Use strobes even with the sun outside

Nikon D3, 14-24mm, ISO 200, ƒ/14, 1/250 [Lighting Diagram below]

Using flash outside can really give your photos that pop you need to make your photos better.

Now I often get asked to make group photos and even with some sunlight facing the subject I find that the shadows under the eyes and sometimes from people’s heads casting a shadow on another person I prefer to add strobes to take the quality up a notch.

There were clouds also in the sky, but the software for the diagram didn’t have that as a choice.

Since there were clouds the people were not squinting and the flash pops in so quickly I get some pretty decent expressions.

To me the biggest change is in those black robes. Anytime I use flash the shadow to highlight difference is minimized. While it looks like a greater dynamic range it really is just the opposite. The strobes help fill in the shadows and therefore brings the exposure all over closer to a four or five stop range, rather than the ten stops often in daylight scenes outside.

Ten Steps To The Family Christmas Photo

Our family photo this year for Christmas cards.
Every year I take our family photo and, like many of you, send it out as a Christmas card. Here’s what works for our family photo, try it with yours.

First we do it outside. Everyone is more relaxed out there than in a studio environment. It’s an informal setting so casual, comfortable clothing look good and comfortable cloths make for comfortable subjects. It is easier to make good family portraits with a relaxed family. 

Maybe one year, for a really great photo, we can have on our pajamas! That’s probably not a good idea.

Second it is easier outside. There is plenty of light and we can control it by where we place the family. We can use open shade, or backlighting or, for soft light, we can do it on a slightly overcast day.
Third I look for a good background. I love our backyard with all the trees. While looking for a good place to do the portrait I take a few test shot to make sure what I see is what I’ll get.
Fourth I use a tripod and a radio remote control to fire the camera. This way I can be in the photo and make the shot when we’re ready, not when the timer fires the camera. The remote also allows me to make several shots without running back to the camera to re-set the timer.
Fifth with three children plus my wife and I all in the photo and me not behind the camera watching for expressions it’s a real challenge to come up with good expressions on everyone at the same time. Usually the problem is with only one person and it is usually me.
Just FYI: Back in the good ol’ days of film Kodak did some research and found that each person added to a photo required seven times more shots to get a great expression of everyone at once.
no flash
No Flash
Meanwhile, back to present day and the digital image… So everyone, except me of course, has a good expression in one of the photos. It would be great if I could remove my head in that shot and replace it with the one image where I actually have a decent expression. (Now is when we fall in love with our tripod.) By having the camera on a tripod and with software like PhotoShop you CAN take my head, or yours, from one photo and put it into another. The latest version of PhotoShop has a menu item that makes this so much easier.
If you don’t move your camera during the photos and everyone stays pretty still you can combine the best expressions of each person into one photo.
Sixth I compose the photo, figure out where I need to be and take a couple of test shots of my family minus one. If the light looks good on everyone I join the group and fire away.
Seventh If your family looks lifeless hopefully it is only because of a lack of catchlights in their eye. A catchlight is a photographic term used to describe light reflected in the subject’s eyes. The lack of a catchlight, even in an animal’s picture, can make the subject seem comatose.
You can use a white sheet to bounce light into the subject’s eyes or use a flash. This year I used a flash.
If the subject is backlit your flash or sheet becomes more than just a way to create a catchlight—it becomes the main light.
When using flash balance it to the available light. Start with a medium f/stop, like f/8, to ensure the group is all in focus. (We’re talking about depth-of-field or how much is in focus in front of and behind the point on which the lens is focused. But that’s another whole newsletter.) Make some test shots at different f/stops and see what you like the best.
Once the light looks good on the family we can explore a few ways to control how the flash balances with the outdoor light. With everything on program mode you can adjust the ISO from 100 up to 400 or higher. The higher the ISO the lighter the background will be provided the f/stop remains the same. The lower the ISO the darker the background provided the f/stop remains the same.
It is easier to do darker backgrounds later in the day or early evening. For lighter backgrounds do the session earlier in the day.
Eighth Have everyone dress in the same or compatible colors. Earth tones like browns, greens and tans work well outdoors. Just be sure on one is dressed so differently that they look like the lead singer with a backup group on a Motown group CD cover.

We like to goof around for some of our photos.

Ninth If you want to have a lot of fun let everyone change outfits for different looks. If your family is like our family we like to take some goofy ones too.

Tenth Have a Merry Christmas and a Happy Holiday.