Film Photography with Strobe Lighting

Lesson 20/26 - Lighting For Groups


Film Photography with Strobe Lighting


Lesson Info

Lighting For Groups

When we get talking about lighting, I always get a question about how you light for groups. And I used to tell people like, "I don't know, I never light groups." and then I was like, "What are you talking about? "You shoot families, those are groups." (laughs) I used to think of lighting groups were like big giant wedding groups. So I just want to talk really quick about how I light groups. And again, I'm doing most of this in my studio with one light. Every once in awhile I'll bring in another light, but most of the time, I'm just doing one light, one modifier, even with my groups. And so let's go back to what we talked about and what we know about light modifiers, right, which is that those really big modifiers, not only do they produce that really beautiful soft light that I love that looks like window light, but they will fill up a room. So with the large octabox here, you can see in my studio that I'm getting even light across that entire backdrop, and it's also filling up the roo...

m. You can see it here, that really nice, even light. That even light is what I'm going for when I'm working with a group. Because my goal is to make sure that every single person in that grouping has nice light on them, and they look really good. What I also know, however, is that it's not always possible, like I've been saying, to be in a situation and have a giant seven foot octadome that's gonna fill up the room. So what do you do if you have a smaller one? I mean, this one's still pretty darn big. But what if you have a smaller one? There's a couple different ways around that. First of all, I'm gonna talk you through it, and then I'm gonna show you. We know that when a light is closer to your subject, it's brighter and it's softer. So if you think about that in a group. If I were lighting a group the way I light individuals, I'd have that light really close, because I love those really soft shadows, and I love that soft light, and so for me, that means that I'm always right in there pretty close with my modifier. But if I'm lighting a group that way, well then that means that the person that is closest to that light is going to be brighter than the person that's farther away, which isn't necessarily gonna look great in a group photo. So the first thing do when I'm lighting a group is I will pull my light back and give it some more space. So I already know that by pulling my light back means it's not going to be as bright, but what it'll also mean is that it's going to have a better chance of hitting everybody evenly across that space. And that's important, then you have to meter. We're gonna talk about that in just a sec. But that's the first thing I do, is I make sure that that light is back. And then the second thing I'm gonna wanna make sure I do is that I'm using a modifier that is large, or simulates being large. Remember when we were talking about this little white umbrella? This one's small but mighty. When it comes to lighting a big group, it's not that big, you could take this into a person's home. But this, the sides of this umbrella gets lit up. That actually becomes the size of your light, which is still pretty big. And this is gonna throw light all over the place. So you're gonna have a better chance of filling up and making sure that you have light on everybody, if you're pulled back and you have a good modifier that's gonna spread that light. You certainly don't want to try to light a group with a small modifier, because A, that small modifier's gonna give you those really crisp, sharp, shadows. And it's just gonna be harder to spread that light out evenly over everybody. Right? That makes sense. So, lighting a group. So this one was lit with my five foot OctoDome. And that's what I'm talking about. So I wanted to make sure everybody had even light on them. So whereas I would normally have my light right here at a 45 degree right up close, I pulled it out a little bit, brought it a little bit more in front, so that everybody was getting light across them and it was evenly lit. This is a family. Aren't they so cute? (Laughing) That's a big family. But again, this is something where you really want to make sure that everybody is evenly lit and looks good in that image. But I still wanted it to be kind of interesting. So you can see there's still this slight shadow here on everybody, but there's pretty even light over everybody. And so with that one, again, I'm still at a 45 degree angle, but I've pulled it out and I've feathered it just a tiny bit. So I've pulled it out away from the group, turned it out just a little bit so I'm getting more of an even wash across everybody's face. And everybody looks good. And same, so another big group piled on. I have that light 45 pulled out and a little bit feathered. Now the question that I know everybody has is, "Well, then how do you meter "when you're in a group situation?" So, let's put a group situation together. And I will show you. This'll be fun. I love posing groups of people who actually aren't related. (laughs) 'Cause it makes it interesting. So I will show you how I would light this with this size modifier and light, and then I'll talk you through how I would meter to make sure we have a good reading on everybody as well. Gonna move here. Why don't we have the ladies? Can we have all the ladies come up? You guys are such troopers. So we're gonna make a little family portrait here. (everyone laughs) Why don't we have you come over here and sit? I kind of feel like I need another chair. Gonna bring you here. Come here lady. I'll bring you here like this. (students giggle) (teacher laughs) See, we're all friends now. Here, you're nice and tall, why don't you come over here? That's good. Here, come up a little bit behind her. (laughing) Oh Gabby, you're standing out there all by yourself. This looks good. So why don't I bring you here? And let's bring you over here, Gabby. I just want to see. I mean (laughing) I probably wouldn't actually take this picture, but it's fine for now for just talking. Why don't you you kind of come in? So, and come in, come in too. So first things when lighting a group, there's a couple things that are important. First of all, not only do you want to make sure that you have even light on everybody, you want to make sure that everybody's in focus. So luckily, most of the time, when I am lighting groups, they all really know each other (laughs) and they're families, so you can get 'em in nice and close. I always want to make sure that my people are in nice and close, that even the people in the back row are in nice and close, so I'm going to get even focus on everybody. That's where I start. You guys look so cute. And then I would start with how I'm gonna light 'em. So I'm gonna bring my light up a little higher, and I'm gonna bring it out, back it up. Am I gonna hit anything? Don't hit your head. (giggles) Oh is it my RolaFlex, no big deal. (laughs) I almost dropped the RolaFlex the other day when I was here. So yeah. So I would start there. I'm just gonna move this, and then I would go in, and I would take a meter reading because, actually you guys actually look really cute. (students giggle) That's really sweet. So what I'm seeing right now, I'm using that model light to my advantage. This is why I love having model lights. And I'm looking at everybody's eyes, so I'm seeing catch light here, seeing catch light here, catch light here, catch light here, which is good. And I'm just making sure that I'm getting a nice light with that model light across everybody. So the next thing I do is I meter from one end to the other. So I have a feeling we're gonna want to bring in a reflector. But I would start over here. (beep click) And I'm at F4 in the shadows. It's just like clockwork, it works every time. (beep and click) Two eight. (beep and click) I just wanna make sure we're pretty even on everybody. And we're at F4 in the shadows with everybody. (beep click) And... so that looks pretty good. You guys, we're being helped out, because we have these nice lights here. Like I said, if this were a normal, this room is huge over there, and if I were at a wedding or something and I was trying to light a group this way and I had this much space, I would just bring in a reflector right here. But that looks really good. You guys are cute. And then I would come in here, and now we get the picture. I don't have film in my camera. But really nice light on everybody. Now one thing is because we were at F4, I'm gonna bring you over a little bit. With her in that back row, she might be a little softer. So this is another place, too, where you can play with that power of the light. The light's back enough, it's gonna be soft on everybody. I might bump it up so I could shoot at 5.6. Let's try that. I'll just take it up. (beep) Stop. (beep) That still gave me a reading of F4. See this is where I'm like, "Oh, I might need a reflector after all." Nope, there it is. (beep) Yep. (beep) Yep. (beep) So everybody has the same shadow reading. And the light, and now at F6, I'm fairly confident that everybody's gonna be well lit. You look good, yeah? All right, Sandra. I just want to clarify for people at home. So you're using the remote. You just talked about, since you moved the light, raising the power of the light. And I can see the numbers changing there, but I'm not sure if the folks at home-- Oh, thank you. Could see sort of. Could you talk a little bit about the interplay of the power of the light relative to your meter readings and your aperture, and making sure that's all the same. Absolutely, thank you. Yes, that's a great point. You guys can totally sit down. Unless you want to hang out like that, which is fine. (laughs) Because you look great. So remember at the beginning of the class when we were talking about that quality of light and how you control that quality of light with the power of your strobe? So strobes can kick out as much light as you want, or we can dial it back and they can just kick out this little whisper of a light. And it just really depends on what you want and what you need. I love, like I said, I love shooting wide open. I love being at f2 and I love being f2.8. And when I'm shooting a group in my studio, I'll go to F4. But really I don't go beyond that. Well, unless I'm shooting the RolaFlex, and I love that one at F11. But you can kind of play around with those apertures, depending on how much light your strobe is putting out. So if you want to shoot wide open, if you want to shoot it at 2.8 or f2, and you're in a situation where you're just shooting one person and you can do it, and you want their eye in focus, but you want the rest of the focus to fall off and be soft, then you can turn the power down, the output of the amount of light that's coming out of this strobe every time it flashes, you can turn that down. If you're in a situation like we were just at, where you have a group of people, and you want to stop down, you wanna be at five six or even F8, then you can turn the power up, you can pull that light back, so that you can get those readings and get that aperture where you want it to be. Again, we're always stuck at the same sync speed, the same shutter speed, for the most part. So you can use that interplay between your F stop and the power on your light to control the look of your image that way. Does that make more sense? Thank you, yeah. Yeah, okay. Great, so we do have a question from Jenny Chen, who said, "How would you approach outdoor group shooting situation?" Oh yeah. "Now what modifier would you use? "And would you still be using a modeling light? "And is there considerations in balancing "available light with strobe when outside?" Yeah, wow, that's a really good question. So I don't shoot outside all the time. I'm a studio photographer. Being inside in a dark room is my happy place. But in that situation, what I would do, I always use the model light. Even when you're outside, that's kind of I think, one of our gifts as photographers, is that we've trained our brains to be really good at seeing these subtleties in light. And I just like seeing how the light's gonna fall and hit my people. So even if I am outside, I most of the time have that model light on, just so I can get up there and really look if I need to and see where their catch lights are. If I'm in a situation where I'm outside, so I'm trying to imagine. Maybe you're using a little fill light? Like maybe you're backlit, and you're wanting to use a little fill? Or ... you're just wanting to make things a little richer. So I think the best way to do that would be to take an ambient reading and then take a strobe reading to make sure you know where everything's at. And then just make sure your strobe reading is maybe about two stops higher than your ambient light, so you're not gonna get any kind of weird ghosting, and then take it that way. Oh, that actually reminds me. We talked about this earlier at the beginning of the class when we talked about ghosting. And I said, "Your meter can help you "figure out if that's gonna happen." Or at least my meter can. (laughs) If you're using a Sekonic meter, they have this great thing and we can see it here. So, I'm gonna hold this up, hopefully you can see. So, we have the ISO reading here, we have the sync speed here, our shutter speed which is at our sync speed, and then whatever the reading we get for our aperture when we take the reading. If you look here, there's a little percentage there. And that number tells you what percent of light is coming from your strobe, which is really helpful. So we're in here, and we're firing this, and it's giving me 100%. So if I were to take that picture of all of you guys, then really, even though we have these studio lights on and everything's coming, the most of the light in that image, well 100% of the light from that image is coming from this strobe. So it's a really handy little tool. When you are in a situation like that and you're not sure, and you're metering, and you're not sure how much of this is ambient light, how much of this is strobe light, if you have a meter that has that information on it, you can look down and check. And this has saved me, you know those images that I showed you where I had that situation with ghosting? I've been doing this for 17 years. I've been using studio lighting exclusively for the past five years. That situation with that ghosting is the only time that has ever happened to me. (laughs) And I just get really comfortable. I'm always shooting my cameras at 1/60. I like letting in more ambient light. I like that look. It kind of helps me create that soft, glowy look that looks a lot like window light. So I'm always at 1/60 and I don't even think about it, mixing it with my ambient light. And if I hadn't noticed that percentage on my light meter, telling me I was at 40%, then I would have had an entire session look like that, which, you know, we all make mistakes, we're all lifelong learners here. But that would have been really bad from a business point of view. And so it's so helpful to know that that is a tool on your Sakonic that can give you some information and help you out in those situations. So I don't know if that totally answered her question, but that's how I would do it, for sure. That's great. So this is from Ian Ludlow who said, "How do you stop the glare into the camera "when using the backlight directed towards you?" Yeah, that's a good question. Well, the ... If I have my backlight here, I'm trying to think this through. People are so clever. (laughs) They're question's like, "I never thought about that." Would you be a lamb? Thank you. So I have it here. I'm just gonna watch my light for just a sec. 'cause I've never had that be an issue, and I back with strobes all the time, backlight with strobes all the time. (beep) Oh, wrong light. I was gonna pop it. So my guess is, if, you're fine, I can have you sit down. Okay. No, actually sit back down, I changed my mind. So my strobe unit's here in the middle, and that light is hitting the back and bouncing out. So it's hitting that, it's bouncing, and then it's going through this level of, this layer of diffusion. So it's never direct light. So when we get that kind of glare when we're working with the sun, if you were working with the sun with a really cloudy day, and you have that layer, or you're working with the sun coming through a window, you can backlight like that, and you're not gonna get that glare, because you don't have that direct bulb coming into your lens, right? So I think that's why that doesn't happen with this either, 'cause we already have that diffusion and it's coming in diffused, so it's not a direct bulb coming in. I bet you though, if I were to do it, if I worked really hard, I bet I could get a glare. (laughs) If you worked your angles a little bit with that light until you could see that glare on your lens, I bet it could happen. But I'm here, and then usually when I'm backlighting, I'm down right? So I'm like here. I'm making sure her face, hey, fills up the frame. So really her face is most of the frame, and there's just that little bit of light coming in. So that's gonna block that too. I'm gonna try to do it now though. Challenge accepted. Just a challenge. I'm like, let's make that happen and then see. I'll write about it on my blog. You talked about loving to shoot in that 2.8, two range. Yeah. When you're shooting at f2 or 2.8, do you always try to focus on the eyes? This person, Pink says, "I really want to "shoot wide open, but I worry that "their whole face won't be in focus." Yeah. So, for you, especially since you're working with film, and you can't just check the back of your camera, "Did I get that in focus?" What's your approach? Yeah, I've worked really really hard on making sure I'm getting the eyes, because that's what it's all about. And I've even had instances where I'm shooting at f2 and I just get the eyelash and then the eyeball is a little soft, and I hate that, it drives me crazy. So I want to just back up here to an eyeball, so we can have a look. Here we can look at this one. So yeah, whenever I'm shooting, I'm always focusing on getting that eye sharp. And we haven't talked about it much in this class, because it's not a posing class, but in the intro to film class, I talk a lot about this. And so you might want to check that out. But I'll talk about how film forces me to slow down. And so, that's what I'm focused on. My ideal portrait has a really beautiful, sharp eye, and then everything else is soft. So we have a sharp eye. And this eye is actually even sharper than this one. You can see that fall-off happens real fast. And then this real pretty, soft fall-off is that I love, and I don't rush through that. I wanna see if I can find, here. I don't rush through that. I will spend time, whatever time I need, to get those eyeballs in focus, even if I'm working with a kid. Oops, shoot, there it is, there it is. This is the one I wanted. (laughs) 'Cause this is of that f2.8 with the light. So even if I'm working with a little kid, and I don't know if you can remember, but looking in that video where I will sit, and I will wait, and I will focus, and I will check, and I will check and I will make sure, and then I take it, I wait for it. So I'm not rushing through. But honestly, getting that perfect eye in focus just takes time. It just takes a lot of practice. And allowing yourself to breathe through it, allowing yourself to be slow. It's not like shooting with digital. You don't have to be really fast. You can take an entire hour to shoot two rolls, and that's okay. And two rolls of 120 with like 16 frames on each one, and that's okay. So I say, just give it time and just keep, you know, practicing. When you were showing us, you were showing us just taking metering and showing the effects of it, a question had come in about, "How about using a digital camera "to view in real time?" So I guess my question is, do you ever use a digital camera? Even though it's not gonna be the same metering or it's not gonna be the same lighting, exactly, but just for that framing scenario? Yes, and I'll share a trick with you. So I'm not gonna go through all the slides to find it, but remember that, in the beginning of the keynote, when we have the two images, and one was shot on digital, and one was shot on film? And they were both shot at ISO at 1/60 of a second, 2.8. And the film is perfect, and the digital is blown out. So I have little trick that I do. So every once in awhile, I'll try something different, or I'll get new lights, or I'll get something new, and I'll want to test it. And so I will test, just to have a quick look, on my digital camera. And so, what I know is that, in my studio, there is always around a two stop, sometimes three stop difference, between my highlights and my shadows. And I know that I shoot my film at box speed, right? So my film is 400 speed. So if I want to quickly have a look at what my image is gonna look like on my digital camera, then I will shoot the same setup at ISO 100 on my digital, because it's a two stop difference between 400 and one. So it's a quick way to take it, is just to say, "Okay, I'm shooting 400 speed film, "so I'm gonna do the same settings at 100 speed "on my digital camera," so I can get a test or see what it's gonna look like, and it makes it really easy. Also, sometimes just for fun, I know that if I change that ISO on my digital to and I take the shot and the shot's blown out, that it's gonna be beautiful on film. (laughs) So when I'm taking the light and it comes back totally blown out in my digital image, I'm like, "That's gonna be a fantastic film image." And so I go with that.

Class Description

To get the best portrait straight out of camera you need to control your light. Family and Newborn Photographer, Sandra Coan, walks through how easy it is to use lights with your film camera for the most control over how your image ultimately looks. In this course, Sandra will talk about how to approach your photo shoot by thinking about not only your subject but also the film and the light you want to create.

You’ll learn:

  • How to sync the flash with your film camera
  • How to meter for your subject and the light you’re adding to the image
  • How to choose the best film based off what you’d like the final image to look like

Throughout history, photographers have been using flash with film cameras. In this course, Sandra will cover everything to give you the knowledge to start taking portraits with your camera and strobes.


a Creativelive Student

Wow! with a lot of online stuff out there one can become rather overcome with too much information, however, the way Sandra presents her courses is just perfect! Her honest and simple and easy to understand approach was just what I needed. Not once did I think she was just going through the motions, she really loves what she does and it shows. To be able to rewatch and rewatch was also a key for me. Since I have dyslexia I have to take things one half step at a. time. After completion of the class I had a new found confidence when using strobes. A must have.

Micah Hewett Images

Out of all the classes I own on Creative Live, Strobe Lighting with Sandra is my FAVORITE! She is an incredibly kind and gifted teacher. She explains everything on a simple level and then gradually build to more complex issues. I am 100% happy with this course. Thank you Sandra!!

Gabby de Janasz

Sandra Coan is a lighting genius! I loved watching her high-energy and super informative class. I learned way more about studio lighting than I ever thought was possible. I'd definitely recommend this class to literally any person in photography, not just studio photographers. Thanks Sandra!!