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Photography Question 
Florinda Green

Shooting Group Photos in Dull Lighting

I have been asked by some friends to take group family photos (colour, outdoor). I am based in Ireland and, as such, the days are often very dull and grey. I'm concerned that my photos will turn out dull and grey too. What's the best way to address lighting in this situation? Is fast film a bad idea if they want enlargements? I'm thinking of using a 100mm lens, but will that place me too far away from the group to use fill-in flash? My equipment consists of an EOS Rebel 2000, a bounce flash, a slave flash, and a tripod. I'm a beginner, so any suggestions would be very welcome. Thanks!

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1/2/2005 7:10:39 AM

If you are taking a large group with a small flash, the closer you are the better. You might want to use a wider lens than 100mm, but it depends on the group size.

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1/2/2005 12:08:25 PM

Maria Melnyk   Actually, "dull" lighting is perfect for photographing groups, or even individual portraits. You won't have to deal with eyes squinting in the sun or with shadows on people. You may use a warming filter to warm up the dull, grey lighting, such as a #81A or 81B, or a Skylight 1A filter. I prefer the 81's, but the choice is yours. Fill flash is o.k. to use, but you really don't need it if you don't have shadows to fill in. It will do nothing for the "dull" background lighting. However, it will liven up your subjects because it will put catchlights in their eyes. Just don't rely on it as your main light source because then your background will look unnatural, plus you would get light fall-off with the back rows of people. And use that tripod because you will probably need a small aperture of around f/11 or so for groups, meaning that on dull, grey days your shutter speed will be about 1/15th of a second -- too slow to hand-hold. A tripod also lets you fine-tune your composition. Make sure your horizon is perfectly horizontal. Finally, even though you didn't ask this, do have your family groups color-coordinate their clothing; solid, non-wild colors are best. All of the above will ensure professional-quality photographs.
Now, for those occasional bright, sunny days, have the sun above and behind your groups, but not in the frame. This way they'll be beautifully back-lit. The most gorgeous time of day is twilight, just after the sun goes down. Use Professional 800 film, have the sunset as your background, underexpose the sky by 1/2 to 1 stop, and definitely use flash. Beautiful!! (Enlargements are no problem for Pro-800 films, but use 160 or 200 for sunny days, and 200 or 400 for cloudy days.)
(I apologize to all readers for getting carried away.)

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1/4/2005 7:08:58 PM

Florinda Green   Maria,
Thank you so much for your detailed response. It was just the sort of information I needed. One final question; Charlie brought up the topic of what lens to use with what size group (thanks Charlie!) - do you have any guidelines on that? Thanks again.

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1/5/2005 2:03:49 AM

Maria Melnyk   Hello, Florinda!
As Charlie stated, the type of lens depends on the group size. However, photographic rules are meant to be broken. First consider how much of the background you want to include in your photos. Will you be photographing against a beautiful landscape? If so, you might wish to use a wider angle lens, because that will encompass more of your background. Just keep in mind that with wide angle lenses (24-28mm), the people near the edge of the photos might look distorted and will look like they're leaning. Also, if photographing a large group, the people in front will look larger than the people in the back rows. You will need to put more people in the back than in the front to balance it out and straighten out the edges of your rows. A telephoto lens will compress the background and your rows of people and make everything from front to back appear closer together, and the front rows of people won't look visibly larger than the people in back. You'll get less background in your photos than with a wider angle lens, but with smaller groups, I telephoto pictures look more professional. Then there's depth of field to consider. You'll get more with wide angles than with telephotos. Example: If you have five rows of people, you might need f/22 with a 100mm lens to get everyone in focus (which might mean for a very slow shutter speed), but you can get by with f/5.6 for a 28mm lens. Now, back to some guidelines. If you have, say 3-8 people or even a few more, do use that 100mm lens at either f/5.6 if all are in one row or f/8 if two rows. If you have 15, use about a 70mm, and 50mm for 20-30. Use the 28mm only if you have to get close to your group or if it's important that you get a lot of background in. The only thing beyond that is to consider your poses, and see to it that no part of anyone's head is covered by anyone else's, not even a chin or an ear. I wish you lots of luck, and lots of fun!

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1/5/2005 10:27:24 AM

Gregg    Have your film scanned into a digital file. Photoshop will allow for adjustments.

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1/5/2005 12:09:13 PM

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