Holiday Portraits (odd lighting situations)

Discussion in 'Lighting Forum' started by Nathan King, Nov 26, 2013.

  1. Nathan King

    Nathan King Mu-43 Regular

    Jun 19, 2013
    Omaha, NE
    Yes, it's that time of year - where photographic enthusiasts everywhere are asked to work miracles by friends and family and shoot in some really odd lighting without the requisite experience. I have been asked to take some nice portraits of my niece and nephew together in front of the Christmas tree, which is fineā€¦it's the in front of the tree part that scares me. I've been thinking myself through this and want to know if I'm on the right track.

    The lit tree will be, of course, several stops brighter than the children, so I would either get a nice tree with dark kids or nicely lit kids and an overpoweringly bright tree. Luckily enough, I have two really nice 400 watt second studio strobes with large rectangular soft boxes at my disposal. My idea is to get the kids a good distance in front of the tree so that I can control only the lighting on the children and put a strobe off both sides. I could set the power output to normalize the exposure level between foreground and background and use a slow shutter speed (~1/60th?) so that the ambient light of the tree gets in the exposure.

    Is this line of thinking correct? Am I over thinking this? To those members who have done shots like this, what did you do?
  2. kponds

    kponds Mu-43 Regular

    Mar 18, 2013
    I think it should look great with the softboxes. Keep in mind that if you are trying to balance strobes with ambient, you may need to gel your strobes to correct for the (incandescent? fluorescent? LED?) ambient light.
  3. Nathan King

    Nathan King Mu-43 Regular

    Jun 19, 2013
    Omaha, NE
    I have no choice but to let ambient light in the exposure otherwise the tree lights will not glow, right?

    Sent from my SPH-L710 using Tapatalk
  4. jloden

    jloden Mu-43 Hall of Famer

    May 15, 2012
    Hunterdon County, NJ
    Real Name:
    Our church offers members & visitors family portraits in front of the tree at Christmas (maybe a couple thousand people throughout the day at the one campus I'll be at). I'm working the photo team this year so I'll be in the same boat as you :smile:

    It sounds to me like you have it about right - expose for the background & tree lights the way you want it, and add softbox as needed to bring the exposure on the kids up to the level you want. Not much different than trying to overpower the sun or similar; expose for ambient the way you want it to look, then bring the subject up with the lights to where you want the balance to be.

    Kevin's point is also valid, just watch your ambient v. strobe temps and make sure your mixed lighting isn't causing problems. It'd be tough to gel a softbox though :wink:

    Don't drive yourself nuts thinking about it. I did a quickie tree shot with no flash last year with our dogs. It'd be better with some fill flash, but you can see in this photo you definitely wouldn't need an excessive amount of light just to lift the shadows on their faces and put catchlights in the eyes. Personally if I were shooting this over again I'd probably just throw a speedlight on top of the camera and bounce it off the wall and ceiling with a black foamie thing to flag the flash.

    Untitled by jloden, on Flickr
    • Like Like x 3
  5. BillW

    BillW Mu-43 Regular

    Oct 22, 2012
    Scranton, PA
    to keep it really simple, set your camera's white balance to tungsten/light bulb or a low kelvin setting 'K' and get a good exposure for the tree/lights.
    I would try different Kelvin temps so you can dial in the amount of warmth you want.

    Then, I'd use an ordinary household table lamp(s) to illuminate them. Color balance should match.
    You can vary the distance and wattage of the lamps to get a good blend.

    From the looks of jloden's shot above, his camera w/b adjusted for the warm lights on the tree. Slight fill as I mentioned will bring in the catchlights without getting too crazy.

    400 w/s lights will be too much and you will have a hard time controlling the ambient/tree lights.

    Another option is to use the modeling lights only with the softboxes.

    shoot some video while you're at it and make a nice talking portrait to share!
  6. RT_Panther

    RT_Panther Mu-43 Legend

    May 4, 2011
    Gotta love dogs! :smile: