Sunday, July 14, 2013

Lighting Big Groups Outdoors

I've been making the group graduation photo for the past nine years. My first attempt was with a handheld 6-megapixel Sony Point and Shoot, the last with a 16-megapixel Nikon D7000 mounted on a tripod. Things have changed considerably since my earliest efforts. The biggest jump came when I decided to upgrade my lighting several years ago. I traded in my speedlights for two Norman 200B units mounted on 8' light stands and triggered with twin Eilenchrome Skyport radio receivers. So far the system has worked well. The session now includes "chimping" with a Hoodman Loupe between shots which gives me a chance to inspect the shot before the group is dismissed. Using a tripod allows me to get the horizon as level as humanly possible, and helps to maintain a consistent shot-to-shot appearance.

The two Norman heads were mounted at 45 degree angles to the left and right of the camera. While this might qualify as unimaginative, the size of the group and the shooting distance make it very difficult to be creative with your lighting. so I have always thought it best to play it save and use a simple copy-light setup.

Hiding Glare Spots. This is a tough place to photography because there will be strong direct sunlight shining on the students at camera left. That can't be helped, since this is the most suitable location for the shot. I use a "sketch" shot like this one to fine-tune my exposure.  If you look a the two shadows cast beside Cissie, you can see the nearly symmetric placement of the lights. You can also see a glare spot on the glass door from the camera-left Norman flash. While there would probably be people to cover the door at this point, I decided to be pro-active and eliminate the spot by re-positioning the flash head.

My first effort was not quite on target, but you can see I'm moving in the right direction. If memory serves, I had Cissie move the light stand a short distance to the left, make a shot, and examine the results. Eventually, I was able to hide the glare spot on one of the grey columns beside the door.

As long as my camera stayed on the tripod and the lights stayed in position, I wouldn't need to worry about any glare from the background. The light was still even, and the shot, while pretty straight forward, was well lit.

Hoo-RAH! One last bit of whimsey is the "hooray" shot. You get better smiles, but you have to be careful to make sure that nobody's face is obscured ay an overly enthusiastic fist-pump. I have the students practice it and have them adjust themselves of they can't see the camera with both eyes, an important distinction.

Drag Shutter Candids: If there was a celebrity at the graduation, it was Jan Becker,  who was retiring from the Adult School after teaching for 35 years. I wanted to get a photo of her with two students who had won statewide honors for the accomplishments. I made three photos using three different shutter speeds and a constant aperture.

Shot #1: 1/125th of a second, 5.6, ISO 800, Zumbrella with Nikon SB-800.

Shot #2: 1/60th of a second, 5.6, ISO 800, Zumbrella with Nikon SB-800. 

Shot #3: 1/30th of a second, 5.6, ISO 800, Zumbrella with Nikon SB-800. I like this shot primarily because it provided some separation between the twilight sky and Caesar's blue shirt.