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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.

Some Help/Advice with Outdoor Stuff - What Would You Do?

Hi - yesterday I worked an anniversary party which was right on the water (a small inlet of Boston Harbor). Everything was indoors, and a lot of shots had the backdrop of Boston (big windows). Toeards the end of the day (4 PM EST), one of the families wanted some group shots outdoors. There was a narrow walkway outside the back of the restaurant. Looking straight out, a marina on the inlet. To the right, a large deck. To the left, the Boston waterfront in the distance behind a crummy looking chain-link fence (the gate to the boat launch).

I had the people on the deck (there were about a dozen people). My dilemma: to have the marina as the background, the sun was in their faces. If I turned them 90 degrees, the backdrop was either a parking lot, or the chain-link fence. The sun would still be harsh. If I had them in the "proper" way with backs to sun, the background was the back of the building, which looked like where stuff was stored. The only equipment I had was the camera and on-camera Speedlite. I had some off-camera stuff with me, but there wasn't time, and it was breezy.

So I'm asking what would you do? I certainly wish I was a much better photographer, much more experienced, that this would be some sort of tutorial (I wish!). No excuses here, but after 3 hours of shooting indoors, and this comes up, what would you do?

In the end, I personally think I got it wrong. I photographed them with the marina behind them. I haven't looked, but it probably wasn't the best choice. As I think about it more, the important stuff was the group photo, so in my mind (now) the background was secondary; they should have been pointed with backs to the sun, the lousy background under-exposed, and fill flash. But the marina was really a nice view ....

I did have a 36-inch round diffuser panel in my bag, but I didn't get it, thinking it would not have been big enough (I would have had one of the guests hold it for me).

Thanks for any inputs, and if it gets you thinking. I may run up against the same situation in a couple of weeks at an outdoor event on the Boston waterfront, so I would love to hear any and all thoughts. - Dave


  • TrevTrev Moderator
    edited June 2016

    Personally, I would have done the same, have a nice background.

    Now, there is a way to get around the sun problem especially if it was pretty late with sun going down, I get the people positioned first, then tell them to have their heads up and looking and smiling, but, tell them to shut their eyes, and that ON the count of 2 to open their eyes and you fire a split second after you say 2.

    Emphasise that you will fire ON 2, don't drag it out, say 1, 2 quickly and shoot.

    It works 99% of the time, they cannot see anything first up when they open their eyes, but at least you get a shot.

    Take at least 4-5 shots, then if you really need to, you can transfer eyes from one shot to the other. (have done that quite a few times even under the best light conditions, because some groups are plain stupid to put it bluntly, their eyes are darting all over the place, especially when they have friends behind me talking to them at the same damn time).

    Having a dark crummy background personally would be not nice, and remember, they want a shot to show not just themselves, but the nice location.

    Others may disagree, but hey, I do this a lot if I am really stuck and a group requests a shot, not ideal, but you make the best of it.

    Of course this is second guessing what you had to work with and maybe there was a way but from what you describe I would have done the same.

  • dbrunodbruno Member
    Thanks, Trev. I'm guessing what you are suggesting is to keep folks from squinting. Yes, the sun at 4 PM around here is probably hitting at an angle you might set up a softbox - up about 45 degrees from looking straight ahead.

    The shadows obviously were harsh as you can guess. I took 5 shots. Extra processing I'm sure. I just really wasn't sure what else to do. It's why I love event work - you have to be able to respond quickly to situations, and it's great when it works out (confidence booster). It's also the lousy part of event work if you don't get it right (confidence un-booster).

    I know I will be up against this in a couple of weeks. If it's an absolutely cloudless day like yesterday, I'll need to have this straightened out, at least a couple of different options. That's why I come to this forum.

    Thanks - Dave
  • Neil vNNeil vN Administrator
    This sounds like one of those scenarios that no matter which option you took - better light with poor background  /  poor light with good background - you'd end up regretting it after by second-guessing yourself.

    I dislike that kind of harsh cross-lighting ... but I also want a complementary background. 

    Sounds to me like you did fine.  Let us know what your client thinks?
  • dbrunodbruno Member
    OK, Neil, thanks and will do. Like I wrote, I will most likely be in this situation again next month. What will be in my favor is there will be much more room to maneuver during these upcoming events. More time as well.

  • can we see some of the photos?

  • dbrunodbruno Member
    Uncomfortable, but here are a couple.

    Two things I would have done differently with the photo of the couple: a volunteer to position my 36" round diffuser over their heads, and moving them to camera right so the groom doesn't appear to be impaled by the dock pylon. The group? Probably move the small tables and chairs out of the way. The diffuser would have been too small.
  • TonyTTonyT Member
    Difficult situation is that one, the location grabs you to take the shot with the marina as the background.  Did you have time to try turning them with their backs to the sun, may have been worth doing despite the not so good background.
  • dbrunodbruno Member
    Tony - I have a photo with the older couple, their backs to the sun. What you see is the mousey-brown shingles of the back side of the restaurant.
  • dbrunodbruno Member
    Tony - This is one of those "Oh$hitOh$hitOh$hit" situations that I believe experience will help in finding the best solution somewhat quickly. This was done rather quickly, but it was not the best solution. It may have been the only solution to getting the better background, but not the best, and it shows in the outdoor photos (to me anyway).

    I don't get flustered, as I keep in my head an older Tangents post (I think) by Neil: something to the effect of ... you do not want to give the appearance of being flustered, or not being able to put equipment together, because it doesn't give confidence to the client ... Something like that. So I take that to heart. In this situation, I did explain to some of the people that it was not ideal, but I wanted the water and boats in the background, gave the sense that maybe I knew what I wanted(?)


  • TonyTTonyT Member
    Completely agree Dave, you did well there under those conditions.
  • could you have used a little fill flash? or maybe a wider aperture in the bad background spot to make the bad background less prominent?
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