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Photography Question 
Carolyn Weikkola

Tips For School Portraits

I am very new to this photography thing, but my sister has asked me to do the individual and group photos of her preschool students. I need tips on lighting, backdrop etc. (I have a very low budget, so I am going to have to "cheat" this first time round.) Please help!!
(I am shooting the last week of October 2002, so any prompt reply would be greatly appreciated.)

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9/26/2002 12:13:38 PM

Jeff S. Kennedy   Can you shoot them outside? For groups, even lighting is the key so if you can shoot them in open shade with natural light you will be best off. For the groups use a tripod and a relatively small aperture to get decent DOF. Something around f16 should be safe. I would do the individuals outside as well. Or near a large window to make use of the natural light. Unless you just can't find a simple background I wouldn't mess with backdrops. Just pick a simple background and use a wider aperture to throw it out of focus.

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9/26/2002 1:16:37 PM

Carolyn Weikkola   I would love to shoot them outside, however I live on the west coast of BC... it's going to start raining anyday now and won't stop until May, so that won't really work.

Because I will be shooting over two days, my developer has told me my lighting needs to be exactly the same each day, so he can just run them through the machine, otherwise he will have to charge me more to mess with them. I'm a little nervous about using natural light since the weather is so unpredictable here.

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9/26/2002 3:52:33 PM

Jeff S. Kennedy   Well, overcast days are the best. If you can't shoot outdoors is there a covered area or does the classroom have large windows you could use for light? The reason I'm pushing natural light is that it's much easier to control and if you aren't experienced using artificial light you could be in for some surprises you don't want. Additionally, to use artificial light I would have to suggest that you use umbrellas and stands and that's another thing you will probably have to buy (and you said you were on a low budget). Add to that a flash meter, slaves, background material, etc... you get the point.

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9/26/2002 5:17:49 PM

Carolyn Weikkola   There is a large south facing window in the preschool. I guess for some reason I was thinking artificial light would give me more control (shows how much I know) but I knew that to go that route I would have to fork out more cash since I don't have a meter, etc. The more I think about it,the more I think I am alot more comfortable with natural lighting, as I have not had any experience with artificial lighting. I would hate to screw this up!
Thanks so much!!

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9/27/2002 12:11:10 AM

Jim Sutton   Carolyn,

As I recall, when it starts raining there, you don't have much light with which to work. Even a large window may not provide the even lighting you'll need to do this right. I suggest you move quickly and take your photos out of doors as Jeff suggested. Since arranging students into a pleasing composition is sometimes rather slow and tedious, you might wnt to gather them in a large enough room and set up your composition. Then have have the students practice getting into the right position. That way you won't waste time once you're outside.

Just a thought.

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10/4/2002 1:59:40 AM

Mark English
BetterPhoto Member Since: 12/7/2001

Where on the west coast are you? I live in Richmond, and have some experience with this type of work. If you still have questions we could chat on the phone if like... just let me know and I'll email you my phone number.

You say you are on a tight budget (aren't we all?). With this type of shoot, you want to keep the lighting simple, and fairly even. Too often I see pictures of kids that are over lit... Keep it simple and just let them be kids. You also want to have enough light to give you decent DOF, and a fairly high effective shutter speed, since you can't always count on the little darlings staying still. I would use strobes, if you plan to work indoors.

So, you could rent a pair of 300ws monolights with stands and umbrellas, and a flash meter for $CA71 from Beau Photo in Vancouver. Buy a roll of 9' wide seamless paper in any colour you like, (also from Beau ~$55) tape it up on one wall in the classroom, let it roll out on to the floor as far as possible. Set up one Umbrella on each side and at about 5 - 6 feet from the floor (little people aren't as tall as adults), and far enough from the back wall so that your subjects will be 5-6 feet in front of the background, and the lights about the same distance or some what farther in front of the kids, Set one light ~ 2/3 of a stop brighter than the other, take one last reading from the subject position(you are looking for f/8-11), call the kids in and have a ball!

The short flash duration will freeze the action if they move a bit, and the quantity of light flying around will ensure you a small aperture for good depth of field. Too sharp and too much DOF isn't an issue because of the use of the seamless paper and the fact that your subject's complexions are likely to be about as perfect as any human ever has.

Don't let the use of the monolights intimidate you; it's really much simpler than you may think, and shops like Beau maintain their gear well.


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10/8/2002 2:12:46 PM

Carolyn Weikkola   Mark, thank you so much for responding!!! I am in the Abbotsford area, so you understand about the weather!!

I have been up nights worrying about how I am going to do this, but you make it sound doable!!! Unfortunetly I am on my way out the door, I will be back with a few questions later. (Thanks again!!)

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10/8/2002 2:34:36 PM

Mark English
BetterPhoto Member Since: 12/7/2001

Ther's a great book that you can probably find at Chapter's... Vik Orenstein's "Creative Techniques for Photographing Children"; highly recommended.

Also, here are a couple of pictures shot in the style I described above. The beauty of this approach is that it is simple; once you have set it up, you don't really have to worry too much about light direction and exposure... particularly if you are using colour negative film (Fuji Reala... best skin tones, and finest grain by far!). secondly with the technical side taken care of, you can now focus on the image and the subject in front of you. I prefer a looser approach to this type of photography, which may or may not suit your tastes. I like to let the kid, just be a kid... not frozen in fron of the lens, like 99% of all school photography produced today. Tell a joke, or better yet, get the kid to tell you a joke. Ask them the name of their cat, and then feign surprise when they tell you (Goodness! That's my cat's name too!) You'll catch more engaging, natural expressions and have a lot of fun to boot!

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10/8/2002 10:42:03 PM

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