Wedding photography – Lighting large groups with a large light
Relating to the article positioning your flash for the wedding formals, where the family portraits and groups where photographed with a single umbrella and two speedlights, the question then inevitably comes up – what do you do when you need to photograph a large group of people.
The obvious answer is – you need a lot more juice! You either need to add more flashguns, or use a more powerful unit.
As a wedding photographer of Indian weddings, I know that I will be dealing with huge groups of people. And that means a small aperture – and that means a really powerful flash.
In a previous article,I described using two Quantum flashes and large 60″ umbrellas to spread the light. But the Quantum flashes, even though they are tough workhorses, aren’t that much more powerful than a speedlight.
Instead of the effort of setting up two Q-flashes on their light-stands, I am now using a much simpler set-up – Profoto B1 flash (500 Ws ) (affiliate), with either the Profoto RFi 3’x4′ softbox (affiliate), or a white shoot-through umbrella. The Profoto B1 flash is easy to set up. Even the softbox with the spines is hassle-free. The way that the softbox clips around the flash-head is also very straight-forward and hassle-free.
What you see in the photo above, was lit by that single large softbox 4 ft by 3 ft. There is slight light fall-off to the sides, but nothing that a quick swipe with the Local Adjustment Brush in Lightroom won’t fix. It’s a small trade-off doing this in post, for the simplicity of the lighting setup during the event. Do keep in mind that most groups would be much smaller, and then the light fall-off doesn’t exist.
The positioning of this Profoto softbox is exactly the same as described in this article – positioning your flash for the wedding formals. With this, I get consistent awesome light.
The summary to all this: I use whatever is necessary for the specific task, but also with an eye on what is easy to use.
camera settings: 1/125 @ f/10 @ 400 ISO
Photo gear used (or equivalents)
- Nikon D4
- Nikon 16-35mm f/4G AF-S VR / Canon EF 16-35mm f/4L IS
- Profoto B1 flash (500 Ws)
- Profoto RFi 3’x4′ softbox
Another example, with a pull-back shot
The pull-back shot here from another wedding, shows the absolute simplicity of lighting the formals this way. One massive softbox to my right, just inside the pew so that there’s no chance of someone tripping over the light-stand. What I like about the Profoto and the amount of power it is capable of delivering, is that it doesn’t strain to get enough light on your subject. (With a speedlight or two, we’re often working at full power, and the recycling time is then much slower.)
The following image shows the quality of light on just the couple themselves.
camera settings: 1/60 @ f/5.6 @ 400 ISO
Photo gear used (or equivalents)
- Nikon D4
- Nikon 24-70mm f2.8G AF-S / Canon 24-70mm f/2.8L II
- Profoto B1 flash (500Ws)
- Profoto RFi 3’x4′ softbox
- Shooting wedding photos in the mid-day sun
- How do you light large groups? … Evenly!
- More articles about wedding photography
- Indian wedding – Chase Center on the Waterfront
- Wedding – Valley Regency, NJ
12 Comments, Add Your Own
1Leo Dj says
Thank you for this article! :)
Just curious, with so many rows like in the example picture, what aperture did you use, f11?
“camera settings: 1/125 @ f/10 @ 400 ISO”
You must have missed it Leo [I sometimes skim over things too quickly also :) ]
2.1Steve Margita says
Neil, I need to shoot a large group of around 35-40 people in a private room of a restaurant. It’s a family reunion so it will consist of parents, grandparents and children.
I currently own 2 flashes, a mounting bar and a 48″ reflective umbrella. I am planning to keep it simple and place the large umbrella on axis with the camera. How much spread can I expect from the sides to cover the group. Do you think this will work? Or would it be better to use two separate single flashes on either side an reflective umbrellas? (No shoot through).
2.1.1Neil vN says
This depends on how wide you will spread the group. Two rows or three rows?
I think the umbrella with two speedlights should be enough of a spread of light, especially if you have the light source a little further back to allow a wide enough spread.
Just make sure you have enough DoF for the group.
3Neil vN says
I added the camera settings later on .. so it was entirely possible you read it before I added the details.
Hi Neil, thanks for the post. I own a Elinchrom Ranger Quadra Set of two lights, do one of this light could match what you got from the profoto? I also have the Elinchrom 39″ Deep Octa but not sure if this could do the job for a large group. Any advise would be preciate it.
5Neil vN says
Maurico … The Elinchrom Ranger Quadra will definitely be up to the task. The Quadra has 400 Ws according to the spec sheet. So two of those puppies will give out a lot of light!
You could always set up two umbrellas, one on either side of you.
The Elinchrom Deep Octa might give light that is too focused. I’m not sure. But it has specific uses.
With a shoot-through umbrella, you’re spreading the light fairly wide. So perhaps get an umbrella. They are so easy to set up and take up very little space.
Hi Neil: I must have missed it (I read the article 3 times). With the pull back shot using the 3’x4′ softbox, what is the light source (strobe, speedlight,???) You don’t specify in the equipment used section, and I clicked on the link for the profoto and it only brings up the power pack, it doesn’t indicate that it’s a kit, thanks!
6.1Neil vN says
It was the Profoto 600R power pack with a Profoto head .. that’s what is in the photo. But I have since replaced it with the easier-to-use Profoto B1 flash.
Neil thanks for another great article!
I can’t help but notice that you have moved away from Speedlight/QFlash setup in this wedding. So here are some follow up questions for you:
1. Have you moved away from the speedlight/Qflash setup now? If yes, would you care to share your thoughts on what tradeoffs you had to make before and now you don’t. Since this ProFoto is an expensive setup.
2. This setup is not very mobile, which means that you cannot reposition it during the wedding if you needed to. How do you avoid that pitfall?
3. If I cannot afford a ProFoto setup like this yet, then what would be an equivalent setup with speedlights (I am assuming I would need 2 or 3 speedlights in a large softbox?).
4. What kind of lamp did you use in this setup? As Troy posted earlier, the links you mentioned only take us to a ProFoto battery. These lights are also not covered in your gear review.
He used either the 500 Ws Profoto B1’s or the Profoto Acute 600 Ws. An equivalent setup using speedlites would be:
a) Profoto B1 @ 500 Ws = 10 Speedlites
b) Profoto Acute @600 Ws= 12 speedlites
This is taking into consideration that the lights are being used at full power and that speedlites are measured at @ 50-60 Ws in power. If the strobes are used at less than full power, a double or triple-mount for speedlites would do the trick.
Bumping up the iso from what Neil used (400) to 800 iso would effectively cut your need for flash power by 50%.
I hope this helps
9Neil vN says
At this point, I have moved to the Profoto B1 flash as my portable light setup. It is powerful and super-easy to set up.
There are no trade-offs with the Profoto B1, aside from the initial expense. The way I consider this though, is that the cost of the B1 is offset by how many times I am going to use it. Divide that cost by X weddings and Y on-locaiton headshot photo sessions, and Z photo sessions … and then the price difference (per shoot) between the Profoto B1 and other units, become much less. And this is easily surpassed by how easy the unit is to use.
I don’t reposition the lights for the family formals.
For an on-location light, I use it on a monopod.
Here is how I go about using the Profoto B1 at weddings.
Now, if you already have a bunch of speedlights, then the cost of the Profoto B1 becomes an additional item. But if you add up the cost of speedlights, then they quickly amount to more than the B1, especially if you take into consideration the battery packs and extra triggers. Nevermind the hassle of putting the speedlights together.
Here is how speedlights compare to studio lights.