Welcome to the forum!

As an adjunct to the Tangents blog, the intention with this forum is to answer any questions, and allow a diverse discussion of topics related photography. With that, see it as an open invitation to just climb in and start threads and to respond to any threads.

Group and Individual Photos at a Ball

Hello everyone,

First post, but I have been following Neil for some time.
I am the official photographer at a ball. I have done this before but in a different country. The venue in my current country is a large upscale hotel with a huge ballroom. I visited the place and took some shots. The ceiling and most of each wall are covered in gray, not real dark but not light either. I was getting decent results at 1600 ISO and 1/200 at around f/4.5 to f/5.6. They all had histograms that were bunched in the middle or further to the left, but the main subject(s) looked OK. With a little LightRoom I should be fine. D600 with SB900. D600 on manual. Flash on TTL. Some FEC was added to see results. I ventured a few shots at 2000 ISO. I will be using a Nikon 24-70 f/2.8 at the event so I think I have some wiggle room with aperture to hopefully bump those histograms up a bit.

My job is to wander the room (big) with about 300-500 guests, with some VIPs, and take informal photos. Before and after that piece I will also need to take formal portraits, ranging from 2 people to maybe as many as 12.

I have a black velvet background that is 8 x 12 and used it at the previous country event with good results. At that previous event I did not care for my lighting on the formals, even though guests were pleased with the results. I used two 43 inch umbrellas with one SB800 in each at about 45 degrees on the left and right. I had shadows on faces and would like to overcome that this time. I found Neil's post "Positioning the Lighting for the Groups" on his blog about using one umbrella with two flashes. This seems as if it would cure the shadow issue. I may be outside due to security issues (at night) but I might be inside with this as well. In either case I will have control. I have 3 SB800s and 1 SB900.

My question is how far back? Me and the light(s). I warned the coordinators and security folks about the possible distances I may need.

I am truly sorry for such a long and I hope not boring first post. Any comments would be most welcome. Oh and try as I might I can't find a helper so I will quite possibly be doing this alone.

thanks for your time.



  • Hi Al

    I'm no expert but as I see it for your formals, you'd be better of simplifying your lighting and face them straight on rather than at 45deg. Ok it's flat light but will eliminate the shadows.

     As for distance bet subjects and lights it depends on how you are going to arrange your group (no. of rows), I'd just meter the flash for your chosen aperture from the front to the back, ensuring no fall off. That will determine your distance, flash on manual of course.

    I'm sure you'll get better and fuller explanations from those people that this is bread and butter to.

  • Thanks Tony. Looks like you might end up being the only one with a comment.

    I am wondering how one Westcott 45 inch umbrella (white satin with black cover) with two SB800's would compare to two of those 45's with one SB800 in each. Both umbrellas close to me. No more than two rows of say 5 or 6 people. I don't do this often and models are very hard to come by in this location. The hotel is booked solid with weddings (it's that time of year here) so very little accommodation for testing, etc.

    In the blog post I referenced Neil said he was about 3 pews back. Looking at the photo he provided I'm guessing between 15 to 20 ft. No pews in this venue.

    Ah well, thanks for taking the time to comment Tony. Hopefully I'll have some time to experiment before I need to produce results.

  • Sometimes it takes a while for a thread to get going. I'm sure others will be along soon.
    I'd utilise your 4 speedlites and put 2 in each umbrella, hopefully will allow you to use them at a lower power level for better recycling times.
    Just depends on how much juice you're gonna need. I'd practice and experiment, see what apertures you can get at various power settings and distances for this setup. Of course it would be ideal to practice at the venue you're going to be shooting at but a luxury you probably won't get so any practice at home is better than none at all.

    Best of luck
  • Hi Al, 

    When I am at events taking informal party shots I always suggest the guests hold their drinks down and out of the photo so that they do not clutter the photo. I hate drinks in photos. It's not an alcohol thing and I explain that, it's the glasses and often cocktail napkins. A lot of photographers don't do that and no one has ever asked me to do it but I feel the photos are better without the drinks. 

    At a fancy hotel, isn't there a nicer background than a black velvet drape? That's sounds artificial and stilted and old-fashioned. I bet you can find a nice architectural background for the formals. Just my opinion. 

    Is your largest group 12 people? That's not bad. In your first graph here you mentioned iso1600 and wide f stops. Why such a high ISO? More important, those aperture settings are pretty low for two rows, I would think. Don't risk a row of people being out of focus.
  • Hi Skipperlange,

    I totally agree with the drink and napkin thing. I try my best to discourage it. I have been asked to hang around until midnight or so and to take some shots of people dancing. I don't like doing that and have yet to determine if bouncing will give me the ability to catch them.

    The groups will often be just a couple, or maybe a foursome for many of the shots. But there will also be up to 10 or so, give or take. The "drape" is a Photek background that I have. The client's expectation for the formals is to have the US flag and one other prominently displayed behind the guests. I work indirectly with the client at my job and they saw my work at a similar event two or more years ago. 

    If I end up outside there was a nice gray slate wall that was part of a fountain (one of those dribble ones) that looked interesting. I did not get a chance to play, but I may have time next week. The weather will be chilly and may force the formals indoors where I will be dealing with various walls, some of them glass, throughout the main hall outside of the ballrooms. Various hotel art and pictures hanging on those walls. The drapery is a bit old fashioned, I know, but this birthday celebration is steeped in tradition so I may not be able to ditch the drape thing. 

    The indoor location if needed is going to butt up against hotel folks wanting free walking for other guests and security measures by the ones paying the bills.

    As far as the informal shots go there is a very high ceiling in the ballroom. It's about 25 feet up at least. Bouncing with 1600 ISO and 1/200 I was getting decent light on the people in charge and hotel workers, but a bit underexposed. The walls are gray with a bit of white at the bottom, maybe 3 feet tall so it doesn't help to lighten things up. I really don't want to go direct flash or a triflip kind of arrangement if I can help it. But it's on the edge.

    Back to the formals, would the single 45" umbrella be good with two SB800's or would two umbrellas with one SB800 in each be better, both close to me? 

    Thanks so much for your comments, I appreciate your input.

  • "Back to the formals, would the single 45" umbrella be good with two SB800's or would two umbrellas with one SB800 in each be better, both close to me?" 


    I don't know. Two flashes into one umbrella for your smaller groups sounds like overkill. I think two umbrellas if placed correctly can produce nice even light but I'd peruse Neil's Tangents post by searching for 'group portraits' and other search terms and see what he does. Sorry to be brief but I don't want to steer you wrong.
  • AllenGAllenG Member
    edited October 2014

    Neil seemed to prefer two flashes in one umbrella 

    He used a shoot through as opposed to the black-backing ones I have. The backing is removable of course so I could go that route. I'm thinking two umbrellas and one flash in each would, as you say, "produce nice even light". And it might give me the ability to cut back on the power a bit so I can get better battery life and quicker recycle times. 

    Less than a week to go and I may have a small window to play in before the event. It may be too cold to have the formals outside so that will narrow things down except for where they will stick me indoors.

    Still worried about the informal shots with the ceiling so far away but it's all I've got. I think I will get by.

    Anyone have any others comments? I would value any input. It's good to have places like this to bounce ideas around. Thanks to those who have commented.


  • Thanks Neil. 
    That link helped. So you still prefer a shoot thru umbrella?. In this post: http://neilvn.com/tangents/lighting-wedding-formals-1/    you seem to favor bouncing, but it's from 2009.  Watched your Craftsy vid on weddings and you make the case for shoot thru. 
    About how many feet is two to three pews back? Somewhere between 15 and 20 feet? I'm guessing.

    Thanks for taking the time Neil. One of these days I will have to take a class.

  • That link Neil posted. Exact method I use for photo booths. Just one flash. Also I have put a white reflector on the floor.
  • Neil vNNeil vN Administrator
    Allen ... do some testing and see which gives you the light-spread and amount of light you want: shoot-through vs bouncing into the umbrella.
  • One of the attached was used using 2 SB910s bounced up on stage.  And the other was shot with 2 Elinchrom  strobes bounced up at an angle.
    I prefer image no 1 but look to use 1 or 2 umbrellas as most of the wedding group shots are done on stage here. Any thoughts on which image was shot with 2 SB910s?

Sign In or Register to comment.