Simplifying Family Portraits

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The holidays are right around the corner so this is a great time to perfect your lighting skills for shooting groups and families. From holiday cards to heartwarming gifts, this is the time of year to create memories that your clients will cherish for years to come. There are many ways to approach family portraiture but in this article we will focus on three quick and easy set-ups for lighting success. All three approaches have one thing in common; keep it simple.

Constant Lighting

The main benefit of using constant lighting is the freedom to see exactly what the light is doing. With constant lights you can see exactly what results you are getting which makes adjustments easy.

In the setup below, two Legacy StarLite units were setup with SilverDome soft boxes. A large SilverDome was placed on the key light, which was positioned in front of the subjects. An accent light was also created with a small SilverDome, placed behind and to the right of the subjects. A large Oval LiteDisc was placed to the left of the subjects to bounce some light into the shadow areas created by the key light. The result is a warm and flattering portrait with bright highlights. For a more even exposure, omit the accent light and work primarily with a key light and reflector.

Shoot-Through Diffused Lighting

When you want to shoot group portraits outside or on-location, portable strobes can be a great solution. They allow you to use the power of strobe lighting without needing to be near a power outlet. In the example below, the subjects were positioned in open shade with a natural setting behind. In order to balance the strobe lighting with the mid-morning sunshine, a 72” shoot-through umbrella was used with a Photoflex Triton battery powered strobe. The umbrella was placed in front of the subjects, just slightly to the right so that shadows would be mostly centered and even.

The soft light created by the 72” shoot-through umbrella was perfect for improving skin tone and creating soft highlights and shadows. Since this large umbrella creates a big area of light to work with, it was easy to reposition the family several times without ever having to adjust the light.

OctoDome Soft Box Lighting

Another great solution for balancing sunshine is the octabank or OctoDome as Photoflex has named them. These octagonal, umbrella based soft boxes are perfect for mimicking sunlight due to the wide and even output of light. With OctoDomes, shadows are soft and undefined, which makes the easy to use with groups and not have to worry too much about shadows being too dramatic for the subjects placed close to the edges of the frame (furthest from the key light).

At the time of the next example shoot, the daylight was fading and there was only a short amount of time before the sun would be completely set. With the light fading fast, a battery-powered strobe was the perfect solution to add some light to the frame while still creating a balanced and natural effect. The key to this technique is to expose the subjects at the same aperture as the ambient light. If the subjects are over-exposed compared to the ambient light of the background, more separation will be created, resulting in a more dramatic effect. The bump of light from the strobe begins to fill in the shadow areas where natural light is starting to fade at this time of day.

In the example below, a Photoflex Triton flash was placed in front and slightly to the left of the subjects with a medium sized (5ft) OctoDome. The ambient light reading was 1/100 of a second at f5.6 using ISO 400. The Triton strobe was set at a low power to just kiss the exposure with light while not changing the shutter speed or aperture. The result is a flattering portrait that mimics a natural-light look. Adding just a kiss of light from the battery-powered strobe allowed for more detail on the subjects’ faces as the ambient light faded.

As you gather with your friends and family this time of year, we hope that you will consider these tips for creating family portraits that will impress for years to come.

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