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Advice on Setup for Posed Photos

Hi - I have been hired by an investment firm to take photos of their guest speaker with some/all of the attendees, one or two at a time, in front of a backdrop with their banner. I don't know if it is a "step-and-repeat", but I don't think it matters. This is a pretty important job for me, because it could result in 3x a year future work.

My only two experiences with off-camera lighting for group photos have been very rushed. I have never done anything that qualifies as a studio setup. This time, I believe I will have enough time to set it up correctly.

I have looked at DOF charts, and have a little cheat chart, trying to anticipate how much room I will have, what focal length to use, etc. I know that I want the people as well as the logo in focus.

If I have the room, I plan to put the people 3 feet in front of the backdrop, and stand 12 feet back from the people. I plan to have a single speedlite (that's what I have) and a reflective umbrella behind me 6-7 feet up. I have a 24-105 mm F4, and a 50 mm F1.4. But I know from the charts that at 12 feet, and everything in focus, I need to be at F5.6 with 50 mm. If it's tight, and I only have 8 feet between me and the people, I need F8 at 40 mm, and F11 at 50 mm.

I feel like I am thinking about this correctly as far as the above is concerned. But I do have some questions:

- should I use a flash meter? My experience is very limited with this tool, but I have a Minolta flash meter II, which has the capability of having the trigger set waiting for the flash. My problem is looking at the meter and understanding what it is telling me.
- if the lighting is lousy or uneven, should I go to the max sync speed, and obliterate the ambient? What worries me is if I'm at 1/180 (Canon 6D), and F4 or higher, the in-camera exposure meter is useless, right?
- should I use a gray card to get the color-balance correct? If I do that, is that the final step after getting the flash power correct? What happens with the flash itself? does it get a gel, or does the card take care of everything?

The gig is at the end of the month, so I do have time to experiment with all this stuff, and my bedroom is long enough and tall enough to get a pretty good feel. My wife got me a couple of mannequin heads, and on the back wall I will put the equivalent of an eye chart, just some printed words to make sure both the people and the backdrop are in focus. I have enough room to try both 8 and 12 feet of separation between me and the "non-talking heads"

Thanks for any advice, opinions, or a "No, don't do that!!".



  • In a separate post (Yongnuo flashes), I wrote about a problem with the remote flash at a higher shutter speed that 1/125. The max on the 6D is 1/180. I may have to repeat this setup. at 1/60 and 1/80, the shutter wasn't fully open, and I had a black-ish band on one side.

    Anyway, I took some test shots of "Mr. Hedley", and a banner with different colors, trying to mimic my setup. 1/125 obliterated the ambient, and stuff looked pretty OK, actually quite close in DOF terms to what I was expecting. I shot a gray card, temp turned out to be 5700K, and the colors I think look pretty good.

    These are straight out of the camera. Clearly the flash/umbrella at full manual power, 24mm zoom, about 15 feet from my friend isn't cutting it at F5.6, but if this is the approximate distances as I described above, I need that DOF for both the people and the banner to be in focus.

    So, is putting the subject 3 feet in front of the banner too much? I am thinking any closer and I may run into more shadows on the backdrop.

    Also, to get more reflected flash power, should I try zooming in? I would think that would give a hot spot, and not spread the light as evenly? The umbrella is 43 inch diameter, white inside/black outside. I don't have a double-flash bracket, but if that's what it will take so be it.

    Please feel free to guffaw over my setup. But  you never know unless you try stuff, no matter how hokey, right? BTW, my friend has no eyes, so I stuck a printed letter "E" to check the focus.

  • TrevTrev Moderator
    edited April 2016


    In your initial post I fail to see any mention of ISO.

    Then I see on the next post only the images have the specs with ISO 100??? Way too low to give you room to move with flash power and aperture.

    Why not have it at around 1600 and therefore be able to just put aperture around f8 and be done with it in terms of getting DOF?

    I think you are overthinking this a bit too much mate and will only 'do your head in' so to speak.

    Once you change your ISO, you will have a "lot" of wriggle room with choosing flash power and aperture up around f8 which will give you the DOF using a 50mm or smaller lens, and this should also give you the back banner focus as well.

    Also you will be able to keep shutter up a bit to avoid shake.

    ISO 100 to 1600 is 4 full stops of extra power, ergo your flash will be working less and your Aperture around f8 will be sufficient to retain DOF for the banner behind using 50mm or less if using the 24-105mm lens.

    At least that would be my 'starting' point for sure. Try it, as you said nothing gained unless you try it.

    Just make sure that your shutter is at least 1 click below max sync speed so you don't get any banding.

    The further back you stand from nearest subject will increase DOF also if you have the room.


  • Thanks, Trev. The reason I'm trying ISO 100 is because, well, I guess I'm still a bit shy with going too high on ISO, especially if these will be printed out and framed, possibly. And, to see what was possible when I assumed a setup situation. But yes, I agree I can go higher with ISO.

    From the other post about the triggers - I guess I will have to keep the shutter at 1/125, because at 1/160 I get some banding. I will either be using my 50 mm prime lens, or my zoom with image stabilization.

    I really depends on the room I will have. I was told "you can decide where the banner will go if you want". That's good, but I still don't know what the room will look like.

  • TrevTrev Moderator
    Let us know how it went when finished.

    I don't know of any camera these days that cannot handle at least 1600 ISO, go for it.

    Even if you see a bit of noise in the image on screen, it won't print like that, you will be surprised at how much you can see on screen but not in print.

    Don't enlarge the print to 100% and say wow, look at the noise, just enlarge the image enough on screen so it mimicks around 12x18, usually at 50% and if you cannot see any noise, there will be none when printed, but 1600 ISO on a Canon 6D should be no problem at all.

  • Thanks, Trev. As I wrote, I am sorely lacking in the "posed photo" part of this little hobby. But this one is pretty important.

    I'm sure to experienced folks I'm way over thinking this, but I tried to cover all the bases. Since I know beforehand what the job is, I have no excuses because I will give myself plenty of time to set up. Over the past two weeks, I've had two paying gigs with large group photos - the first one I knew why I was there, but everyone was in such a rush leave after a meeting that I was rushed. The second was pretty unexpected, as I thought I would be shooting 2-3 musical groups candidly backstage as they warmed up before performing. All of a sudden it was one group of 30 students and their director asking "Where would you like us for the group photos?" Could only get one umbrella set up. I can't have that happen again. But, I take it all as great experience to gain quick responses and some resourcefulness. I want to be able to handle anything.

  • So, just one last question - Is this the right approach for this kind of shot, 2-3 people in front of a banner, one light with umbrella right behind me? I have a 24x24 softbox, but I don't think that's the right thing to use. I don't think I will worry about shadows, as I'm expecting them to fall behind the people. I experimented moving the light to the side, but the shadows could be seen. I'm pretty sure I won't have the room to set something else up (a light for the backdrop, reflector, etc. to get rid of that shadow, but I will be looking into that as I practice stuff).

    Bear with me, I'm new to posed shots of any kind using off-camera lighting. But I certainly want to learn as much as I can.

    Trev - after your last posts, I got a bit more familiar with my light meter, and pretty confident with what I'm doing with it, thanks.

  • When shooting groups, be very careful where you place your light and how far it is from your group.  For example, if you have three people standing next to each other and have the light-source off to one side and just a few feet away, you'll get rapid light falloff and one person will be lit well and the others will be unlit.

    What is the size of your total working area?  Can you possibly move the light-source far away such that light hitting each person will be relatively even?  For the side of your group furthest away from the light-source, is there a relective wall that could serve as a bit of fill?
  • Hi, RS - it's 2-3 people in front of a 6 foot wide by 8 foot wide backdrop. Nor really a group. It's going to be people lining up to take a turn shaking hands with the guest speaker in front of the backdrop. I get what you are saying about light falloff, but I don't think that will be an issue, as the 2-3 people will basically be in the same plane relative to the backdrop.

  • TrevTrev Moderator
    edited April 2016

    When working with light off to one side on a row of people, you want to get even lighting as RS explained and the way to do this is to point the softbox, not at the closest or middle, but at the people further away but the light 'spill' will then be more even on the closest to further away.

    However, you are now left with another problem if not controlled, and that is shadows you may cast from those people with light coming from side, so it's a fine balance, have the light back as far as possible on a side but not sharply on the side.

    Also, IF you do not want to get full length, and you are using a rectangular softbox, I would swing the soft box into a 'landscape' position, but still mainly pointing the furtherest away on a group.

    With only 2-3 people you say, it won't be a problem I should think.


  • Thanks, Trev. I plan to use a reflective umbrella basically right behind me. My question really, in the broader sense, is if this is a correct way to go. I saw the exact same setup - although with a studio flash - backstage at a convention I worked a few weeks ago, exact same situation: people lined up to take a photo with the keynote speaker, one or two at a time. I figure to mimic this, as I have with Headly in the photos I posted.

  • Neil vNNeil vN Administrator
    In similar situations (such as step & repeat), I keep the flash and umbrella fairly close to the side of me. This way the light is fairly flat and there is little risk of weird cross-shadows. Keep it simple! 
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