Setting up one directional off-camera flash with a shoot through umbrella may be your go-to lighting set-up for family formals, but what other ways can you light a group of people to create more drama or more interest? Light alters the mood of a scene with modifiers, quantity, and color, and even with family photos, you should be using your additional light to depict a certain story or tone.

Here are three ways to light family formals that all follow a certain theme – whether it be editorial, bright & airy, or hard and dramatic light.

1. Natural Light with Off Camera Flash

Photographing groups in the shade is ideally the best conditions for photographers on a sunny day, but often times there are shadows that need to be filled depending on the direction of light. A common issue we’ve come across when inspecting group photos is shadows beneath the eyes, usually originating from a lack of fill light.

In this scene we filled the right side of the image with a Profoto b2 to reduce the shadows cast by the direction of sunlight. Using a softbox modifier we were able to reduce the output of strong highlights and match existing light to add a more diffused external light source to the scene.


2. Dramatic Editorial Lighting

See the full behind-the-scenes footage from this photo here!

Creating interesting shadow fall off and using hard light are common characteristics of high-fashion photography. Applying those attributes to a group family photo warrants close inspection of several things:

  • Where do the shadows fall? – If the shadows cast from the light fall on other subjects’ faces,  alter the placement of your light to solve this issue
  • What type of modifier do I use? We want more specular highlights for high-fashion, editorial style lighting, so using a silver surface of some sort will help create that type of light (for the shot above we used the Profoto Deep Medium Umbrella in Silver with a Profoto b1)
  • What camera settings do I use? – Depending how dramatic you want to go, aim for a darker ambient light exposure and use your added light to chisel out your subjects. Now, this is up to personal preference so there is no standard camera settings to abide by, but play around with what works for your scene and try to consider the existing lights overhead.

3. Composite Lighting in Photoshop

This is definitely one of the more challenging techniques of the bunch, but will most likely be the biggest crowdpleaser. Have an assistant light small portions of the group so that you can composite them together in Photoshop to yield a fully lit group. Always take a plate shot without the subjects to mask any unwanted details or distracting items from the shot. See another example of Photoshop composite group lighting  here!

Another point to note when shooting these types of images indoors is the existing light. More often than not, you will be overpowering your subjects with your external strobe or flash as to avoid mixing light.

Canon 5D Mark IV with Canon 24-70mm, ISO 400, 1/30th, f/4Join Premium

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