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An awesome 1 light setup for professional photos

This shot was taken with one off-camera flash and natural lighting.

It was a really nice day outside, the temperature was comfortable, and the family was really nice and relaxed in front of the camera. There were a lot of group shots to do and with several young children involved sometimes this can be a challenge keeping everyone corralled, but the kids were great, patient, and just silly enough to where my photoshopping of faces was kept to a minimum. Children are always interesting subjects because they can't help but be genuine characters.

These are test shots, but they illustrate the lighting technique well. This is with improper placement of camera and kicker light without a fill light.

This is an untouched photo with the fill light and the camera and subject properly positioned. It still would require post editing, but the lighting situation has improved from the image above.

My assistant and I arrived at Dr. Allen's land in Shorter, AL about an hour and a half before sunset so that gave me plenty of time to walk around and scout the location. After we found a great spot about a quarter of a mile from the cabin, we got everyone in place and I positioned the subjects comfortably in front of a large area of golden, wheat-like grass. Behind the grass field there was a heavily wooded area and behind that the sun was setting, which I used as a kicker, or hair light. This gave the subjects a great glow and cut them out nicely from the surroundings. (Due to the position of the sun at sunset and the awesome lighting during the "golden hour" this is best done in the afternoon.) I then had my assistant to my left hold the fill light (an SB800 flash speedlight on a stand with a shoot-through umbrella) at a slight downward angle a few feet above and toward the subjects' faces.

If I was to expose my camera for the background without using a fill light, I might get something like the first underexposed photo of the girl and her brother above. Notice that there is also a lens flare from the sun. If that's what you're going for then that's fine, but for this shoot I didn't need that so I positioned the sun directly behind the subjects' heads or bodies to avoid flares.

Here's a top down diagram of what the lighting setup looks like for those interested. It's simple and easy, and it makes fantastic, professional-looking images very easily. Just remember to shoot during the "golden hour" (shortly after sunrise or before sunset) and make sure the sun is located behind your subject(s) to provide the hair light. Also, you will need to expose for the bright sun lit background. After that, set your fill light up at a slight downward angle to the subjects' faces but not so much that it casts unwanted and unflattering shadows. 

I forgot my transmitters so I had to trigger the flash with a cable, which was a hassle but worked nonetheless. I shot entirely with my Nikon D7000 and my trusty Nikkor 50mm 1.8 (stopped down to about f8), but I also got a few shots with my 28-85mm for the large group portraits. 

Look how ridiculously personable the infant looks in this composite shot.

Some of the shots required a little more editing than usual (this is to be expected from large groups, especially involving children). People make faces sometimes, they blink, maybe someone was in a shadow or moved behind someone else's head; this is why you take at least two shots of these kinds of images. These photos then become composite photos by necessity (clients certainly wouldn't like a photo of themselves blinking or not visible). So then it's the photographer's job to combine certain aspects of different images to create the best shot for the client (of course it's always ideal to get the best shot in camera, but sometimes things just happen). For instance, in the shot to the right, the infant looked very uncomfortable and was blinking in the first shot that I took, but everyone else looked fine. So I simply copied the child's face from another photo in Photoshop and edited it onto this photo (which happens to show the baby looking ridiculously personable). It's still a photo of the same child, just improved. The 4 shots below are the same child from that photo and also became a composite shot for a different reason.

 

For this shot I had to make a composite image from three different shots because the infant was too young to sit up safely without assistance.

I took different shots with the mother's hands in separate places assisting the infant in a seated position.

I had to use a third image to complete the background where the mother's hands blocked it in the previous images.

For the final product I had to paint in any missing areas in Photoshop with the stamp and paintbrush tool.

Afterwards we all went back to the cabin and watched some football and Dr. Allen and his family treated us to a gigantic dinner (he also owns a shrimping boat so we had fresh Gulf shrimp and oysters to shuck). Even through all of the hours spent sitting at a computer desk editing, hauling equipment around, standing on my feet for 12 hours on a wedding day, the good days and bad days, I can still honestly say that I love my job.

If you have any questions about the lighting setup used here, the edited process, or about anything to do with photography in general, feel free to comment in the box below.

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