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Lighting a Large Group Outdoors

Hi - I just got hired for a job, a 50th anniversary party that will be attended by 60-65 people. The client was wondering if it would be worth it to take a photo of the entire group outdoors during the cocktail hour. I know there will be smaller group shots, maybe 10-15 people, which I believe I can handle with no additional off-camera stuff, provided the light and positioning of the group is reasonable. All the other stuff she wants - small groups, champagne toasts, speakers, table shots - are what I have been doing for a while. The big group, however, I know will be a challenge.

In anticipation of this, I piked up another Speedlite, I now have three, and a 36-inch white umbrella with mount (I have a boom microphone stand from my musician days that I will re-purpose, it gets up to about 7 feet). I told the woman "Ok, I'll have extra equipment just in case you want to try this". (I had to sound like I knew what I was doing, right?). With a group like that, I know I will need another stand and umbrella. I know umbrellas are not as good as a softbox, but I'm a beginner and am trying to keep my costs reasonable.

I know this will result in a wide-open question and discussion, but I would like get some thoughts/opinions on how to set this all up. I am mostly concerned with setting the power levels of the off-camera Speedlights without having people stand there for many, many minutes. I read a book by Syl Arena, and in one small section on group lighting, he suggests having the group look left, fire the Speedlite, and ask if everyone can see it, and repeat for the right. This is to make sure no one is shadowed, and is really the only "technique" suggestion I have.

So, is this even possible with the limited equipment I have/will obtain? As usual with my questions, I end with "any and all suggestions or opinions are appreciated".

Thanks - Dave


  • Neil vNNeil vN Administrator
    Will this be indoors or outdoors?

    What time of day? (if outdoors)
  • dbrunodbruno Member
    Neil - if the weather is good (July 3rd in Boston), it will be outdoors, worst case is 7 PM. I have never seen the venue, so I'm not sure if it's possible to do it indoors, which would be pretty challenging given my limited equipment.
  • Not about lighting but, I like to use a ladder for group shot.
  • dbrunodbruno Member
    Rany - it's on my list of things to bring, especially with that size crowd. But, although I haven't seen the venue, I've heard it's more than pretty nice, and I would have to see how things were going before I brought in a ladder.
  • TrevTrev Moderator
    edited June 2015
    A short step ladder (3-4 steps) I certainly would put in car, (or if you have the capability a long one strapped to roof) then check venue when first going in to see if you need it.

    Re lighting it, personally I would use a ladder, get up and have crowd look slightly up at you, then have a flash either side (bounced if possible) making sure you adjust heads to get lighting back further on back rows, feathering to front that way should be more evenly lit.

    Of course the ideal scenario would be to have a set of wide steps to place them on, but you would have to have the luck of the Irish on your side for that.

    or... if really lucky, you have a balcony to work from.
  • dbrunodbruno Member
    Hi - the woman who hired me let me know she would like to skip the large group photo of 65 people, as she feels her Mom and Dad would be much more interested in the smaller, individual family photos. I did tell her I was open to doing it, but as the cocktail hour really was only an hour, it would take a chunk out of socializing time. So, that's fine. But in preparation, I did pick up a couple of umbrellas, did a lot of reading, and a number of test shots in my back yard. At least I learned some stuff!
  • dbrunodbruno Member
    I forgot to add - the spot where I'm thinking about doing the smaller groups: faces west into a wide-open green field, with a set of 10-12 stairs leading down to the grass. My thought is to put the groups at the bottom of the stairs, backs to the sun, and off-camera lights (if necessary) on either side of the staircase, which is about 20 feet wide. Also, it's supposed to be sunny around here (Boston) Friday. I will probably be taking these shots between 6 and 7 PM. I suppose it could be worse!

    Am I missing anything?
  • dbrunodbruno Member
    I will be on one of the steps .....
  • dbrunodbruno Member
    I think this would be a pretty good lighting situation, but I have to be prepared to do it some other place, as there could be too much foot traffic, I have never done anything "for real" with off-camera flash. I know not to pose them with faces towards the sun. If I am forced to put them with the sun to the side of the group, I think it would make sense to put my umbrella/speedlight on the opposite side to get rid of the shadows and the contrast. To me it almost is obvious, but if I'm way off, someone please clue me in.

  • TrevTrev Moderator
    No Dave, you are not way off. If sun coming on side, pointless to add flash to that same side so as you stated, put it on the opposite side to try to lessen the shadows.
  • dbrunodbruno Member
    Thanks, Trev. As I wrote, this is the first time I would be doing anything for real with OCF, and I want to be able to react and get it right.
  • Maybe do some practice in your yard this evening?
  • TrevTrev Moderator
    Agree Rany, be a good idea for Dave to do some practice.
  • dbrunodbruno Member
    Yes, planning on another quick practice later on today. The other day, I was a little rushed because some lousy weather was moving in.
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