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Category: All About Photography : Photographic Field Techniques : Studio, Still, & Personal Portraiture Photography

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Photography Question 
Mandy Kopitzke
BetterPhoto Member

member since: 4/12/2008
 

Group Pictures


I have been asked to photograph a group of about 25 people at our church for an 80th birthday party. I am wondering if the camera and flash that I have will work. I have a Canon Rebel XT, Canon Speedlite 430ex, Canon EFS 18-55mm lens, and a Canon Zoom Lens EFS 55-250mm 1:4-5.6 IS. They were thinking about having me stand in the balcony with them in the pews looking up or something like that. Do you think I need a different lens or flash? Keep in mind, I'm just beginning with photography and don't have a lot of experience. Thank you.

10/7/2008 7:01:02 AM

 
John H. Siskin
BetterPhoto Member
John-Siskin.com
John's Photo Courses:
4-Week Short Course: An Introduction to Photographic Lighting
4-Week Short Course: Getting Started in Commercial Photography
4-Week Short Course: Portrait Photography Lighting on Location and in the Studio
  Hi Mandy,
The camera can do the job, the on-camera flash canít. Unless the church is extremely well lit, you would need at least two strobes with over 300 watt-seconds each from above and to the sides. There are a lot of things you can do if you have real strobe power, but not much you can do with the 430. Sorry.

10/7/2008 10:25:32 AM

 
Alan N. Marcus

member since: 3/4/2006
  Hi Mandy,
While your camera and lens will work for the indoor group picture, your flash will prove to be a little weak for this task. The strength of a flash falls rapidly with distance. Shooting from the balcony will help even out the light from the flash. Consider fiddling with groupís location. The idea is to place them as close as possible to you; this might place them on the floor in front of the stage. Try both locations (on and off stage).
If closeness is not possible, use a slow shutter speed. A flash in combination with a slow shutter speed (1/30 - 1/60) gives better penetration in a large open room, especially if room lights are on. From a technical standpoint, you donít want to mix artificial light and electronic flash. However, sometimes you have no choice; so you take the shot and live with the color balance mismatch. If the shot is taken during daylight hours, the flash and the daylight likely commingle, thatís good.
Try to place the subjects using three or even four rows to keep the row length short. Short rows allow you to work in close. Focus not on the center row, but on the next row closer to you. Depth-of-field extents further to the rear this technique results in all rows in focus. Again, flash does not carry for great distances so set the rows in a semicircular pattern. This causes the flash to be more even center-to- periphery.
Alan Marcus (marginal technical gobbledygook)

10/7/2008 10:58:14 AM

 
Bernard 

member since: 3/25/2005
  Hello Mandy,
Also a tripod will make a huge difference, especially when there's not much light.

10/7/2008 1:40:45 PM

 
Mandy Kopitzke
BetterPhoto Member

member since: 4/12/2008
  Thank you for all your input, I appreciate it!

10/7/2008 3:46:46 PM

 
W. 

member since: 9/25/2006
  If you can find a location OUTdoors, during daylight hours, to shoot down onto the group, then you won't need flash for the main lighting. The 430EX could still be useful as fill, though. Especially if the group have their backs to the sun.
Have fun!

10/8/2008 5:20:52 AM

 
Roy Blinston
BetterPhoto Member

member since: 1/4/2005
  Why not go to the Church before the event (on your own) and do some "test shots" of vantage points - with and without tripod. Make good notes at the time, then check your pics afterwards. Once you know what will work you can relax on the day and "just do it".

10/14/2008 7:08:02 AM

 
Mandy Kopitzke
BetterPhoto Member

member since: 4/12/2008
  That's a good point, I'll probably do that. Thank you!

10/14/2008 7:34:45 AM

 
Bruce A. Dart

member since: 1/7/2007
  Hi Mandy,
The additional discussion came up with some very good advice. All of the answers are correct...depending! There are many ways to do things and each photographer has a way that works for them. You can light up the whole area (as John suggested) or you can essentially take an available light image and balance the color and exposure with a little fill flash. The tripod is a must. Using a light meter or the camera to determine exposure, set the camera on manual and an f stop sufficient to get adequate depth of field if you have to pose them in rows. By having a smaller aperture and the shutter open longer, you will pick up ambient light in the church. Doing some test shots is also a great idea. Then you know what works. I have done this successfully with much larger groups. Going outside could be easier but in bright sun it could create harsh light and shadows that would be a disaster. Unless the lighting in the church is terrible -- and I suspect it is fairly even -- I would feel more comfortable doing the job indoors. The mismatch of light used to be more of a problem than it is now with digital. Go for it.
Bruce

10/14/2008 4:59:02 PM

 
Greg McCroskery
BetterPhoto Member
imagismphotos.com

member since: 2/27/2003
  Mandy,
This doesn't seem that difficult an issue. Bruce is right on target. You definitely should use a tripod to minimize camera movement. Shoot in Manual Exposure Mode with your ISO set to 400 and your aperture set to f8 for adequate depth of field. Then simply select a shutter speed that will allow you to record the ambient, or existing light in the church. Remember that your shutter speed will not effect your flash exposure. ISO 400 will give you a substantial flash range.
God Bless,
Greg

10/14/2008 6:10:19 PM

 
Mandy Kopitzke
BetterPhoto Member

member since: 4/12/2008
  I've been researching and reasearching this, I get nervous that my pictures will turn out dark or have shadows. How does a light sphere work, would one be helpful in this situation?

10/23/2008 7:02:30 PM

 
John H. Siskin
BetterPhoto Member
John-Siskin.com
John's Photo Courses:
4-Week Short Course: An Introduction to Photographic Lighting
4-Week Short Course: Getting Started in Commercial Photography
4-Week Short Course: Portrait Photography Lighting on Location and in the Studio
  Hi Mandy,
A light sphere would not help you in this situation. It eats up some of the light from your strobe, and you do not have enough light as it is. Anything you put in front of or on top of your strobe will result in less light hitting the subject. What would help is a couple of 500 watt-second strobes. Check out www.alienbees.com. Good luck, John Siskin

10/23/2008 10:02:24 PM

 
W. 

member since: 9/25/2006
 
"I've been researching and reasearching this, I get nervous that my pictures will turn out dark or have shadows."

Take the gueswork out of the equation, Mandy. Do as Roy suggested: do a hands-on trial run! On location! Then you will KNOW if it'll work. Ahead of time.

Have fun!

10/24/2008 4:41:08 AM

 
Bruce A. Dart

member since: 1/7/2007
  Hi Mandy,
If you were to actually "light" the whole area you would need the kind of "firepower" that John suggested -- and that is certainly one approach. However, IF there is reasonable light in the church (and unless it is very large with very poor lighting that most churches do not have -- most are fairly well lit) then you can easily do an available light shot -- a tripod is A MUST -- using your small flash to soften shadows and balance some of the color. Unless you are going to invest in the equipment anyway, as well as spending time learning how to use it, you would be better off not going that route. The KEY here is to do an actual test ahead of time. Since you imply that this is your church, that should not be hard. If what you try does not work, then you absolutely know what you need from there to get the shot. Even if you adequately light the group, such as a fair sized wedding party in a big church, the background can go dark. You need a tripod and a slow shutter to pick up the ambient light. A rule of thumb in this case is to have the background one stop darker than the subjects. Having the background as light or brighter puts more attention on the background than the subjects. Darker than that is too dark. Earlier this week I just photographed a 20-member jazz band for our local university, both indoors on stage and outdoors. The indoor shots need a slight tweaking in photoshop but they are better than the outdoor ones where the shadows are too much. If you expect a little flash to light up a group this size on its own, it will NOT work. If you use the ambient light the job is easy.
Bruce

10/24/2008 5:36:53 PM

 
Greg McCroskery
BetterPhoto Member
imagismphotos.com

member since: 2/27/2003
  Mandy,
I've shot many, many large groupings at weddings over the years and I assure you that the suggestions Bruce has made are right on the money, including his 'rule of thumb' about exposing the background one stop darker than the group. Just make sure you are shooting in Manual Exposure Mode so that your flash doesn't affect your ambient exposure settings. You will always get better quality of light from powerful studio strobes, but they are not essential. People understand that light produces shadows and as long as those shadows are not extremely harsh or obtrusive, they will not mind. People are much more concerned with good expression, posing, and backgrounds. Go do some test shots as suggested, using a tripod and see what works -- you don't need to do a test shot of a whole group, just one person will tell you whether you are getting a good exposure. Since you will be shooting in landscape orientation, your flash will be mounted directly above your lens which will greatly minimize shadows.

God Bless,
Greg

10/25/2008 7:19:40 AM

 
Mandy Kopitzke
BetterPhoto Member

member since: 4/12/2008
  Thank you, I'm going to try it out after church tomorrow, I'll let you know how it goes!

10/25/2008 7:58:54 AM

 
Mandy Kopitzke
BetterPhoto Member

member since: 4/12/2008
  I just wanted to let you know that I got the job done. They turned out OK, I haven't heard any complaints, so they must be ok with them. I would upload one, but my computer's hard drive went bad and is trying to get rivived right now. I hope they can fix it YIKES!

11/25/2008 12:34:24 PM

 

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