Getting the perfect picture to send out your season's greetings doesn't have to be hard. In this tutorial, we'll cover how to shoot and light a large group of people, as well as adding the graphics that will make your card stand out this year.
I was recently tasked with shooting a holiday card for a local dentist. There were approximately 15 people and a sports team mascot. We decided to use the clinical area, which led to some tight space restrictions. I also had to light everyone appropriately, and needed to work quickly because the mascot only had 10 minutes.
I decided to go with a simple four light set up. I understand four lights may not seem simple at first, but this allows me to get broad flat light, that will work no matter how we set up the group. For a single headshot, you can finesse each light to look perfect for any particular subject, but we have multiple subjects and need them all to look good.
Here is the first shot of the clinical area. I set my camera to automatic to get a test exposure. The first thing I did after this was switch over to manual and get a black frame, so the florescent lights won't effect our end result.
I also want to have more depth of field so everyone will be in focus. So I switched my aperture to f/7.1 and adjusted the shutter speed to get the result I needed. I didn't want to lower the ISO because that would make the flash have to work harder, and I needed to have a fast recycle time.
Although I would normally use a softbox, I opted for umbrellas partially because of my space restrictions, and partially for speed and maneuverability. Because things were so tight, I set up one umbrella as a bounce, and one as a shoot-through.
The thing to remember is that even if each light stand is placed the same distance from the subject, the shoot-through will be brighter. Adjust the power levels on each strobe so the end result is an even dispersion of light from both sides of your frame.
I had a model stand on each side of where I guessed the group would be to check that the lights are going to have an even spread across the whole group.
Just because I don't want the florescent lights affecting the picture, doesn't mean I want a dark background. This next series of pictures will show you my process about how I placed my lights, and why each did or did not work.
My first thought was to spotlight the painting. I noticed that it was very bright and created a hotspot without giving much ambient light to the rest of the room. I tried a couple different positions for this flash, and ended up with this.
Good light spread, but it creates ugly shadows. I raised the light and let it hit more of the ceiling. Even though it is creating a hotspot there, I will crop out that area of the room with our composition. That means we get less shadows, less reflections, and more spread. However, at this point, I'm lighting the entire room, so my flash power was very high.
I needed to add one more light for fill. In the next image, you can see it hiding behind the monitor on the right side. It is aimed at the back wall, giving nice spread. Although it does create some shadows on the left, it shouldn't be a problem once we mix them all together.
Next, I brought all the lights together for some final test shots.
Compare the top photo (our original ambient light exposure on automatic) to our finished lit scene on the bottom. You can see a color shift away from the green florescent lights, as well as more even illumination and an overall brighter, more cheery feeling. The lit photo also allows us to get great light on our subjects and have the depth of field we need to get multiple rows of people in focus.
Here is our finished lighting diagram. Two Einstein strobes with umbrellas as the key lights, one flash pointed at the wall, one flash at the ceiling filling the whole room (and also acting as our rim light) once we get subjects in place.
Shooting had to be quick and efficient. From the hall where I was shooting, I looked through the viewfinder and positioned one person at the left edge of my frame, then positioned a second person at the right edge. With those two in place, I told everyone else to squeeze in the middle.
When you are in a time crunch, you don't always have time to get perfect positioning, so let people stand where they may. I did switch one or two people, but for the most part they did fine getting together on their own. We also did a few different sets so the they had options.
At the beginning of each set, I told everyone to look at my main light on the right, then I said, "If someone's head is blocking your view of that light, then you'll have a shadow on your face and we won't be able to see you." I repeated the same thing for my second main light, and then again for my camera.
So often, photographers remember to have their subjects make sure they can see the camera, but the problem is just as bad when they can't see the lights.
The last step is to take several shots because blinking, talking, and other strange unexpected things are bound to happen.
Here's the image straight out of the camera. Let's polish it up!
Let's turn our photo into a card! The first step is to add whatever text you would like. I made mine with a olde-English style font. I then added a color overlay to the text to make it a gold color. I used a bevel and emboss layer effect to replicate a classic Christmas look.
I also put a transparent bar behind the text to separate from the backgound, and I added the logo provided to me by the company. Your card could use any font or design though. Try to find a design inspiration that matches the attitude of the company!
Time to Make Your Holiday Card!
I think my quick holiday card turned out pretty well. The important things to consider are not where I put my lights and what my camera settings were, but how I got there. Every shoot will be different, and every room will be different.
If you understand the principles of how decisions about lighting and the finished shot should be made, then you are well on your way to getting a great holiday card of your own. Let me know how your holiday card shoot went in the comments.