How to Photograph a Group at Sunset
My shoot will be of 8-10 people on a golf course about 1/2 hour before sunset. I want to make sure everyone is in focus. I have a Nikon N60, using Portra 400, and was planning on my Tamron 28-105mm 1:4-5.6D vs. Nikkor 35-80mm 1:4-5.6D or Nikkor 70-300mm 1:4-5.6G. Is the Tamron the lens to use? Also, I want to shoot at a small aperture/large f-stop# ... correct? Any advice is much appreciated!
Anndrea, there are a lot of variables in there, but here's an overview:
First, I presume you will position the group so they are facing the sun - in order to be illuminated by it. If you face into the (beautiful) sunset, then the group will become a silhouette of shadow because the sun will likely cause the meter to overcompensate and reduce exposure to the film. Or, you could have the group with the sunset behind them, but will need to use a flash to add lighting to the people (so-called "fill flash").
As for lens choice - it would seem that the wider angle focal lengths are most appropriate - assuming you plan to be standing relatively close to the gang. If you'll be taking them from 75 feet away, then you might need the longer lens. The difference between 28mm and 35mm is noticeable, so perhaps the Tamron at 28-ish mm would be a better choice. If that's too wide, you can always zoom in - while you can't "zoom out" from 35mm on the Nikkor lens. Since they're both the same speed, there's no advantage there. And while the Nikkor might be slightly better optically, unless you're planning to make a poster-sized print, the difference is negligible.
You are generally right about what f-stop to use - the smaller aperture (higher f-number) will give greater depth of field, keeping everyone in focus (if they're standing in 3 rows, for instance). However, you might prefer to NOT have too much DOF, because it might look nicer if the group is sharp but the background behind them (trees and bushes, say) are out of focus - this is where you use the depth-of-field preview button on the camera (I think the N60 has one) - just to view through the lens while it's stopped down to f5.6 or 11 or whatever the meter indicates.
The other consideration on f-stop is that the smaller the aperture, the longer the required shutter speed to compensate. And too slow a shutter speed means potential blur. Even if you put the camera on a tripod (which you should, if at all possible), the motion of the people in the picture will cause them to blur out at too slow a shutter speed.
And you thought this would be easy, eh? ... Final thought: Why not go out tonight and take some shots in similar circumstances? Any field around sunset with a subject - could be a dog or a herd of cats - and experiment with various f-stops and shutter speeds. Take note - what f-stop, shutter speed (and flash setting) you used on each picture. Then get them developed at the 1-hour kiosk someplace to see which gives the best results.
Thanks for the advice. I've shot this time of day on a golf course before but never with this many people. I was planning on taking some w/flash and some without. I have a Nikon SB-50Dx. Will this even provide any fill?
Well, I would think that for the distance at which you'll have to position yourself and the width of the group, it's unlikely that the on-camera flash will provide enough fill light to make a difference. I would think this is another variable to test.
At 1/2 hour before sunset, yes, you will have that glorious color on their faces. But you could also turn them around and get that sunlight behind them. Don't use auto-exposure. Meter with an incident meter, or meter with your camera at a part of the sky that doesn't include the sun. Just remember that your exposure changes every few minutes with the setting sun. Now, you must add fill flash. You could also put an amber filter over the flash to give the group that sunset-look.
Then, after the sun slips below the horizon, do something even better: a twilight portrait. This is the most beautiful time of day, as the sky will turn into a glorious kaleidescope of color. Meter for the ambient light, UNDERexpose it by one stop to bring out the color of the sky, and expose the flash correctly for the group. Simply lovely!
But don't forget the tripod, because your exposure will probably be f/5.6 at 1/15th or even 1/8th of a second with 800 or 400-speed film.
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