Wedding photography – lighting large groups
Weddings are one of those occasions when families and friends come together from far and wide. An opportunity to see people they might rarely see otherwise. So it is an important task of any wedding photographer to record this – to get photographs of the various family groups.
This photo is the pull-back shot from one of the big groups I had to photograph at an Indian wedding this weekend. Now, everyone who has been to an Indian wedding, knows that they are sprawling events. There’s lots going on and it can be slightly chaotic at times. So when the bride warned me before the wedding date that there were several large groups of people that she’d love to have photographed, I was ready …
There are 50 people in this specific group photo. A really big group! Now, with the time constraints on the wedding day, there is no opportunity to (or need to) mess around with complex lighting setups. Keep it simple! Really simple.
So there is my setup. I’ve mentioned it in a previous article on lighting the family groups with off-camera flash. Two Quantum flashes on either side, each with a 60″ umbrella to really spread the light wide. And that’s the entire basic idea here – a flood of even light. Nice light that just opens up everyone’s face. No cross-shadows. Nothing difficult to deal with in the post-processing edit.
The two Q-flashes were triggered with PocketWizard Plus II units. Of course, being a static setup like this with off-camera flash, it had to be manual flash exposure. TTL flash has no place here. I shot at f6.3 @ 800 ISO with a wide angle. Plenty DoF at the focused distance. (No, I didn’t measure it.)
A little bit more about what you can see there in that image:
The guy on the right-hand side is Dipak, the videographer on this occasion. He’s cool – laid-back, professional and helpful. The two lights you see in front of the umbrella, are his video-lights that he had up during the ceremony, and to record some of the activity around the family photo session. The incandescent lights from a videographer rarely bother me, since I gel my speedlights when I photograph the ceremony and reception. I also gelled my Q-flashes here with a 1/2 CTS gel.
The small ladder you see in the front, is mine. I knew I might need to get some elevation with the group photos. The people in that photo are on 3 levels. Chairs in the front, where ladies are seated. Husbands or boyfriends stand behind them. Then there are more families standing on the mandap stage itself. (The mandap stage is where the ceremony takes place.) I do make sure that there is no one standing directly in front of the bride and groom, nor is anyone standing directly behind them. This way, the focus is still on the bride and groom in the center.
Arranging a group of this size needs some confidence and a big voice. It’s not for the timid! I start off by having the bride and groom seated. Then I start filling in the front row of seats, and then arrange their partners behind them. I do fill in some space with guests. Then I add the people on the top layer. I really try that no one looks *over* someone’s head. Then you’d just see a pair of anonymous eyes. The best is for people to look over the shoulders of the two people in front of them. Then they are staggered in a good way.
That about sums it up. What I specifically wanted to show here was the simplicity of the setup. Two big lights spreading light evenly around. Nothing more needed. Simplicity is the key.
- Lighting large groups at weddings – Profoto
- Positioning your flash for the formals
- A simple lighting setup for photographing the wedding formals
- more articles on Wedding Photography
- more articles about Off-Camera Flash
- more images Indian wedding, New Jersey
48 Comments, Add Your Own
1Rishi S. says
Awesome stuff, Neil. Being Indian, I can guess how chaotic (and long, and crowded) these ceremonies can become. If one doesn’t have a clear plan in place, a nervous breakdown is a very clear possibility. :)
2ron lemish says
Amazing that just after a wedding you have time to prepare this blog. You are a busy man.
I have a company that photographs High School and University reunions here in Montreal.You have explained well what we also do to set up the class reunion shot.
Sometimes in crowded quarters we have students sitting in front on the floor and at time two rows of people on the floor the first row sitting on their bums and the second row slightly higher in a kneeling position.Here again a ladder is important to gain a little hight to prevent a front row from hiding the second row behind.When we have to photograph more than 80 students we split the group into a male and female shot.
For this all to work with the larger group count we set up two rows of students behind the first row of seated students.They are offset so that there is no one directly behind the first standing row.Just before the photo is taken we have the first standing row slightly squat down not to block those standing in the second row.We put the remaining students mostly men standing on two sets of chairs behind the first three rows. Here again the students standing on the first row of chairs squat at the time the photo is take.Through twelve years of taking reunion photos we find this the best way to set up large groups, sometimes in a restricted area.
You have to build hight rather than width and we usually set our rows of chairs 12 across. If there are no students sitting on the floor ( smaller groups ) remind the women to cross their legs at their ankles. We have to work fast in the period of time after the cocktail hour and before the start of the meal. We use one sb 900 flash with flash head slightly tilted up to prevent burning out the floor area showing before those seated. We shoot at F 5.6 from about 30 to 40 feet and that is ok for DOF. ASA 400 or 800. You can see samples of our work at http://www.reunphoto.net
Ron Lemish Lph.
3Joe Leong says
Love Indian weddings. Bollywood drama and the works.
I notice matching purple brollies for the occasion
4Neil vN says
Being inexperienced with this type of set up, I have a question….
Where did you meter from for the flash lights in the line up? i.e is ensuring that the front row and back row is evenly lit a concern or not really over this depth?
6Nikki Moore says
Hi Neil! This is so timely. I have been using two 60″ umbrellas and Canon 580 EXII flashes for indoor formals for a few months now (mainly due to the knowledge I’ve gained in reading your blog and books). I have a question — the church I was in last weekend had very shiny wood paneling behind the altar/stage. Every photo has two reflections on the wall from the two flashes. I was also using a diffused on-camera flash and that helped light the whole place a little bit. But is there a way to not have those two spots? I had the lights up very high (around 10′) and angled down. Do I need to angle more with higher lights?
Great explanation–thanks! Any chance you’ll be posting the actual photos? Love the colors…
8Neil vN says
9Scott Shah says
Just emailed to quote me your price for Indian wedding for my daughter next year. So perfect to see Indian wedding you just did.
10Neil vN says
11E J says
Spot on. Agree manual flash, exposure and focus. Having photographed large groups I found that camera on tripod and myself standing by enabled me to scan the people and to make sure that no one had shifted position or was scratching their nose. A problem can be blinkers. A few people are flash shy. They close their eyes, either intentionally or unintentionally, when they think the flashes are about to fire. I had to surprise them so they wouldn’t anticipate the flash. I’d start telling a story: “You know a funny thing happened on the way here as I was getting in my car” Click.
Neil, which factors govern the height of umbrella & the ladder? Or, what is “high enough”?
13Neil vN says
Neil, do you mind sharing the umbrella brand/link as you usually do :)
unlike usuall umbrella, it’s so deep
15Neil vN says
16Yeyeht Tejada says
Thank you for taking the time to write and share. The simple the better – because it’s easier to understand for beginners like me. :)
17Kevin W. says
Neil, do you put the lights as far back as wattage allows to reduce falloff?
18Neil vN says
Re: height – Thank you, Neil.
Great read, thanks.
Did you have the flashes at the same power setting?
21Neil vN says
22Neil Patel says
Hi, Neil Indian wedding are not esay to photograph, if dont have plan in place..you have done amzing job w family photos. just for my info, waht lens did you use for family photo of these size, and amount of sapce you had to work with. I used 16mm on my last wedding cus I did not have ladder, I was on stage no where else to stand. I was not informed about large group photo.
thank you for sharing your experience.
23Neil vN says
Thanks for addressing this issue. I would appreciate your thoughts on these questions:
– Can this set-up be achieved with a 580 EX II in each of the 60″ umbrellas?
– What would be the cons if I decide to use Flex TT5s and a Mini TT1 in TTL configuration for this type of shot?
– When you gel your flash with a 1/2 CTS gel what’s your WB setting on the camera?
25Neil vN says
“It was the Nikon 14-24mm lens, used at 16mm. So that does make the umbrellas oddly shaped.”
Thanks Neil for your usual insight. I appreciate it.
I think you have the flash camera right aimed at the left side and the flash camera left shooting to the right so they cross in the middle and there aren’t any hot spots?
Neil, thanks again for yet another very helpful post. I’m about to do a choral group shot of about 60-75 with my 60″ umbrellas and Alien Bee 800s. Are you using 13-foot stands, or are higher stands needed to get this height? thanks!
30Neil vN says
31Arturo S. Ramirez says
In a group photo where people are staggered, just like this one, where do you set your focus to ensure everyone is sharp? How do you make sure everyone look sharp? Would using a smaller aperture such as F8, F11 ensure this? If so, and I’m repeating myself here, in a staggered situation, where exactly would you set the focus on?
32Neil vN says
Great as always, thanks. From this angle it looks like if you were on the ladder you’d get the video lights in your field of view. Is that an illusion, or have you just not got the ladder positioned where it will actually be? And, is 6.3 your “go to” aperture for group shots? Lastly, do you approach lighting any differently if you are dealing with beautiful, vivid colors, like at an Indian wedding, than you do at the other weddings where bridesmaid dresses all seem to be one color with the B&G in B&W?
34Neil vN says
35Arturo S. Ramirez says
Thanks so much for answering my question Neil.
This is the second time I’ve asked a question. The first time I did, you answered very quickly. The second time I did, I wasn’t expecting a quick answer just because I thought you had other better things to attend to than answer a simple (I guess it would be to you) question like that. Was I wrong!
You truly are a gift to all of us who love photography. Thanks so much for sharing your knowledge and expertise.
36Arturo S. Ramirez says
May I add another question to my earlier e-mail, which I neglected to ask, concerning focusing? In auto focus mode, which mode would you use – single, dynamic or auto area mode?
37Neil vN says
38Arturo S. Ramirez says
Thanks so much again Neil for that speedy reply.
39Jonathan Trueman says
Firstly, I very much appreciate your postings and have learned a lot from these and your books so thank you.
I too have had hot spots on wood panelling behind groups when shooting with softboxes and studio flash. Any reason not to bounce studio flash with a suitable ceiling?
This late post prompts me to wish you a Happy Christmas!
40Neil vN says
41Steve K says
Thanks for all your insightful knowledge. Question: With your umbrellas that far away, would the quality of light be pretty much the same as direct flashes on the stands? In other words, would an umbrella (at a long distance) approach a point of light like a direct flash, and give similar quality of light? If that is true, could’nt I use dirct flash at a wide angle to spread the light around?
42Neil vN says
Hello, Neil. I am thrilled to have stumbled upon your site. It’s incredibly informing and the best source of information I have come across in all my years of internet searching thus far. I appreciate your hard work and the fact that you are willing to pass your knowledge along.
I was hoping you may be able to help me out with a shoot I have tomorrow. It is a 4 generation family shoot (26ppl) and they would like the main group portrait to be taken in the matriarch and patriarch’s front yard. The house would be the background and there are several trees that cast shadows across the lawn. We are scheduled to begin around 3pm and I am not quite sure what direction the sun will be in relation to the yard. I have the Canon 5D and the 580EX… and a basic light kit with 2 softboxes and several reflectors. Idealistically, I would love to only use the 580. Weather calls for sunshine, but the past few days have been overcast. I would truly appreciate any advice you might have on a starting point for settings… I enjoy shooting large groups and have always done alright with just the 580 but I would like to really nail it tomorrow! Thank you so much! ~ Michelle
44Neil vN says
Just wondering if you could use a one light setup (your simple light setup) with a 60″ and effectively light a group of about 20-25 people? Someone suggested for me to use a 60″ silver lined umbrella with my White Lightning 800. I have a 8.5 tall stand. Would this work or do I need two?
46Neil vN says
Neil, I’ve been following your blog for a while now, so let me start off by saying thanks for all the great posts!
I am going be doing a fairly large family group shot (30 people) with ages from 8 months to 80 years. If the weather permits, it’ll be out side around noon (I had no say in the time). The area has a ton of open shade. I only have shoot through umbrella’s. I’ll be using Nikon’s 24-70mm f/2.8. My thought is to to do it at 24mm at f/5.6 and have the two shoot throughs on either side as high as my stands allow (7′?) and just outside my FoV (or photohsopped out later).
If i’m outside should i just use ambient or should i use the umbrellas?
Would it be better to do it at 50mm? If i do it at 50mm i think i’ll need to be about 40ft away… If i’m outside should i just use ambient or should i use the umbrellas?
Thanks in advance,
48Neil vN says