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FORUMS Photography Talk by Genre People Talk
Thread started 28 Aug 2017 (Monday) 17:34
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Fool-proof portraits without studio?

 
LonelyBoy
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Joined Oct 2014
Aug 28, 2017 17:34 |  #1

So yes, I know what I'm asking is sort of one of those "I want to do something that takes skill and equipment and do it with little of either" questions, but I'd like the best setup I can. Any knowledge or advice y'all can give me will certainly be better than what I have, and appreciated.

I've been shooting my wife's triathlon team all season, and now I've been asked to do some portrait shots at the next team meeting (in a little under three weeks). It will be at the shop, so not a studio, and I don't want to bring (let alone buy) a ton of gear. However, I've been meaning to pick up a 430EXIII anyway, so this seems like a really good excuse. It doesn't hurt that Adorama has them for $250 with a bundle that includes what I hope is a decent diffuser, and that's really the only part of the bundle I'd be after (though I suppose more batteries never hurt).

So, assuming that picking up a flash is the way to go (I do assume it is), what tips can y'all give me for the "safest" way to shoot portraits to have them come out well? It's not something I've ever really done, so things like "softbox and direct flash" vs "bounced without softbox" would be helpful. How much separation to the background? What's a good aperture/SS? Anything else I should be aware of? Is it worth it to jump to a 600EXII?

This whole thing doesn't have to be perfect, or even great, but I'd like to do as well as possible under the conditions. I do know that a few big flashes off-camera, beauty dishes, and a backdrop would be ideal, but that's not happening. And regardless, I'll practice some on the wifey beforehand, but it would be good to have the best starting point.


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RDKirk
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Aug 28, 2017 18:52 |  #2

LonelyBoy wrote in post #18439485 (external link)
So yes, I know what I'm asking is sort of one of those "I want to do something that takes skill and equipment and do it with little of either" questions, but I'd like the best setup I can. Any knowledge or advice y'all can give me will certainly be better than what I have, and appreciated.

I've been shooting my wife's triathlon team all season, and now I've been asked to do some portrait shots at the next team meeting (in a little under three weeks). It will be at the shop, so not a studio, and I don't want to bring (let alone buy) a ton of gear. However, I've been meaning to pick up a 430EXIII anyway, so this seems like a really good excuse. It doesn't hurt that Adorama has them for $250 with a bundle that includes what I hope is a decent diffuser, and that's really the only part of the bundle I'd be after (though I suppose more batteries never hurt).

So, assuming that picking up a flash is the way to go (I do assume it is), what tips can y'all give me for the "safest" way to shoot portraits to have them come out well? It's not something I've ever really done, so things like "softbox and direct flash" vs "bounced without softbox" would be helpful. How much separation to the background? What's a good aperture/SS? Anything else I should be aware of? Is it worth it to jump to a 600EXII?

This whole thing doesn't have to be perfect, or even great, but I'd like to do as well as possible under the conditions. I do know that a few big flashes off-camera, beauty dishes, and a backdrop would be ideal, but that's not happening. And regardless, I'll practice some on the wifey beforehand, but it would be good to have the best starting point.

You're shooting folks involved in an outdoor sport. I'd get (actually I got) an Adorama eVOLV (aka Godox AD200) with a small softbox and shoot outdoors. With a decently powerful HSS and TTL capable flash unit as one light powerful enough to relegate the sun to an accent light, I think you'll have more creative options than you'd have indoors with one light.




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MalVeauX
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Post has been edited 3 months ago by MalVeauX.
Aug 28, 2017 19:08 |  #3

Heya,

A simple speedlite will do wonders. An umbrella is cheap and effective. A simple stand and mount will handle it fine. I would not bother with the 430EXIII.

Here's a simple, effective, off-camera flash kit to look at that is ETTL & HSS capable:

Flashpoint Li-On R2 TTL/HSS Flash (external link)
Flashpoint R2 Transmitter (external link)
Basic Light Stand (external link)
S-Bracket Mount (external link)
45" Convertable Umbrella (external link)

Basically set it up so that your modifier is close to the subject, but out of the field of view. The flash will be set to ETTL mode. Change FEC +/- to whatever you want to get the look you want (leave it zero otherwise). Camera set to manual mode, and dial in sync settings (1/200s, ISO 100~400, FX). Set aperture to whatever you want for depth of field purposes. If you want to go further with automation, set to TV mode, 1/200s, ISO 100~400, and F-stop will float as variable. Camera will set ambient to whatever you want it to be via +/- EC and set f-stop. Flash will expose subject with ETTL separately. That simple.

The above is for SINGLE portrait subjects, or a pair of busts. That's it though. Not for a group.

If you were doing a GROUP inside, ditch everything except the flash. Flash on camera, point it at the ceiling and slightly behind you, and bounce the flash off the ceiling/wall to get soft light indoors using ETTL mode, and camera set to sync values.

Very best,


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nathancarter
Cream of the Crop
Joined Dec 2010
Post has been edited 3 months ago by nathancarter.
Aug 29, 2017 11:02 |  #4

Agree with the above. You can do a LOT with a single Speedlight, and even more with two or three. Practice, practice. Three weeks is not a ton of time but if you can figure out exactly one setup that works, you can apply it to individuals on the whole team.

If budget is a constraint, skip the well-constructed but expensive Canon branded stuff and go for Flashpoint gear. For the price of one 430EXII and some way to trigger it off-camera, you can get three Flashpoints, or two Flashpoints and enough grip gear to get going with a portable portrait setup.

MalVeauX linked you to a lot of good stuff above. I personally prefer softbox-style umbrellas with a permanent front diffuser, instead of the convertible ones, but the convertible may work fine too. Here are the ones that I use:
https://www.amazon.com ...es-Lighting/dp/B0055E6TY2 (external link)

I also like my standard umbrella adapters, but that Godox holder linked above is really interesting - I haven't ever seen it before.


For your immediate need, your big objectives are:
1. Figure out how to position your light(s) so that they're flattering on most subjects;
2. Figure out how to position the subjects, lights, and yourself to make any space work as a studio.


1. my go-to fool-proof setup is to position the softbox so that the bottom edge of the softbox is about nose level, and it's just far enough left or right so that it's not quite intruding into the framing of the image. if you have a second light, use it as a rim/hair light or a background light. If you have a third light, now you have a rim/hair light AND a background light - OR you can use #2 and #3 as left/right rim lights - this is great for edgy photos of athletes.

IMO, the easiest and most common thing to screw up is to put the main light too low. You want to light the subject slightly from above, so the shadows fall under the nose and chin - this is what we naturally expect to see, because the sun is overhead and indoor lights are overhead. If the main light is too low, it won't be flattering - it's hard to sculpt the jawline, eye bags will be severely pronounced, and shadows going up the face instead of down the face is simply weird.

2. If you use your longest lens, perspective becomes your friend, and you can use a small section of blank or plain-textured wall as a studio-style backdrop. If you use a wide lens, perspective works against you: you see everything in the background - and studio-look shots become practically impossible.

Go scope out the team meeting space and figure out where you can shoot. You need a long skinny "alley" to shoot down, with a blank wall at the end. Everything else doesn't matter.


EXAMPLE #1:
Here's a sample behind-the-scenes shot of a performance venue where I take a lot of performer portraits. For a backdrop, I use the slab of black-painted plywood that's covering the air handler, it's a standard 4x8' sheet (tiny, as far as backdrops go). This is a three-light setup (main light in brolly box; kicker light in shoot-thru umbrella, backgruond light sitting on the floor, gelled but no modifier), but if you find a white or neutral-colored wall, you don't even need light #2 and #3. Click to the next photo in that album for a second perspective of that setup.

I'm shooting from as far away as I can manage - the performer stands where my color-checker is sitting on the floor (a bit in front of the background light), and I'm way on the opposite side of the stand, shooting at 135-200mm. This makes the black plywood look very large relative to the performer. If I stand close and shoot at 35mm to get the same framing of the subject, you're seeing alllll that other clutter behind the subject - unacceptable.

IMAGE: https://farm6.staticflickr.com/5599/15690546951_242b102302_c.jpg
[IMAGE'S LINK: https://flic.kr/p/pUw9​Xz] (external link)BBB_Cabaret_20141031_3​0909.jpg (external link) by Nathan Carter (external link), on Flickr


And here's the results (this is with a blue gel on the background, instead of orange gel as shown above):

IMAGE: https://farm8.staticflickr.com/7279/26776125601_a260db731a_c.jpg
[IMAGE'S LINK: https://flic.kr/p/GN7D​gX] (external link)Cupcate_Burlesque_2015​1120_5894.jpg (external link) by Nathan Carter (external link), on Flickr


EXAMPLE #2:
I was shooting video for a little music video, and the still photographer didn't show. So I had to cobble together a workable portrait session using just what I had in the trunk of the car, and what I could scavenge from the costume designer's house. We shot it in the costumer's SUPER CLUTTERED living/dining room, but I moved some chairs out of the way to find a little bit of wall space that was big enough for individual portraits - again, no bigger than 4x8', and painted seafoam blue-green. Fortunately, the ten-foot white ceiling worked to my advantage here.

I had one speedlight, one stand, and some assorted clamps and stuff in the trunk of the car. I found a plastic tupperware lid in the house. And I made it work. The light falling on the subject is a combination of bouncing off the plastic lid (main light) and bouncing off the ceiling (fill light).

I stood on the far opposite side of the room, again using a long lens. The dining table was between me and the subject, so I just shot over it. Impossible to get full-length shots this way, but headshots and 3/4 shots were absolutely achievable.

This should be publicly viewable - scroll down in the comments for a little better behind-the-scenes shot.

https://www.facebook.c​om ...45/posts/1262281613​840947 (external link)

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nathancarter
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Joined Dec 2010
Post has been edited 3 months ago by nathancarter.
Aug 29, 2017 11:09 |  #5

Director's cut alternate ending:

After looking at your gallery, you know what you're doing with outdoor/ambient photos. Pretty much every photo that you posted in the "EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II USM Review WOW" thread will work well for outdoor portraiture.

Just take them outdoors - hopefully it's overcast - find a place where they can stand where the background will be distant and not be objectionable when you let it fall out of focus, use a 135mm-200mm focal length, f/4 to f/5.6, and do your thing.

If you do it this way, giving posing/expression direction will be the only hard part.


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kf095
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Canada, Ontario, Milton
Aug 29, 2017 16:09 |  #6

Buy Jane Bown book, Faces: The Creative Process Behind Great Portraits. It shows and actually tells how to get great portraits without studio and flashlights. Environmental portraits. They could be done with blurred background or in the interior, exterior as part of the geometry in the picture.

Get to the place you will take portraits in advance. Find at least to spots where you will shoot. For large group it just have to have enough space. For single person you could be more creative. You could create portrait using interior or you could find place where interior is less distracted.

My daughter is using same flash you are about to get. And ... Gary Fong lightshpere! For outdoors portraits.

All you have to do is to get it balanced. Person in focus and interior in harmony, not distracting.

For group keep in mind what you need deep DoF and all people visible. Make sure to get several exposures. People blink and do over things. Command and ask to freeze.
Determine in advance how wide lens is needed.

Single portrait with interior (environmental) could be done with 35mm lens FF equivalent or 50. Aperture f8 to have it in focus.
Single portrait with blurred background is combination of tele lens (zoom end) and distance from background. More tele and far background is, more blur. F8 should also works. Avoid this large aperture artsy approach as plague.
Find out how it works best, standing or sitting for person on the portrait. Ask you wife, if she will like it, most likely the rest will like it as well.

You have three weeks to understand how it works. Start practicing now with wife. If camera has build-in flash use it, before you'll get flash. Learn how to balance ambient light and flash, by playing with ISO, shutter speed, aperture and flash level. With external flash, you'll just have more flexibility and power, but principals are very similar.
Learn how blur is achieved with getting close to subject by tele and having background on distance.

Think how to make it fun. It is triathlon. Take them on bicycles and with goggles.

One trick. This one was taken in very busy basement. The trick was to have light source (single lamp with reflector) as close as possible and have person sitting in the middle of very distracted room. Then, for exposure, all lights in the room where turned off, everything went dark, but person exposed with single lamp and reflector.

IMAGE: https://farm9.staticflickr.com/8666/16151594691_db445c81e3_z.jpg
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LonelyBoy
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Aug 29, 2017 19:03 |  #7

First of all, thanks for the replies! And Nathan, flattery will get you everywhere. :)

To address points raised in no particular order:

I'm trying to avoid buying too much not mostly out of budgetary concerns (though I'd sort of rather always spend less if possible, but I'm willing to pay for first-party reliability and support), but also clutter. We might be moving in a year or two, and I'd rather not accumulate a large volume of stuff, even if useful. One flash is much better from that aspect than several, especially with stands and umbrellas.

The bit about "135-200, f/4-5.6" is exactly what I was after. I'll be taking both of my 2.8 zooms, and maybe the 35/2 for good measure. And yes, a bunch of frames each - I probably do more frames than I should anyway for most targets (and sometimes wish I had more).

Any ideas about light directionality? Direct and diffused, bounced off a ceiling or wall? There's a beautiful mural in the parking lot (and it might be a perfect hour of the evening for natural light - meeting starts at 6:30 and the mural is facing west), but if there are cars in front of it the effect will be ruined and we'll need to do it inside.

Is there a good minimum SS for people, beyond the old 1/FL rule?


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DaviSto
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Aug 29, 2017 19:34 as a reply to LonelyBoy's post |  #8

Get there early and park your own car in front of the mural?


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LonelyBoy
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Aug 29, 2017 19:51 |  #9

Unfortunately, it would take like eight spots to leave it open, and it's a shared lot so there's no telling what other cars might be there then. If it were people attached to the shop I'd just ask them to move. :)


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bobbyz
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Aug 30, 2017 03:51 |  #10

I would pick a strobe over speedlite something like AD200.


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DaviSto
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Aug 30, 2017 04:52 |  #11

LonelyBoy wrote in post #18440361 (external link)
Unfortunately, it would take like eight spots to leave it open, and it's a shared lot so there's no telling what other cars might be there then. If it were people attached to the shop I'd just ask them to move. :)

But, unless you want to make that mural a main feature rather than just your backdrop, you will only need one car's width to be able to get good portraits. See NathanCarter above, you only need a 'long skinny alley' ... it's the same whether you are outdoors or indoors. As long as you position your subjects correctly relative to camera and to backdrop and use a reasonably long lens, a fairly tightly framed portrait is not going to require anything more than a narrow clear channel and a small area of unobstructed background. If you shoot with a relatively open aperture (as wide open as you can while giving you a well-focused main subject), you are going to blur out that backdrop a good deal anyway (all the more so, the longer your lens and the greater the clear distance between subject and background).

I like the idea of shooting outdoors if you can. To make life as simple as possible and minimise the amount of gear (both to buy and to learn how to manage), I'd first look for a location where you will have natural shade at the time of day when you plan to shoot and where you will have a clean (or very distant) background. Those are basic (although shade will not be important if you are actually going to shoot in soft evening light). Ideally, the shade should be full overhead cover but just getting out of direct sunlight should be priority one. With this and one off-camera light (a good speedlight will do) that is as well-diffused as you can make it (behind a stretched fine white sheet would be an option) and ideally a simple reflector, I think you should be able to get very good results.

There is a good advice above about where to position your flash.

The best advice of all above is to do a test run and practice a lot with your new kit. That way you will be confident and calm when it comes to the real thing.

All of this is going to get more complicated if you're planning on taking shots with different settings and framing and using different lenses. I'd be inclined to keep it fairly simple.


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abbadon31
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Sep 01, 2017 09:17 |  #12




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inwardphoto
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Sep 02, 2017 01:02 |  #13

I need to get a manakin to practice with. My friends are getting bored.


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nathancarter
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Sep 15, 2017 13:20 |  #14

LonelyBoy wrote in post #18440329 (external link)
Is there a good minimum SS for people, beyond the old 1/FL rule?

Three things to consider:
1) Camera shake. 1/FL is fine for mitigating camera shake, though a lens with decent stabilization should get you another couple of stops, and if you're skilled at steady handholding you can get another few stops.

2) Subject motion. 1/60 is about the slowest you want to go with a posed/still subject. Any slower than that, and micro-movements such as breathing, eyelash flutter, etc will give you a little unwanted blur. For an unskilled or shaky subject, 1/125; for a moving kid you're looking at 1/200, 1/400 or faster. With a very skilled model you can go slower but I wouldn't count on it.

3) Flash sync speed. If you're using a flash, you're limited at the fast end - due to mechanical and electrical limitations of the rolling-shutter DSLR, 1/200 is about the fastest you can go unless you use High-Speed Sync (HSS). With my old radio triggers I could only get 1/160 but with my newer ones I can usually get 1/200. If you go any faster than that, the rolling-shutter is not completely open when the flash fires, and you get unexpected results.

(1) + (2) + (3) = keep it at or above 1/60, and if you're using a flash, at or below 1/160.


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nathancarter
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Sep 15, 2017 13:26 |  #15

DaviSto wrote in post #18440569 (external link)
But, unless you want to make that mural a main feature rather than just your backdrop, you will only need one car's width to be able to get good portraits.

Yeah, exactly this. Is your intent to have the mural be a primary feature of the photos? If not, you only need a little bit of it. I wouldn't even go for the mural; even if it falls out-of-focus there's probably a lot of color and pattern that will compete with the subject.

What are you trying to accomplish?
"Here's a picture of Jane in front of the historic mural"
or,
"Here's a nice portrait of Jane."


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