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What I would have asked Neil

jcgoodsonjcgoodson Member
edited November 2012 in general photography
Neil's recent brain teaser got me thinking: if I won a Skype tutorial with Neil, what would I ask him? Since I won't be speaking directly with Neil (alas, I didn't win), I thought it would be interesting to pose my questions here. Thanks in advance for any responses.

1- Neil's blog posts and books have significantly improved my photography (I'm a hobbyist). In fact, I've become pretty confident in my ability to get soft, directional light and good exposure with an on-camera flash. From time to time I have the opportunity to take pictures for friends -- pictures of kids, families, etc. In terms of lighting, exposure, composition, etc., I nail the images. But, all of my technical prowess is lost on the parent who, when they view the photos, wants a better smile from their child, or wishes a piece of clothing could be adjusted. I can understand this. When I view pictures of myself I am very picky about my appearance. How does one get better at "capturing the moment?" How does one consistently capture genuine expressions?

2- On a more mechanical note, which auto-focus mode do you use? Let's say we're photographing a group of one, two, maybe even three people. Currently, on my Canon 7D, I manually move the focus point among the different locations. There are other options including fully automatic focus point selection and automatic selection within a preset zone (the user selects a zone of 4-5 focus points and the camera selects focus point(s) from this set). I'm worried if I switch to one of the more automatic options that I won't get good focus on subjects' eyes/face. While my current method gets decent results it tends to be slow -- and sometimes I miss a good photo because I'm busy adjusting the focus point.

3- How does one get even lighting for a group when bouncing only one on-camera flash? I get good results with 2-3 people, but as the numbers grow larger, group members start casting shadows on other group members. Short of buying more flash units and wireless triggers, what can I do?




  • StephenStephen Member
    edited November 2012
    #1: Can't answer this.

    #2: I use AF-S. If you are shooting groups of stationary people that are not on the same focal plane, you need to shoot at an aperture with some depth of field (f5.6 or narrower), so anybody who is not on your focus point is reasonably still in focus. If you do this, just focus on one person and shoot.

    #3: EDIT: I misread your post. With a single on-camera flash, you would have to bounce off a large bounce surface to have the return light cover a large area. Where the bounce surface is located becomes your new light source. If you are getting cross shadows from people standing next to each other, you would have to re-arrange them or choose a new bounce surface.

    I was referring to off-camera flash in my original post.
  • 1. Next to lighting your subjects well posing and getting great expressions is probably the second most important skill to learn. Making your subjects comfortable and relaxed is a starting point. They need to lose the stiff camera smile and therefore you need a genuine spontaneous smile. Sometimes I tell bad jokes. Or I threaten to dance if need be. (I never have and the camera would shake anyway.) Usually I ask my assistant to be silly. The last thing you want to say is 'smile.' Maybe once, just so they know you're ready to go. And often the smiles on cue are pretty good. Try to develop a rapport with your clients. Never try to cajole a reluctant smiler or single anyone out. Always maintain respect for your client while trying to have fun at the same time. There is not enough space here to list all the tricks and tips. But experiment and you'll find a few things that work for you. Sometimes with kids who are not cooperating you have no choice left but to let them have fun and try to get candids. I had a 3-year-old girl last week who refused to let me take her photo. Tears, turning away, running away, you name it. So I got some candids best I could and I ended up with some really cute ones and a lot where she was smiling and the mom is really happy. Maybe in time I would have won her over but it was cold out so not a lot of time.

    2. I also use AF-S. Single focus. Unless the camera knows where the eyes are I'm not using an automatic focus feature. And even then I probably would not. That's for people. If it's scenery you are shooting maybe it's different. I don't know.

    3. I disagree with Stephen. While more lights might be better in a lot of situations, the question was how to do it with one on-camera flash. Neil's Tangents blog is full of examples where he has photographed groups with one on-camera flash, usually bounced against a back or side wall. If you bounce it right the big wall behind you or to the side becomes a big softbox. Then, if you can understand and employ the inverse square law you'll be in really good shape. Neil has a write-up on inverse square law on Tangents. As for subjects shadowing each other, you have to see that and move them. With one flash you probably haven't much choice except to light them from the center. Maybe if you have window light on one side your flash can light the other side. Or your window or another available light source can be your fill.

    If I'd won the Skype session (I did not compete for it though) I'd ask Neil to explain the math to me. Math, math, math. It's like real estate... The three most important things are location, location and location.
  • Skipperlange, I misread his post. I had off-camera flash in my head. I have amended my post. Thanks.
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