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Photography Question 
Tiffiany L. COWART

Lighting for Indoor Portraits

I have no professional lighting and usually work outside - thus, I have no idea how to control lighting. I've been asked to take pics for a local church formal (of the couples). Can anyone tell me how to use the light that's available in the church to take good portraits?

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6/1/2004 4:44:01 PM

John Wright   Does the church have windows? Assuming that it doesn't, you'll need some type of additional lighting (hot lights or flash). If you must use only what's available, you'll need to use a film in the 800 or higher range. The problem will be lower quality (IMHO). Of course, if you use lower speed film, the shots will require more time, and blur will become a problem.

If the church does have windows, you can choose a window based on the following preference: 1. Always choose a north-facing window for window light portraits - if available. 2. A west-facing window for shots in the morning. 3. An east-facing window for shots in the evening. 4. Always avoid a south-facing window in the northern hemisphere. Good luck!

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6/2/2004 9:36:49 AM

Tiffiany L. COWART   Thanks for the suggestion. The church has windows with very little light, so I can't really use them. I will use the high-speed film, and I guess prayer is always good ... LOL! (Newbie jitters!) Thanks again.

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6/2/2004 12:43:16 PM

Karen M. Kroll
BetterPhoto Member Since: 4/24/2003
  In most situations during a church service, you will be asked NOT to use flash. The pastors, fathers, etc., do not like the constant flash in their faces and find them to be quite annoying (as they are.) What I have done is use a high-speed high quality film, and a good lens. And if possible, use a monopod. That way you will have the stability of the camera and the quickness to be able to move around.

The other thing to consider: Go beforehand and check the available light. (If using digital, premeasure your white balance.) Do several meter readings, and ask what lights will be on during the function.

Ask if the lights will change at any point. I had an event where I premeasured the white balance, did my readings, did test shots, and everything was looking great. When the ceremony started, they changed the lighting in the church, and everything from there on turned out "not really good" until I grabbed my other camera. Oh yes, that's the other thing. Try to always have a backup camera (and batteries) at all times when on location. Good luck!

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6/8/2004 5:13:45 AM

Peggy Wolff
BetterPhoto Member Since: 2/26/2003
  Tiffany, get yourself a good powerful flash with a small soft box to put over it. I have taken a few group shots in churches and found that they turned out better when just using my on-camera flash than they did when I lugged my big strobe lights. If a 200-speed does not work, then they do have a newer high-definition 400 speed film out now.

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6/8/2004 5:29:34 AM

todd gunderson   Tiffany, I have found that Fuji NPZ 800 is a great high-speed film with wonderful color and superfine grain for such a high speed.

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6/8/2004 8:45:08 AM

John L. Webb   Tiffany, you did not mention what equipment you would be working with, but faster lenses such as 1.4 and 2 will allow you, along with your choice of film, to work with available light. I personally use a rangefinder system that is almost totally vibration free, allowing me to shoot as low as 1/15th of a second handheld. Having said that and after hundreds of weddings shot, you will still run into the situation where you may have to add light to allow you to get the shots you want. A small flash unit has always sufficed for me, as long as you set it to NOT destroy the available light mood. I use anywhere between 200 and 400 on up Fuji Neopan for most of my work, with about a third of the shots being in color which are shot with Fuji 400 or 800. The directions you received above are all excellent and will help you learn to use and craft the light for your shots. You will do better than you think you will! Good Luck. If I can be of any personal assistance, please don't hesitate to contact me.

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6/9/2004 5:36:26 AM

RoxAnne E. Franklin   I shot a wedding in very very low light in a church using no flash. I've used lots of pro film, but the film I like the best for low light portraiture is Fuji film, NPZ 800 and NPH 400. If you have a great fast lens, say 2.8 or less, you may get away with using the 400. Remember, if using a zoom lens, the light is cut down even more. A good lens is always a 50mm fixed - they are sharp and faster than zooms. I prefer zooms, so I can crop. I'm zoom addicted, but everyone has their own preference on this.

Could you warm up to the minister or priest and ask to do a few practice shots? That way you'll know what you're going to get and it won't be so nerve-wracking. Go in a week before and shoot, shoot, shoot. Take a model with you, and tell the pastor that you'll give him all the good photos that you took. They always need photos for newsletters. Don't be nervous. With fast film or fast lens and film, you'll be fine. USE A TRIPOD!!! You won't be sorry you did - especially in low light. Yes, they are bulky to lug around, but the results in the photos will sell you on using one all the time.

And try to use your flash off-camera with a sync cord. Or if you have a movable flash head, you can move it towards a white towel, sheet, or diffuser. Place the diffuser so it bounces fill flash into the shadow side of the couple. Or get an Omnibounce for your flash head; it will diffuse the light somewhat to produce a more natural effect. I've even used a white recipe card taped to the top of my flash in a pinch - for inexpensive diffusion - and it works wonders.

You can email me, and I'll help as much as I can. I know what it's like to be concerned about doing your best. We all had to start somewhere. Don't worry, everyone is here to help you. Upload your test shots, and I'm sure you'll get great critique and ideas. It's a great way to learn.

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6/9/2004 8:48:19 AM

Sreedevi  Kashi   Fuji NPZ800 is the best film out there for low light. I've also used this film rated at either ISO 1600 or ISO 3200, and it had amazing results. If you do this, be sure to tell the lab so they can process it accordingly. Also, by pushing it one stop, you'll be able to capture more candids, and move around the room more.

If you prefer to use the flash, one thing that really works well and minimizes the shock for people is putting a white sock over the flash head. This diffuses not only the light hitting your target, but also the light coming out of the flash itself - no matter where that flash is pointed, it's still pretty shocking to people around. That's why for situations like this I prefer the sock over bouncing.

This will also help you keep the prettiness of the ambient light. One thing, if you're not using the flash, you should try to get an idea of what kind of colors are coming out of the indoor lighting. Most indoor lighting tends to look very red and yellow with normal film balanced for outdoors. You can get a filter for this though. But if there's a lot of fluorescent light, then your pictures will have a very green yellow look to them. I usually use an 81B filter - it filters out most of the cast while leaving in the look of the ambient lighting. When I've used the 81A, it corrects it too perfectly.

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6/14/2004 6:59:09 AM

RoxAnne E. Franklin   Wow,
this is great advice! I'd like to hear more about the sock, it seems to make alot of sense. probably produces a nice even light.
great idea.

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6/15/2004 5:33:38 AM

Sreedevi  Kashi   THe sock is great. That's exactly what it does is produce a nice even light. Make sure it's white, of course, otherwise you're going to have a color cast over everything. And experiment too. I actually cover my flash bulbs with all kinds of different diffusion for different purposes. You could use a meshy fabric, or tracing paper, a nylon sock, and if you want a neat color cast, use any color you want. I usually just tack it on with tape or rubber bands.

This filter company that supplies filters to movie people sends out free sample swatches of every type of filter you could possibly put over a light. They are the perfect size for your standard flash heads. And you have so many to choose from and experiment with. Go to

also if you go to a fabric store, or a place like Jo-Ann which has arts, crafts, and fabrics, you could try getting samples of all different kinds of fabrics and papers.

It's really interesting to see different looks you can get using different textures of diffusion on your flash- sometimes it's really subtle, but it's enough to perfect the look you were going for.

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6/15/2004 8:14:01 AM

RoxAnne E. Franklin   THANK YOU!!
you are too kool. I have a joanne's right down the street. I'm going to try some of your suggestions.
sounds interesting.
thanks so much, I put the sock on the flash head this morning, cant wait to see the results.

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6/15/2004 9:10:42 AM

Diane T. Phillips   So many people have recommended Fuji NPZ800 film. I'm curious as to what an 11 x 14 enlargement would look like with this film. (grainy?)etc... thanks

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6/15/2004 5:00:32 PM

RoxAnne E. Franklin   most likely everyone will have a different opinion on this, so i'll give you mine. using a tripod, correct lighting and all the bells and whistles like fast L lenses, etc..... blowing up my photos shot with this film to 11 x14 produces grain. some images look neat with it, others dont. I rarely blow up my images to 11 x14 unless I use the large format camera. it captures more detail.
hope this helped. Honestly, yes grainy. degrees of graininess are all relative to each photographer though.

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6/15/2004 5:19:16 PM

John L. Webb   I routinely print at 11x14 and have enlargements up to 16x20 that were tack sharp and very fine grain. My own personla favorite is film is Fuji Neopan Acros 100, Efke 50 and Fuji 400CN. As in most things, it's my humble opinion that this is the result of not only one's film chices, but other factors as well, including lenses, developer, time, temperature, paper, media, craft and luck!

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6/16/2004 5:17:34 AM

RoxAnne E. Franklin   Exactly John! I have more luck with larger prints when I use the slower film types, such as 400 down to 50. I can enlarge without loosing quality. When I use faster film, however, I do loose something. But again, I think quality is photographer specific. What I think is a quaility print, may not be in the eyes of another photographer. And, of course, I think we're all harder on ourselves than others. It's called the strive for perfection I guess.

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6/16/2004 6:36:03 AM

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