why do you even need a fabric type backdrop?

    2. Depends on how you pose the people but most likely you'll want a flat even type light

    3. Depends... do you have really weak strobes? Most likely tungsten is not the right way to go. You'd be smarter to tell them to spend the money more wisely in my opinion and wait on you till you have a better grasp of what you're doing. There are photographers to fit various budgets in every market.

    4. I would think that by now you'd have some idea which meter works better for you with your setup.

    5. Look for Monte Zucker's website. I remember he had a lot of different examples of group poses.
     
  3. Well, well!

    This is exactly the kind of attitude that drove me from the studio environment, into the event-driven, retouching and darkroom sector of the business; and away from elitist mentalities like you posess. This is a forum for asking questions, so PLEASE forgive him for asking one that takes some thought. You're just another that likes to blanket everyone with your self-proclaimed superiority; instead of demonstrating the fact that you have the knowledge. This is the same attitude and reason that people like you continually lose business to crappy studios in malls, where the underpaid "cable release" technician treats there customers with respect, a smile, or at the very least; doesn't come off like a stuck-up ass.

    I suggest you leave a place like this, and spend your time trying to impress people in places like the Javitz Center. In any case, perhaps you should consider not taking up bandwidth with such cruddy responses. Chances are huge that your work will never be noticed, regardless of your ability, because others just can't wait to forget you.

    I've spent the last 36 years in every aspect of photography, including a successful studio; and I love every moment of it. I think it shows in how I've chosen to help others, instead of turning them off to what I enjoy doing.

    I'll chose to offer as much advice to him as possible, and in the interest of not "offending" another elitist in this forum thread, I'll send it directly to him instead of posting it.
     
  4. I agree with Tom on this one.<br>This forum is intended for asking questions but I feel that if you need to ask questions on every aspect of this shoot then you're just not ready to take this job on.<p>As for the background choice, surely this depends on the style of shots you want to produce? Do you really need a 'studio background' at all? Do you really need to produce these shots in a studio setting - why not avoid your technical, equipment and knowledge shortcomings by getting some really spontaneous shots outdoors?
     
  5. Shawn, we have an equipment rental place in our area that rents backdrops -
    probably cheaper than making them. You might also offer to rent one from a local
    photographer. Photographers around here often rent from each other to avoid
    buying equipment they don't use often. However, I agree that finding a suitable
    location might be a better option. Good luck.
     
  6. Seamless paper can be used as a background for very little money.A narrow roll can be cut in 1/2 & hung side by side to make this as wide as needed.Keep the people at least 6-10 feet away from the background.A group this big requires pretty flat light(main light near lens axis),or you will throw shadows from person to person.I use a mono light with a 40" umbrella,located either right or left of camera about 4-6 feet off lens axis.I place a small strobe with a diffuser on the opposite side of the camera ,also 4-6 feet from the lens.Both lights are placed a height that will vertically model my subjects,and light the eyes ,and also provide catchlights in the eyes.(If your lights throw shadows inside the eye orbits,lower them).The large umbrella light (key or main)gets set to F11 as does the lens.(I use 400NC Portra).The smaller light(fill) gets set to F5.6.As for posing,try to keep their heads from being side by side.That is, not all at the same height.Also angle people slightly to the camera,only DMV & the Army shoot people with both shoulders equal distance from lens.A front & back shoulder slims the subject & creates modeling(3D effect).Go to ZUGA.NET and check out the free lessons there.Especially Joe Zeltsman's classic portraiture lessons in the archives.He explains masculine/feminine poses,lighting,camera height,etc and a myriad of things to know.Good luck with the project.
     
  7. I would forget trying to use a studio background/backdrop, especially since you need to make one. For 13 people, it would have to be pretty big. I would use a nice area of the living room (yours or one of the subjects' homes) where you can have a nice background like a fireplace or corner of the living room which is nicely decorated (no large windows so you don't have to deal with flash reflections). This way, you can use chairs/sofas to place people so that they are not all just standing in a row(s). Put some of the women sitting in chairs/sofas with arms, their husbands sitting on the arms, and others standing, the kids sitting on the floor or leaning on their parents' legs. Don't put heads directly above each other and angle bodies as described in some the posts above. The aim is to get heads on different levels. In the simplest of set-ups, get three dining room table chairs, hopefully with arms, and set them up so that the middle one is centered straight on, and the other two are angled toward the center, one on each side with some room between them. Then build the group from there. Grandmother in the middle chair and build each sub-family from the middle out, generally keeping the kids of each sub-family close to the parents. If women have babies, they should sit so that they can prop the baby up on their laps. If you have to go with a background, gray or blue usually works with most colors. Use a large umbrella (Larsen makes a 60 inch) placed as described above--4 to 6 feet from the camera to one side or the other. Aim the umbrella slightly past center. Have a fill light on-camera or close to the camera. If the ceiling is white, bounce the fill off the ceiling, assuming you have enough power. Use 400 speed Portra NC or Fuji equivalent. A flash meter is good to have but don't buy a new one just for this. If you aren't using slide film or digital, but color negative film, the film's latitude allows you to not be completely precise with exposure. Always overexpose instead of underexposing when in doubt. Have the fill light be one stop less than the main light. Try to use f11 for some depth of field, focusing 1/3 of the way into the depth of the group. If you have squirmy kids, tungsten is out. You would have to use pretty powerful lights to get short shutter speeds. Don't set up little kids until you are at the end of posing everyone. Their attention spans are very short. And work quickly once you have everyone in place. With kids, usually the first few are the best. After that, their attention is elsewhere or they decide posing is not fun. Hope it turns out well.
     
  8. One of the problems with answering this question, Shawn, is your lexicon is seriously flawed... you don't even know enough to ask a sensible question.
    For instance a light meter has no "resolution". There are many other serious flaws in your questions that make it largely unanswerable.
    You can't even say what equipment you have with any accuracy: "a powered, non-supply unit...brand x"...
    I have no idea what that means. It seems contradictory: "powered" yet "nonsupplied"... and "brand x"?...?
    The fact that it has "... a good guide number; though I forget what it is off hand. It obviously exceeds 100"... You forget what is is? Before you ask the question, how about you have the courtesy to FIND OUT! Is it in SIBERIA?
    It may be obvious to you, but no one can begin to answer your questions sensibly because you ask them in largely non-sensible terms. "Off hand" questions will get off hand answers.
    Perhaps you think my answer is mean and insulting, Shawn {and Mr. Gallagher}, but I think the way you ask the question is inconsiderate and rude.
    If a person wants serious help then they should have the courtesy to ask it in clear and sensible terms with even a little clarity (like accurately describing the equipment they have to work with...).
    This question is an imposition on the good will and time of many people at this forum who are famous for helping people get correct and accurate answers to serious and complicated questions.
    If you want a clear answer, you should ask a clear question... t
     
  9. Shawn, I'll ignore the flammage and try to help... How about a black/dark back ground? A couple of 4x8 sheets of masonite makes an 8 foot by 8 foot wall, use flat black interior wall paint and roll it on...


    A single studio strobe will not do a group shot, so if it is a group then beg or borrow a couple more strobes, which you will need even for singles or couples anyway... In any event you will need a main light in the usual Rembrandt position, high camera left, and a fill light around front, low camera right, one stop down from the main light, and a reflector panel... If you can arrange for a light down low and behind the people shooting towards the camera to give some rim lighting to separate them from the background it will help...

    Move fast because you HAVE to get your significant other out there to do test shots which you run through the one hour photo place so you can verify lighting and exposure before you start firing that shutter under real combat conditions... You have grabbed a tiger by the tail...

    Luck ... Denny
     
  10. Ok Tom, Notice the contrast between your answer and the others. What's this tell you? I agree that the question was unclear, miserably so. I'm quite used to a discussion rather than a quick answer with the different boards that I visit...but I guess that doesn't apply here.

    There sure IS a resolution difference with light meters. If you'd have read that the meter is an LED based meter, as opposed to an LCD or analog meter, you'd have realized that there is NO WAY to get a reading BETWEEN the increments on the scale. The only reason I mentioned it was because experience tells me that 1/4 stop in a pro lab, or a 1/2 stop in a retail lab won't make any difference at all with negative film. They're going to print to that "resolution"
    ...LOL..geeze....and you'll just play hell trying to get them do do it any differently.

    While I welcome critics; all you had to do is ask. You took more time nastygramming me than it would have taken to say: "Clarify the equipment so we don't waste our time." SORRY

    As for the other comments, think what you like. I could care less. I just lump you in a category of person I don't care to deal with...just as you obviously consider me a complete idiot. The difference is that I'll simply ignore you; whereas you choose to beat your own chest in front of the other members to feel better about yourself.

    Mr. Gallagher contacted me by phone. The positive posts here have helped tremendously! Thanks to all for your help!
     
  11. "The difference is that I'll simply ignore you; whereas you choose to beat your own chest in front of the other members to feel better about yourself."

    I like pointing out the obvious so... did you notice that you're whole post was about Tom (I'm assuming the other one). That's not quite ignoring.

    It also took you about 4 days to come back here to continue your "discussion". Personally, I agree with Tom Meyer. You made it fairly clear in your post that you don't really know what you're doing. Tom pointed that out. That's not a bad thing. He's just saying you're not ready yet. That's not a bad thing. Doesn't mean you won't improve. If you've seen his images in his portfolio and on other forums you'd know that he really knows his stuff and is definately one of the better portrait shooters on here.

    This forum isn't just a convenience store for lighting related questiosn. It's mean to develop into a repository where future users may find the answers to their questions without having to post them. Right off the bat I wanted to delete this question because I don't see much value in them except I wanted to keep this as an example of how not to ask a question on here. I didn't quite explain why it wasn't a question that was easily answerable but Tom Meyer did a fine job of explaining that.

    I don't understand why John Gallagher didn't come back to post his advice after I had emailed him requesting him to. Especially because of how he's "chosen to help others". And posting on here would help even more people.

    Shawn, typically in these types of posts, you won't come back with an update. Surprise everybody and go against that trend.... Let us know what you plan on doing and why. You'll get some more input... Then after your done with the shoot, come back with some examples, let us know what you did, and how you think things turned out. I think it's the least you can do for all the people that shared their time and experience with you and to help people in the future. What you liked and what you didn't. You know. A discussion. :) There are a lot of people, with proven track records on here, and great examples of their work that give very good advice that come out when people seem really interested in learning. Not that there isn't any good advice here because I think Nadine's is very good. I'm just interested in how well you can execute what she told you.

    When I read questions like these I keep thinking of how this would come across if it wasn't about photography. I mean imagine this "Hi, my neighbor needs a bypass but he's on a limited budget so he's asked me to do it for him cheap. I have a couple of scalpels, some forceps and a few other shiney trinkets. I've been in the OR assisting some another doctor but I just do what he tells me to do and not quite sure why I'm doing it. Can someone tell me how to save this man's life because God know's who might move in next door."

    Granted, a family portrait may not be as important as open heart surgery, but how unimportant is it? Obviously people on here have different opinions.
     
  12. Thanks Tom (last post). I see the err of my ways with regard to specifics. I have absolutely no problem shooting existing light, or shooting straight on with a flash. I’ve actually done the latter so often that it is a reflex action for me; I’m totally confident about a straight shot like that. (I’ve been handed the more difficult weddings from another studio for the past 5 years. Instead of turning work away, they handed it to me. So, of course, I got the least-appealing work to do. Multiple locations and unconventional shots. Photos with personal pets. Photos in the family’s business, with the groomsmen posed on motorcycles. This also includes things like wedding parties of 10 or more, plus two little ones, AND ushers who were requested to be photographed as an entire formal group. No problem here whatsoever. To avoid harsh shadows, I’ve rearranged the party, and used an 8x10 bounce card; shooting 1 to 1-1/2 stops over to compensate…with excellent results. I’m quite certain this group would be happy with that type of result, but I would RATHER create something more appealing.) Another reason for choosing an indoor location is the physical condition of some of the older members of the family. Oh, by the way; they’re not paying for this. I am. Their expectations aren’t very high, as I’ve said; but I wanted to do more for them. If this offends you, please don’t respond. Not everything has to be for money.

    “…I wanted to keep this as an example of how not to ask a question on here…” Well, I’m glad I could be your example. I think I’ve seen plenty of other postings that were, unfortunately, vague; it’s just that there is so much involved with this question; and I realize that. Again, I apologize.

    “…It also took you about 4 days to come back here to continue your "discussion"…” I think the reason for this should be obvious: who would be anxious to respond to the first comment? You’re correct in that this forum is for people to look back in archive to LEARN. I don’t think the attitude that was initially presented is conducive to that learning process. As I said before, the response COULD have been as simple as “…please give all the information you have, or we’ll be forced to delete the question…” The writer instead chose to go on and on about what an idiot I made myself.

    …”don't really know what you're doing…” I have more of a clue than you might think. Regardless of technical skill in THIS particular discipline, the fact that I want to learn from those with assumed experience means nothing to those that respond that way. So why are they here?

    A very dear friend recently contacted me with additional equipment that I didn’t have before, so things have changed slightly; and I’ll be shooting a bit differently. If you have the ability to delete this thread, and it is so bothersome and inflammatory; do it. I’ll ask the question another way, with all of the specifics.

    I’d be glad to post the result of what I’ve learned here, as I always do with other BBoard-type sites; I suppose it just depends on whether or not I’m man enough to take flak for every possible mistake: like the feedback I’ve seen in the critique gallery of others’ work. Count on it being here. I’d like to post more at this point, but have an appointment…perhaps later tonight.
     
  13. I have a couple of suggestions...

    A couple of sheets of 4x8 masonite, painted is ok...but NOT black...it will swallow up some of your light...dark clothes and hair will blend into the background and you don't have any hairlight lights...

    I shoot kids dance schools and gymnastic clubs...I needed a portable background I could haul around to various places...


    At a fabric store my wife shops at I found some 9' wide muslin...I got 2 pieces each about 24' long, took out my wifes sewing machine and sewed the two pieces together makeing an 18'x24' background...

    The muslin was "off white" kinda creme color...I dragged it out on my driveway, laid it out flat and took some ordinary latex flat wall paint you get at your local hardware store and started slapping paint...I rollered it, I brushed it, I sponged it...I made slashes, hashes, spots, and non-sensical patterns...I used 2 shades of gray...

    After it was dry, I rolled it up into a big ball and shoved it into a large black garbage bag...the kind you rake your leaves into...

    It got really wrinkled...but when I hang it up on a wall, use gaffers tape or duct tape...the wrinkles add to the "character" of the background and it looks really, really good...

    I have made 4 backgrounds this way using a variety of colors and a very sloppy painting technique...

    The material costs about $$35.00...and for paint I go to Home Depot paint dept and but the paint that was not mixed correctly...there's always a couple of dozen cans of "wrong color" laying around...they usually sell it for $1-5 per gallon...

    I just pick out 2-3 colors, and I have a gallon of white and a gallon of black which I mix into whatever colors I got to either "lighten" or "darken" them a little...

    This will give you a background you can use over and over for whatever the situation is...

    See if you can borrow or rent another strobe and umbrella...

    I would just try to get the light as even as you can across the width of your family grouping...don;t try to do anything fancy...don;t worry about lighting ratios...just keep it even...

    If you use a 400 asa film, Kodak, Fuji, it really doesn't make any difference...you should be able to shoot around f11 or so...

    Bracket a couple of stops each side on your indicated exposure...any of the color neg films you might choose has an exposure latitude such that if you can get your exposure in the ball park, you'll be ok...

    I would NOT try anything with filters and available light...creates too many problems...

    As for arranging the people...just get them so that you can see everyone...some can sit on floor, on chairs, stand up, lean over, sit on the back of a chair someone else is sitting in...etc etc...

    Remember, this is your family....they will like anything you do...it's required...:)

    Hope this helps
    Steve
     

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