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Thread: Technical help - medium light/indoor portrait

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    Default Technical help - medium light/indoor portrait

    I took this photo for our Christmas cards. I first had my husband sit as my guinea pig while I tweaked shutter speeds, aperture and the ISO, but I couldn't get anything satisfactory - I kept getting underexposed or too grainy. I had natural light, the ceiling light, and I have two 250W hot lights I bounced off the ceiling. That's the sum of my equipment; I don't have any umbrella reflectors or the like. I finally got frustrated, stuck it all auto and started firing away, the last of 30+ shots being the best with my little thumbsucker finally cooperating.



    As you can see, it's a really slow shutter speed and my son's leg is in motion. My mother-in-law wants me to do it all over again when all her grandkids are over for Christmas. That means three fidgety, distracted small children, and I need to quickly gain the technical skill to freeze them without nuking them with my on-board flash, and have a well-lit room. I prefer to get a clean as shot as possible instead of having to fix it in Photoshop. Any input welcome.

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    Default Re: Technical help - medium light/indoor portrait

    That's a great family photo. I wouldn't change much. From the lights there is a bright spot on your cheek and we see reflectiions on your husband's forehead.

    What are the 250W hot lights? Do they have a color temperature that matches the interior room lights? Color balance can be important when there are other strong light sourcces, as I imagine you know from your post processing experience. Maybe the hot lights could be reflected off of foam core boards or photo reflectors closer to your subjects to cast a stronger soft lighting on the bigger family group. The closer the light source, the softer it will be.

    I can't see the EXIF but I wonder what ISO, f-stop and ss you ended up with here using auto everything. For the group shot you need more DOF to get everyone in focus. So you need more light.

    How about an FL-50 flash with a bounce card over the head all mounted on the hot shoe? Quick and easy.
    Dave in So Cal

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    Default Re: Technical help - medium light/indoor portrait

    On auto it was f4.3, 1/30sec, ISO 1600. The hot lights have 250W daylight balanced bulbs.

    I won't be able to get a flash until after Christmas when I can spend my Christmas money; the camera itself was my Christmas present, so I don't want to push it. The FL-50 is the flash I'm looking at. So meanwhile, I'm stuck with the on-board flash and any lights I can find.

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    Default Re: Technical help - medium light/indoor portrait

    If you're stuck with your built-in flash, you might buy one of a number of really inexpensive plastic diffusers that can be placed on the flash. The LumiQuest Soft Screen is one. Not a substitute for an off-camera or bounced flash, but better than the bare built-in flash.

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    Default Re: Technical help - medium light/indoor portrait

    Quote Originally Posted by bshonts View Post
    On auto it was f4.3, 1/30sec, ISO 1600. The hot lights have 250W daylight balanced bulbs.
    ...The FL-50 is the flash I'm looking at. So meanwhile, I'm stuck with the on-board flash and any lights I can find.
    The shutter speed is a little slow for a group. Someone will move. Ideal exposure would be ISO 200, f/5.6 and a shutter speed of 1/80, 1/100 or 1/125. Take several shots because someone always blinks. Tell them to blink before and then keep their eyes open. Maybe you know this already? My wife always blinks.

    The hot lights should offer plenty of light for an indoor family portrait. Experiment with white boards or even tin foil on cardboard for cheap reflector boards. Place the boards directly in front of the hot lights at a 45 degree angle to the lights and subjects. Find a way to place the lights and boards close but just out of view. Aim them from about head/eye level or above, with the reflection aimed at the group. An artist's easil or DIY 3-legged wood or PVC pipe stand could substitute for pro reflector board stands. Your husband looks handy. Maybe he can assist with making the stands.

    Think about the party location and look for a big south facing window to place everyone in front of. For max natural light shoot at midday at south facing windows or in the afternoon for west facing windows. If the sunlight hits a colored couch, table or carpet, place a white sheet down in the sunlight to whiten the light. A white cloth in the sunlight will throw lots of light into the room, enough to make people squint. The on-board flash can be a fill light but I think the hot lights wil provide most of the light.

    From your family shot I assume you have a tripod and a remote trigger or can use the delay timer to get yourself into the photo. I like to use the remote trigger with a 2 second delay. Everyone sees the red blinking light and knows to smile and not blink.

    Your little thumbsucker is cute. Lucky you.
    Dave in So Cal

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    Default Re: Technical help - medium light/indoor portrait

    You've got your ISO cranked up as high as you probably want to go and I'm assuming you don't have a faster lens. Was that shot with a kit lens?

    250W is not much power. Forget about bouncing them off the ceiling, just get them as close as you can and place them at about 45 degrees to the right and left and "feather" them a little so that the lights are pointed just a little in front of the group, not directly at it. You'll probably get some shadows that you don't like, but by moving the lights closer and not bouncing them you'll get more light and be able to increase the shutter speed and/or reduce ISO.

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    Default Re: Technical help - medium light/indoor portrait

    Yes, all I have is the kit lens, which is the 14-42 f3.5-5.6 II for the E-PL2.

    Thanks for the advice; looks like the background is a giant, foldout cardboard fireplace which may end up being a bit reflective. My subjects are a 5 year-old, 2 year-old, and one year-old, all in the same shot. At least I have Photoshopped entire heads and bodies before, but before the shoot, I'll get to work utilizing all your suggestions.

    I used to use a Lumiquest bounce when I had my Canon A1 with a Vivitar 285HV, but that was a long time ago, and I almost forgot all about it. I'll see what I can do about rigging a piece of tracing paper over the on-board flash to diffuse it.

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    Default Re: Technical help - medium light/indoor portrait

    Quote Originally Posted by bshonts View Post
    Yes, all I have is the kit lens, which is the 14-42 f3.5-5.6 II for the E-PL2.

    Thanks for the advice; looks like the background is a giant, foldout cardboard fireplace which may end up being a bit reflective. My subjects are a 5 year-old, 2 year-old, and one year-old, all in the same shot. At least I have Photoshopped entire heads and bodies before, but before the shoot, I'll get to work utilizing all your suggestions.

    I used to use a Lumiquest bounce when I had my Canon A1 with a Vivitar 285HV, but that was a long time ago, and I almost forgot all about it. I'll see what I can do about rigging a piece of tracing paper over the on-board flash to diffuse it.
    If your lights are off to the side at an angle, the reflective background shouldn't be too big of a problem. A little bit of bubble wrap and a rubber band makes a decent diffuser for your onboard flash, but no matter what you do it is going to be a really small light source which translates to harsh shadows.

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    Default Re: Technical help - medium light/indoor portrait

    I think the shot is well lit, very little in the way of shadow and those that are there are subtle and tradition perfectly.

    The only constructive criticism I have is that shot is composed so heavily to the right and the flash bouncing off all the green on the walls has left a light green cast to the image.

    Noticing the two pillows on the couch, I would had the found lad display the Merry Christmas pillow to the camera... might have settled him down a bit (having had two kids who have always been reluctant subjects, I KNOW I might be blowing smoke on this one).

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    Default Re: Technical help - medium light/indoor portrait

    Quote Originally Posted by bshonts View Post
    I used to use a Lumiquest bounce when I had my Canon A1 with a Vivitar 285HV, but that was a long time ago, and I almost forgot all about it. I'll see what I can do about rigging a piece of tracing paper over the on-board flash to diffuse it.
    You don't still have the Vivitar 285HV? That was an awesome flash, and can still be used on a digital camera without a Safe Sync to step down the voltage. If you still had that, you could get a cheap PC Sync or radio trigger, and hook it up again.
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    Default Re: Technical help - medium light/indoor portrait

    I wish I did still have it, Ned - my Canon A1, all the lenses and filters, my Sekonic light meter and my flash all disappeared with who I thought was a good, trusted friend.

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    Default Re: Technical help - medium light/indoor portrait

    Don't be bashful about shooting with high iso either. "Neat Image" can do wonders for high-ISO noise, and in this kind of portrait for this application, a little softness won't hurt a thing. You're pushing the limits of the equipment you're working with... and I think you've done about everything you can to get the max out of it under the circumstances. My only other suggestion "on the cheap" would be to fashion a "milk-jug plastic" flash diffuser and see what kind of effects you can get with that. You might be surprised how well it will do for you.
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    Default Re: Technical help - medium light/indoor portrait

    Quote Originally Posted by bshonts View Post
    I wish I did still have it, Ned - my Canon A1, all the lenses and filters, my Sekonic light meter and my flash all disappeared with who I thought was a good, trusted friend.
    Damn, that sucks!
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    Default Re: Technical help - medium light/indoor portrait

    f/4.3, 1/30s, and ISO600 isn't a well-lit room. It's actually below average. The typical "American" household is lit somewhere around 1 to 1.3 stops brighter, at f/2.8, 1/30s, and ISO1600.

    First, read this short post here at Strobist.com and I think you'll increase your indoor flash knowledge by at least two-fold.
    http://strobist.blogspot.com/2007/09...shambient.html

    To set up a generic shot like this, start with your ambient light: choose M mode. Turn off all flash/strobes. Choose the largest aperture possible (may be based on focal length), and based on your previous sample image choose ISO1600. Now, adjust the shutter speed (start around 1/80s), take a picture, check exposure. Click the shutter speed down 1 notch to 1/60th if the exposure is too dark. Continue until you like the way the ambient light looks.

    Now, put your camera down, and don't change any settings.

    Set up your strobes, firing into the ceiling. Choose 1/1 power to start.

    Take a sample image and check exposure. Too bright? Dial down the flash (NOT the camera settings) to 1/2 power. Continue until you like the exposure.

    Alternatively, and more preferably, put a piece of white paper in front of your strobes to create a 8x11 diffuser. If you have a white pillow case you can suspend in front of the strobes, even better. Point the strobes/diffuser at your subjects. With the ambient settings on your camera as they are, choose 1/1 power on your strobes. Dial down to 1/2, and more, until you find a good exposure. With two diffused strobes pointing directly at your subjects from 8ft, you'll probably dial down to 1/32 or 1/64 power.

    Report back and share examples!

    Cheers,
    Tim

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    Default Re: Technical help - medium light/indoor portrait

    Quote Originally Posted by Timskis6 View Post

    Set up your strobes, firing into the ceiling. Choose 1/1 power to start.

    Report back and share examples!

    Cheers,
    Tim
    Uh... Tim... she doesn't have any strobes... therein lies the problem.
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    Default Re: Technical help - medium light/indoor portrait

    Quote Originally Posted by roger h View Post
    Uh... Tim... she doesn't have any strobes... therein lies the problem.
    Oh, I guess I assumed 250W "hot lights" were strobes!

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    Default Re: Technical help - medium light/indoor portrait

    Quote Originally Posted by Timskis6 View Post
    Oh, I guess I assumed 250W "hot lights" were strobes!
    They are very weak continuous lights.

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    Default Re: Technical help - medium light/indoor portrait

    Quote Originally Posted by Big Greg View Post
    They are very weak continuous lights.
    Continuous lights make things a bit easier for diffused fill, no?

    Throw a pillow case in front of them for diffusion, and start with 1/250s. Either dial in a longer shutter, or move the lights backward. Easy!

    Cheers,
    Tim

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    Default Re: Technical help - medium light/indoor portrait

    Quote Originally Posted by Timskis6 View Post
    Continuous lights make things a bit easier for diffused fill, no?

    Throw a pillow case in front of them for diffusion, and start with 1/250s. Either dial in a longer shutter, or move the lights backward. Easy!

    Cheers,
    Tim
    Uh... Tim... incandescent lights get hot.... a 250w incandescent bulb gets VERY hot... and I'm not sure that putting a pillow case close enough to one of those bulbs to get any kind of useful diffusion through it is such a good idea... perhaps a piece of scrim mounted about 18" out from a bulb mounted in a parabolic directional reflector might help... I doubt that even 250w incandescent bulbs in a refector are bright enough to do the job tho unless you have a bank of them... when I was using constant lighting for macro work way back when, I had four 200w photofloods in reflectors on my copy stand. They were adequate for that kind of work. In a room? Not so much.
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    Default Re: Technical help - medium light/indoor portrait

    Quote Originally Posted by roger h View Post
    Uh... Tim... incandescent lights get hot.... a 250w incandescent bulb gets VERY hot... and I'm not sure that putting a pillow case close enough to one of those bulbs to get any kind of useful diffusion through it is such a good idea... perhaps a piece of scrim mounted about 18" out from a bulb mounted in a parabolic directional reflector might help... I doubt that even 250w incandescent bulbs in a refector are bright enough to do the job tho unless you have a bank of them... when I was using constant lighting for macro work way back when, I had four 200w photofloods in reflectors on my copy stand. They were adequate for that kind of work. In a room? Not so much.
    Yeah, I agree with Roger... Two problems with continuous light is 1) They're not hot enough for adequate lighting, and 2) They're too hot to diffuse.

    Strobes have power output, but they run cool because the short duration. That short duration also means for much sharper, crisper images, and freezing of action. Hot lights will also ruin a model's makeup if you have a long shoot.
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    Default Re: Technical help - medium light/indoor portrait

    Quote Originally Posted by Timskis6 View Post
    Continuous lights make things a bit easier for diffused fill, no?

    Throw a pillow case in front of them for diffusion, and start with 1/250s. Either dial in a longer shutter, or move the lights backward. Easy!

    Cheers,
    Tim
    Tim,

    It sounds like you're just guessing. If you shoot at 1/250 you're going to lose most of the room's ambient light and probably under-expose the shot. Hot lights are just that - HOT. The fire you start with the pillow case might add a little light to the subjects, but not much. They have very little power to start with, diffusing them (which is what she tried to do by bouncing them off the ceiling) is only going to eat up what little light they put out. You want to get those weak lights as close to the subject as possible and probably shoot without any modifiers, trying to feather the light to soften it a bit and help reduce the hardness of the shadows. Light falls off very quickly as you move the lights back. Here's some good reading on the Inverse Square Law: http://www.geofflawrence.com/photogr...square_law.htm

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    Default Re: Technical help - medium light/indoor portrait

    Ok guys,
    Here's the result of the shoot.

    I had some more Christmas money to burn so I bought the FL-36R flash and a Photek Softlighter II, 46". There was a lot of light coming in from a couple of tall windows that were throwing glare all over the cardboard background, so I closed the blinds and covered the exposed decorative top glass of the windows with black garbage bags.

    I really had a hard time positioning the cardboard background and the Photek for minimum glare, while making sure I had good line of sight between the camera and flash for the wireless to work. The reflector you see is matte silver on the other side, made for blocking out sunlight in a parked car's windshield. It worked okay, but I really should've forked over the few bucks to get a real reflector, or had some posterboard handy.


    (iPhone photo)

    The umbrella shoe mount did not work well for the flash; the sock on the Photek diffuser kept wanting to cover up the sensor no matter how I tied it, and I didn't want to force the fabric in fear of tearing it. So I bungeed the flash straight to the umbrella arm. I got the idea from here. The green tapes you see are velcro plant ties. I find them very handy for taming long cables and cords, and it comes cheap in a roll.


    (iPhone photo)

    I had three small, restless children (yes, there's four names on the Xmas socks; No. 4 is in my belly) and two adults with glasses. I took over 40 shots and had to Photoshop both boys' heads in from other photos, and lighten up the right side of the photo.

    Here's the resulting photo. I don't think it's too shabby for a total portrait novice having to make-do at the last minute.


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    Default Re: Technical help - medium light/indoor portrait

    Quote Originally Posted by bshonts View Post
    Ok guys,
    Here's the result of the shoot.

    Here's the resulting photo. I don't think it's too shabby for a total portrait novice having to make-do at the last minute.
    I don't think that the result would have been much better with a full-blown studio lighting setup. Necessity is the mother of invention, and you did a great job! Well done.
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    Default Re: Technical help - medium light/indoor portrait

    I think you did a very nice job with the tools at hand! You managed to get good light without it being "flat" so that your subjects have volume and definition. You didn't make your subjects look like ghosts and you avoided having a bunch of harsh shadows in the image. It's very pleasing.

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    Default Re: Technical help - medium light/indoor portrait

    I think it's a Great photo! I can see the love of the family here and THAT'S what a good photograph is really about - inciting an emotional response from the viewer - it worked on me!

    Steve
    Steve

    Olympus E5 / 50mm f/2.0 Razor / 50-200mm f/2.8 SWD / 12-60mm f/2.8 SWD / 14-42mm f/3.5 kit / Ricoh Rikenon 50mm f/1.7 / Konica Hexanon 50mm f/1.7 / Konica Hexanon 40mm f/1.8

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