Bare Bulbing with Large Groups | Transcription
Is it possible to bare bulb flash with large groups? Absolutely, and this is a fantastic technique. Why? Not necessarily because this is the ideal technique for lighting large group shots like this. It isn’t. It isn’t the ideal technique. It isn’t my favorite technique, but what it is, is it’s a great skill to put in your toolkit, in your skillset for situations where you are basically in a pinch. You might be early on in your career, where you don’t have medium strobes and large strobes. You only have these guys. You might be in situations where you’re at a wedding or event where all you brought with you was your pocket strobes because you can’t take anything larger, just because of the day, and the setup, and the timeline, and so forth. Either way, this is a technique where when all you have is just pocket strobes, you can still do a great job lighting a group and getting a fantastic image from it.
This particular image is from our workshop from the F-Stoppers Bahamas, this was actually F-Stoppers Bahamas 2014, and we were demonstrating this technique. I’m going to show you later our ideal technique that we use for weddings and we are going to go through an actually wedding setup for that. For this shot, we had the entire class stand together, and you’ll note a few things. Here’s just a couple tips starting off with this type of a shot. When you’re working an event or a wedding, or whatever it is that you’re shooting, and you’re dealing with a large group like this, get your light approximately set up correctly before you start actually working with the group. I want to have my flashes on their stands. I want to have everything roughly set up. I want to have everything good to go where all you have to do is make maybe fine tuning adjustments that might only take 10 to 15 seconds at tops.
Otherwise, what happens is if you pose the group first, and then you start doing these things, then the group kinda gets antsy, they get frustrated, they watch you going through the entire thing, it can get stressful and so forth. Ideally have someone stand in, get your settings, get everything roughly set up, then start working with a group and they will think you’re a rock star because you didn’t waste any of their time.
What we’ve done here is, you’ll notice that the front row is down low and the back row is going to be standing up. What we are looking out for is basically shadows. We want to make sure that shadows are not being cast in a way that our front row is basically blocking the back row. If you are dealing with a wedding party, usually it is more composed of more kids and more tall people and more short people and so forth. It’s not just all adults.
This one is all adults, and so for this type of a shot we do need to have a front row versus a back row, so you can use chairs, if there are kids you can have them stand in front, if they’re taller you can have them go in the back, and you can kind stagger them and basically work people between shoulders. We’ve found that this technique works best with basically one, two, or three layers of people, but beyond that, it gets really, really difficult. If we’re dealing with three layers, we might have the first group be sitting on the ground, the second layer might be sitting on chairs, and then the third group might be standing behind. Or, you might stratify just based on height if you have a really ideal kind of group height. Either way, that is kind of the first challenge.
Challenge number two is to make sure that we have enough light, and ideally, I recommend that you do this kind of a shot with 3 flashes. It’s going to really depend on how large the group is, but if we are dealing with say 15 to 20 people, three pocket strobes is ideal and we are going to show you why in just a second.
So let’s walk through the overall process and tips for this scene. Now, compositional attributes, we’re shooting at F16. Why? Because number one, I want to keep it simple. I want to not worry about sink speed. I want to have a good exposure in the background and this also preserves my depth of field. Yes, I do like to take group shots with a wide open aperture too, and we’re going to get to that later on, but for this particular shot, I wanted to keep it simple. Not using a neutral density filter, we can keep the shutter speed below 1/200th of a second and so our sink speed is good and we are ideal on that. So we have depth of field, we have sink speed, we have proper exposure. Sink speed is at 1/160th of a second, we are solid. Ambient light exposure at ISO 100, so total combined is basically, we have a Canon 24-70 Mark 2. We’re at 1/160th of a second at F16 and ISO 100 and 5.8K or basically 5800 Kelvin.
Okay, with that setup we’re good and we get a decent ambient light exposure where basically it’s not too dark but it’s not too bright. It’s kind of this nice, just bright and airy look where we’re not just blowing out our highlights. That is the look that I’d recommend for shots like this, and granted you can do with it whatever the heck you like. I’m just saying that when you expose these clouds to be darker and to be kind of that ominous, stormy cloud look, you get something that doesn’t really match. Because what do you have up front? You have this big group, they’re happy, they’re smiling. Look at my cheesy grin right there with my assistant, David, sitting on my lap. He looks like my child except for the fact that he is of a different Asian descent than I am. Yeah, except for that, and I would have had to be light 8 years old when I would have had him as my son. That would be weird too. Either way, everyone is smiling and having a good time and then you create these dark and ominous clouds behind you and those two don’t really fit together, so I would recommend for a shot like this that you leave the ambient light exposure bright. Not to the extent that you’re blowing things out, and not to the point where it looks dark and ominous.
All right, so light direction quality. Now, here is the tricky part. We’re placing the flashes off to camera left, and what do we use here? We use 3 Vivitar 285HVs. Those are those tanks that I’d say don’t use anymore. It’s quite an expensive setup actually because we use 3 PocketWizards as well. So combined together, that’s like, lets see, 300 plus 450 plus the one on camera, that’s like close to $1000 worth of gear and we can get a much simpler setup. This is again, where we talk about do things, invest in equipment that is going to save you time and is going to make your job easier. If I am using the now the Phottix Odin with the Odin receiver up top or the Odin transceiver, and I have 3 Phottix’s off-camera, the ones that I’m using for the actual lighting, I can now control all my power and all my zooms just from the back of the camera, which again makes your life more simple, you don’t need to have an assistant just there manning the power settings and so forth.
Here is the goal: I want to create a light direction for this type of a shot. For this shot, what I’ll usually do is look at where my sun is. If my sun is creating kind of a background and a rim light on the right side, I’m going to light from the left side, so that way I can keep my shape and dimension. Okay? I want to keep shape and dimension and kind of work with that. I don’t want to flatten out the image. I’m stacking flashes together. We’re taking 3 flashes. This is the shot where you need them on independent stands. You can’t use a Westcott triple threat or a Cheetah bracket for this. You need them on independent stands. We need them placed up high. They need to be shooting at least from the head height of the tallest person if not a little bit higher. Maybe 6 feet, 7 feet-ish and they’re going to be angled down slightly. We stack them up together and this is what we do.
We feather the light direction on the 3 flashes. Lets sat that my group is directly in front of me. This is flash #1, it’s closest to the left side, so I’m going to angle this a little bit to the left side. I’m going to leave this on a zoom setting, let’s say like around 50mm and this is going to be at 1/4 power. My middle flash is going to be at like 80 zoom. It’s going to be feathered more towards the center and this is going to be at 1/2 power. That flash that is on the right side, assume that I actually have 3 hands right now and that I can actually hold three flashes at once. My third flash is going to be aiming for the right side of the group. It’s going to be at 105 zoom and it’s going to be at 1/1 power. What have we done right there? We have essentially balanced out the flash, we’ve feathered it and balanced it for the inverse square law. Remember, anytime you go to double the distance, you’re going to 1/4 the power. Essentially what we’ve done is as the group gets further and further away, we power up the flash and we increase the zoom so we don’t get as much light loss.
On this side of the group, so our flashes are placed right here on this side of the group, we’re using a lower power setting with a wider zoom. Higher power setting with a more narrow zoom, so a more telephoto zoom. On this side we have the most narrow zoom and the most power. We’re trying to create an even distribution of light across them. By practicing this a couple times, you guys can get pretty fantastic results just within a single shot. Just basically go out there, set up the lights and you’re like, “Oh, that looks great.” All we need to do, we don’t need it to be perfect, you don’t need to be perfect, what you want to do is get it within about a 1/2 stop range. If these guys on this side are just a little bit darker than these guys on the side but it’s about 1/2 stop, it’s not a full stop, it’s just a little bit darker, that’s okay. You guys can always make adjustments and so forth, but what we need it to do is get it to be approximately the same across the entire group.
Then we can do exposure balancing inside a lighting room where basically we pull a graduated filter that’s anywhere between 0 and up to a 0.5 of a stop to basically either darken, to burn down, or to brighten certain areas of the image. When it’s a 1/2 stop, when you’re brightening or burning by up to a 1/2 stop, it looks very natural. It looks like the sky is subtly getting a little more bright. It looks like the sky is subtly getting a little more dark. It looks like the area around it. It doesn’t look like it’s been manipulated. When you go above a 1/2 stop of manipulation, that’s where, essentially, you start to visually see it. Where the sky gets unnaturally dark, the ground gets unnaturally dark and so forth. That process takes less than a minute inside a light room and we can get a fantastic result from this just from bare bulb techniques.
For the test shot we are doing is we are looking for shadows and we are looking for that balance across the entire group. Make sure that your shadows, #1, that they are not falling over places that would be distraction. They are not covering faces. You want to make sure that the lights aren’t placed so far left that you have people casting shadows onto each other’s faces. You want to also make sure that we don’t have strong shadows. If I’m lighting too low, these shadows actually are going to go up on the people’s chest and that doesn’t look natural. Watch the direction of the shadow, look at the highlights, make sure that our light over the entire group is fairly balance.
The other thing, make sure these heads are placed close together like this. Even though they are fanned out and spread, you still want the heads close together. Why? Because when we zoom in, we don’t want to see duplication of shadows. If you could look closely on this one, you cans see even though they’re set really closely together, we still have a tiny, tiny bit of duplication there. That is okay to that degree, this is still acceptable. Anything more it’s going to start getting noticeable, where it looks like, have you ever been in a stadium and they turn all the lights and you start to see shadows coming off of multiple directions? That’s essentially what it ends up looking like is multiple shadows being cast across the group. Watch for that.
Light color and light balance, we have a great look at 5800 Kelvin so we don’t need to do any gelling or anything like that. We talked about how we grouped it so we have a front row and a back row so we have differences in height so it prevents against shadows and dealing with issues like that. We organized the groups, front row kneels, analyze. After you get your first shot, we’re starting to work with different poses and stuff like that. Again, watch the shadows and the highlights. With every single shot, I want you to zoom in. Not every shot with the same pose and the same lighting, but with every shot where you change the group orientation, the group pose, zoom in and just give it a double check from shot to shot.
For a group pose like this, I was demonstrating something wherein the workshop were saying that contact point, these touching points where we’re making contact with others in the group gives off a sense of more intimacy and closeness. If everybody is not touching and standing apart from each other it looks awkward and uncomfortable, so I had everyone wrap each other up. Granted, you generally don’t want people doing the same thing, like all of the girls on this side all put their arms up on this same shoulder. That looks weird because they’re all choo-choo training up. Don’t do that. They wanted to make a joke out of it. I don’t know. Do what the guys are doing. See how the guys are all doing something different there? That’s great. On this side, everybody is doing something different. On this side, everyone is doing something different. The girls are a demonstration of what not to do. That’s how we would light a large group like this, up to 20 people. You could probably go a little bit more depending on how you stack and organize but with simple bare bulb pocket strobing techniques.
One quick note, a lot of people might want to direct flash this kind of a scene or to cross light this type of a scene. Cross lighting is essentially where we have our group that’s directly in the middle and we light one from the left and one from the right and we cross light. The problem with cross lighting is that it is the exact same as flat lighting. If we were to light directly with our strobe flash we would get that same exact look as cross lighting. Look what we have here. With cross lighting, we have this light overlapping on this side and this light overlapping on this side and you’re filling up both sides of the face. What does that do? It just creates a flat light.
Ideally I like all the flashes to be on one side and to create this kind of a look so that way we can create light direction and have a better and more natural looking image overall, because we’ve created that direction of light. Without it we lose dimension in the face, it looks like we’ve just flashed directly with the on-camera flash even if we’re doing a cross light type setup. This is my preferred way. Getting the light on the one side, getting opposite of whatever direction the sun is going, or if the sun is directly behind the group, you can usually pick out an angle where you have more natural light coming in and match that angle. That way you retain shadows on the shadow side. We’ll talk about this later as we continue on.