Indoor Family Portraits with a StarFlash® Kit

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An indoor family portrait can be a very challenging photographic assignment, and much of your success will depend on your lighting conditions. Indoor lighting is often relatively dark and uneven, which is why most portrait photographers opt to bring additional lighting units for such a photo-shoot.

Typically, the most flattering type of light for a portrait shot is soft light, which is easily produced by SoftBoxes. Armed with the right lighting kit and a little know-how, you can create beautiful indoor portraits every time.

This lesson examines how to set up and position a StarFlash® 5 foot OctoDome® kit for natural-looking results.

Topics Covered:

  • Setting up and positioning strobe lights
  • Matching indoor and outdoor exposure levels
  • Comparing lighting results

Before Beginning

To make your setup more convenient and versatile, we have now included the Photoflex® FlashFire™ wireless kit. Using this equipment allows you to move more freely with your camera instead of limiting yourself to within a few feet of your lights.

Even adding just one trigger and one receiver you can set your secondary lights to slave so that they fire through the infrared sensor. Either way you choose to use the FlashFire™, you cannot ignore its ability to provide your “tool bag” with a great amount flexibility.

We went on location for this family portrait photo shoot, and arrived at the house about an hour early to get our lights set up. Once there, we decided to photograph the family on a couch in front of the main living room window. First, we set up the tripod and framed up the shot.

Once we found a crop that we liked, we took a shot to examine the existing lighting conditions.

As you can see from the result, there was a lot of contrast in this first result. The sky outside was fairly overexposed while the area around the couch was somewhat dark. We knew that this exposure issue would become even more pronounced once the family was sitting on the couch, as they would be rendered very dark compared to the outside elements.

In order to minimize the level of contrast, we decided to set up a Photoflex® StarFlash® 650watt strobe and a medium OctoDome®

Once the kit was set up, we positioned it to the right of the couch and used the FlashFire™ to sync up the StarFlash® with the camera.

To even out the interior light, we added another medium OctoDome®, and a Connector to a StarFlash® 300watt strobe unit on a LiteStand and positioned it off to the left side of the couch. We then activated the slave sensor in this second StarFlash® so that it would fire along with the first StarFlash®.

When both lights were powered up and synced with the camera, we set the power levels on each strobe to match each other, slowed the shutter speed in the camera down two stops to better expose for the scene outside and took another shot.

Reviewing the result, we saw that the exposure level outdoors was good and that the lighting on the couch looked great. However, the only glaring issue was that both of the SoftBoxes were reflected in the window, which was very distracting.

When working with studio lighting, it is typically best to change only one element at a time. Here, we decided to move one light at a time to see what the effects would be.

While our photographer looked through the viewfinder, our assistant moved the left-hand light further to the left of the couch.

Once the light was repositioned, we took another shot. In this result, we saw that the left-hand reflection was gone and that the light on the couch still looked good.

The next task, of course, was to eliminate the reflection caused by the right-hand light.

Next, our assistant moved the right-hand light back toward the wall and raised it up a few feet in order to prevent the reflection from appearing in the window.

Once that light was repositioned, we took another shot. Now in the result, we saw that both reflections were gone and that the light looked good, both inside and out.

We were now ready for the family to come in and have their portrait taken!

Before we started shooting with our lighting units synced, we decided to take a shot of the group with a compact digital camera with the built-in flash enabled for comparison purposes. As you’ll soon see, comparison shots are often the best way to illustrate the differences in lighting set-ups.

Our photographer stepped out of the way, and our assistant took a quick snapshot of the group.

As you can see, the result is unimpressive. The built-in flash is not powerful enough to adequately light the group, and what light it does provide is very unnatural-looking. The outdoors areas are overexposed and the inside areas are fairly underexposed.

Finally, we were ready for the real portrait shots. To put everyone at ease, the photographer came over to the group and did a magic trick for the little girls, which got them excited and made everyone laugh and feel more relaxed.

He then walked back to the camera and took a series of shots. The one below ended up being one of their favorites.

Now take a look at the two results below and think about which one you think your clients would rather have on their mantle…

Basic Lighting,

Indoor Portraits,


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