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Group Photo (Weird) Shadow Problem

Hi - I did a freebie last night for a local independent filmmaker, who was screening a new movie at an area theater. He wanted some "meet-and-greet" photos prior, and then some group photos of however many cast and crew were in attendance. There was a platform in front of the large, single screen which was probably 20-25 feet wide, and maybe 12 feet deep, and say 3-ish feet off the ground. I had two umbrellas with Speedlights on 7-foot stands, so placing them on the floor wasn't going to work. There were maybe 18 people in the whole-group shot, and then we did a couple of smaller groups. I put the lights pretty much at each corner of the platform. I metered 1/125, ISO 400, F8. When I got the people on stage, it was quick to see I could not get them far enough away from the back to get rid of or minimize the shadows. Even though there were pretty bright spotlights on behind me, the ambient-only photo I took was black, so nothing was showing up because of them.

The first photo is of the whole group, pretty much right out of the camera. I thought the lighting was good, but obviously there are shadows because the people were not far enough forward. The REAL stumper, and I didn't see this in the camera, is the incredibly dark and hard shadow cast in the second photo. I couldn't understand where this was coming from.

Believe me, I'm not Yoda when it comes to posed group photos with off-camera lighting, but the third photo I was really happy with - I could get them far enough forward.

With all photos, I didn't change the placement of the lights. I realize I might not have had them high enough, and therefore didn't have enough of a downward angle (?). But I had to light almost 20 people. I also realize I'm good at posing large groups.

But the dark, hard shadow in the second photo was a killer for me. How could this have happened? I would say it was just an unfortunate combination of two shadows, but I really don't know.

I would love to hear comments about ANY of these photos, any tips to make me better at this. But if anyone can figure out the second photo, meet me for a martini.



  • Hi Dave,

    It's nothing more than a shadow. Its in the first and second photos but more prominent in the second. I will even go out on a limb and say its from the gentleman in the blue jacket. How to avoid this is to flatten out the lighting. Put the lights right next to you and raise them up to drop the shadows behind them. Must admit a tad harder with a screen behind you and them close to it. You can also slow down the shutter speed and to grab more of the ambient and tell them not to move:) Another thought is to utilize the inverse square law and move the lights back to light everyone evenly. That way you don't get the cross shadows. Hope that helps. 

  • Thanks, Jay. The issue was that the platform was only about 12 feet deep, and because it was a few feet off the ground, putting the light stands on the floor would not have worked (7-foot stands). So really the only place to put them was out towards the corners of the platform, at least that's what I thought.

    Here is the second photo (and the first from above) showing that it was probably at least due to the older gentleman (he moves his head and the shadow moves). But it's SO. DARK, darker than the other shadows, it must have been some unfortunate combination of two shadows.

  • rs_eosrs_eos Member
    edited March 2017
    Another hint of what is going on is with the shadows of the legs.  I don't think the dark spot in the shadow is being caused by the man in the dark blue jacket.  The direction of the shadows from his legs is why I say that.  I believe the dark spot is caused by both men in right-back area.  It could also be from three or more people as well due to the cross-lighting.

    As Jay pointed out, moving the subjects away from the wall will soften or potentially remove shadows.  Or, use very large light sources (e.g. 7-foot umbrellas*).  Another possibility (though haven't tried this) is to use two light sources, but have them coming from the same direction.  Forgive this crude ASCII art:

    Subjects:  X  X  X  X  X   X
                  /              /
    Light 1       Light 2

    Here, light 1 is far camera left and aimed towards the left-half of the group.  Light 2 is at the camera (if you're using very large modifiers, you can stand in front).  Light 2 aimed at the right-hand half of the group.

     In theory, you can move both light sources as close as possible now to maximum softness.  And the lights coming from the same direction will give everyone the same dimensional look and shadows fall one direction as well.   Although this may only work for softboxes.  Umbrellas cast too widely, so you'd probably get cross lighting anyhow.

    I guess another way to pull this off is hopefully there's a large wall to either camera left or right. Bounce you flash(es) into that to then have one very large source.  Keep the group away from that wall to minimize falloff from the left to right edges of the group.

    * regarding very large umbrellas/modifiers.  Make sure your lights are powerful enough to work with the entire surface.  While I love my 7' silver parabolic umbrella, lighting with a single speed light isn't going to happen.  You end up effectively with a smaller say 4 to 5' umbrella.   Solution is to get a powerful strobe, or bracket to gang-up multiple speed lights (that you then angle to hit different locations within the large modifier).
  • Hi, RS - thanks for the input. Easily addressed is moving the people away from the wall, as you can see this in the shot with only four people in it. I had the room to do so, and I think it to be a pretty good photo.

    I was in a single-screen movie theater, with this platform in front of the screen about 3-4 feet high, maybe at most 12 feet deep. I used two umbrellas on either side of the platform - 45-inch reflective, each with a Speedlite. If there were no platform, the lights would have been to either side of me.

    One thing I do know is I should have had the 7-foot light stands extended all the way up (close, but not fully extended). At least then I could have pointed them a bit more downward, and put the shadows down further behind them. Also, it was a mistake on my part to let the couple of guys in the back get up on a 1-foot step along the back wall. That didn't help. This is where my inexperience with posing large groups I feel come into play.

    I went back 8-10 rows into the seating area, and used a 70-200mm lens, and I think it ended up being around 90mm. If I had gotten any closer, not only would I have suffered from a bit of lens distortion (I had a 24-70mm with me), but I would have been shooting "up" at the people, which is not flattering. There wasn't a huge slope to the seating where I was, but I got to just about eye level. Had I been to this theater before, I would have brougth a small ladder. In hindsight, I could have been closer to the stage, I would have been at eye level, and the lights maybe could have been brought in a bit.

    I know the dark spot didn't really have anything to do with the guy in front with the blue/black jacket, as there was no light directly in front. As I look at the two in-sequence photos, I now know it was caused partly by the older guy on the right. But, really, an unfortunate combination of shadows from a few people. In my line of work, it's could be analogous to "constructive interference".

    All this stuff from you and Jay helps, and that's why I put it up. I knew it was a shadow, but it was just SO. DARK. I haven't done a ton of these, and I'm certainly not Yoda when it comes to lighting and posing groups, but this was so unusual. But it's all good stuff to take into account the next time.

  • Neil vNNeil vN Administrator
    Yup, that darker shadow is because it is a double-shadow. Two shadows falling onto each other, causing an extra dark spot. 

    Nothing more to do but have larger umbrellas / softboxes, and to move the lights closer to you instead of having them at each corner ... but physical limitations during a shoot often nix this. 

    Dave ... you have a good idea there with placing the light higher up .. which would cause the shadows to fall behind them, lower down on the wall. 
  • Neil - Yes it was a bit of a physical limitation, but every time something like this goes awry, I learn. Higher up and closer in, and pull the people away from the backdrop. Next time.

    This was really odd though. I knew it was a shadow, but it was just so ... different.
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