with a little help ..

Someone recently emailed me to ask me what lighting I used for this portrait of the groomsmen.  I did explain this in the Flickr group, but wanted to expand on a key point again.

When lighting groups like this,  I don’t try to get all Rembrandt on the group.  Instead, I have a preference for even light. A simpler approach where everyone’s face is equally well lit, with no cross shadows .. all of which makes for a faster workflow.  You also have less risk of the chance of a weird shadow spoiling something.

In this instance, the light was from two Q-flashes that I was bouncing into the ceiling and wall behind me.  I wanted a flood of even light. The Q-flashes were the older T2 models which I use purely as manual off-camera flash.

There is a slight problem though .. light falls off to the background, which caused the groomsmen in the back to not be as well exposed as the guys in the foreground.  This was worsened by there being a slight overhang where I was standing – and this blocked the light that should’ve reached further up the staircase.

But in the image above, the groomsmen in the back are well exposed .. but I had a little help in post-production.

Now, I really try and get my images as well exposed as I can during the actual shoot, and I really try to get the best lighting I can.  This can be a challenge during a wedding where there is a lot of pressure and you’re constantly up against the unexpected.  Things constantly change around you, yet you have to think on your feet and deliver the best results you can.   But often you have to rely on adjusting and correcting in post-production.

With the release of Photoshop CS4 and the latest version of Lightroom, Adobe has now included a powerful tool where you can make localized corrections on your RAW image.  You’re now not limited to merely adjusting the overall exposure and color balance and contrast .. you can now apply varying amounts of correction to different areas.

Have a look again at the image .. here is how I brought up the exposure on the groomsmen in the back:

[ click on the image to enlarge it ]

What this sweep of the Photoshop brush did in this case, is brighten that area up by +0.55 stops.  Just enough to correct the exposure to have everyone equally well lit.

Previously, you’d have to call up the image in Photoshop to fix that.  But right now, you can do it as part of your normal workflow, and adjust specific areas as you need.  Much much faster than it used to be.  This speeds up post-production so much, that just this feature alone makes it worth it to upgrade to CS4 or the latest version of Lightroom if you haven’t done so yet.

And there is my final image at the top .. nice simple lighting, but with a little bit of help.


Here is another image – this time from an engagement portrait session.  No flash though.

I had the couple walk away from me.   (I like how their footsteps come closer in the image.)  Snow is notoriously difficult to photograph in, since the glare has a tendency to blow out large patches of snow.  I had calculated my exposure to give good skin tones, and for the most part the snowy areas were under control .. no blinking highlights .. but some areas were over-exposed.

Instead of allowing large bald areas in the final image, I used local exposure corrections in the RAW file to bring those areas back into range where the highlights weren’t blown out.   This is now a very simple matter with local corrections in Bridge CS4 (with ACR), and Lightroom.   And having this kind of control over your raw file already, really speeds up the post-processing workflow considerably.


A little bit more about the technical side of the photo of the groomsmen – the settings, and the specifics of the equipment used and the lighting gear:

The equipment .. Nikon D3;  Nikon 24-70mm f2.8 AF-S (@ 29mm)
My settings .. 1/25th @ f6.3 @ 800 ISO

Here are the specific bits and pieces that I use wrt Quantum gear ..

I keep two T2 Q-flashes permanently assembled, each on a lightstand.  They are the tall Red Wing lightstands which have a special design that allow them to automatically collapse the legs when you pick them up, or the legs to open up automatically when you set them down.

I keep these two Q-flashes and stands in a tall roller case.  And then I just add the Quantum 2×2 battery and the Pocketwizard to each.

Total time for me to set up two Q-flashes, with 60″ umbrellas, with batteries for the Q-flash, and pocketwizards … less than 5 minutes. I’d say about 3-4 minutes. Very quick.



15 Comments, Add Your Own

  1. 3Daniel says

    I am assuming that since the background extended well beyond the groomsmen, the shutter speed of 1/25 was used to allow for some ambient light? Also, since there a few rows of people to deal with, I guess you needed a bit more dof hence f6.3?

  2. 4 says

    Daniel, that’s correct .. the slow shutter speed was to allow more ambient light in. That’s the simplest way of doing it when using manual flash.

    re the DoF, yes that was why I chose f6.3 .. although a smaller aperture would’ve been even better. I think I was close to the limit there of what would be acceptable depth-of-field.

    Neil vN

  3. 5Albert says

    Daniel, you’re pretty much correct with regards to the settings.

    And thanks Neil for the explanation. You’ve always mentioned how to get correct exposure, but for weddings or other events, it may not be as simple for the entire scene. It’s good to learn some simple post processing techniques to bring out the best of the photos.

  4. 6Stephen says

    Hi Neil,
    If you don’t mind, can you explain where in the snowy photograph of the couple were the overexposed areas? I’m just curious where you needed to apply the Adjustment Brush. Thanks.

  5. 7 says

    Stephen ..

    The original image was over-exposed, and I pulled down the exposure in ACR by 1.55 EV. That still showed many blown out areas around the couple.

    Selecting one point, I just drew an oval around them to pull the general snowy areas down to where there were no red highlights in ACR.

    If you click on that image, you’ll see the full display, and you’ll notice I only had to pull the exposure down by -0.2 EV with the localized correction.

    Here is the image before I used the localized correction, but with the exposure pulled down to -1.55 EV:

    And here is to show how, without localized corrections on the snow .. even pulling down the exposure to -2.40 EV, didn’t bring back all the highlights.

    So whatever magic it is that they added to the localized corrections feature, it works!

  6. 8Jerry Lang says

    Hi Neil,

    Thanks for sharing your knowledge! Love your site!
    This is a bit off topic, but I’m trying to find out how to check the used FEC in the Exif data when the images are on my computer and no longer on my camera. But I can’t find it. It just says that the flash was on, and that’s it. I use digital photo professional and Camera Raw.


  7. 9 says

    Jerry, for Canon cameras, I can see the Flash Exposure Compensation values in the EXIF data when I use BreezeBrowser. But I can’t for the Nikon cameras.

    I wish it was info they easily showed in all programs which show the EXIF data, since it is an important bit of info.

    Neil vN

  8. 11David Lisowski says

    This is a very worthwhile tool they have introduced in CS4. Much better than bringing into two ACR versions and blending.

    I love the shot in snow very much, I was surprised when I noticed it was at the Lambert’s Castle on Garret Mountain. I did not know you were based in NNJ! I go there often and may have seen you there with the Q flashes doing bare bulb to light up the background in the rear archway leading to the catwalk.

    At least in the snow you did not have to face the long line of wedding photographers trying to get some space to take a picture. This place is very popular.


  9. 12 says

    I came upon your site via Flickr and all I can say is WOW. I have tried to go through as much as possible in the last couple of days, bookmarking so I can go back in more detail as I learn my flash better. I shoot with a Canon 50D and a 430EX speedlite. I am very new to flash as I have been opposed to it simply because the terminology and technology of it all seems over my head. Thanks to you, I am inspired to learn as much as I can about my flash and using it to my advantage. There are so many things I could ask you, and was excited to learn that you offer workshops. Sadly, the one near me (Nashville TN) was just last month. I will continue dwelling on your site trying to learn. In the meantime, any suggestions for helping to boost my indoor flash ability?

  10. 13 says

    Hi there Lindsay … I’m glad you’re finding the website of such value. :) As for suggestions to help you boost your ability to use flash indoors … just keep checking the Tangents blog. I’ll keep on adding material here.

    Neil vN

  11. 14Stephen says

    Hi Neil,
    Thanks for replying to my question with some screenshots of your software. I didn’t know you replied to my question a few months ago, so it’s great that you have the “Recently Commented Posts” feature activated.

    Localized exposure correction is indeed a good featuere. Before learning about this, I just lowered the overall exposure in some of my over-exposed images, but the highlights were still too bright. I ended up deleting those images. But with this technique, I might be able to salvage some of these types of photos.

    I don’t have Photoshop CS4, so I will have to play around with the adjustment brush in Lightroom 2.3.

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