Photography/Flash Question

I have been asked to take photos at a charity event this weekend. I have done this before, but not for a couple of years. It is a ball, so the photos are of guests in evening wear - we sell the photos to raise funds, and people like the memento.

I should say that I am only an enthusiastic amateur photographer, and I don’t much like portrait photography.

This year I will be using my Lumix FZ30 with a tripod - a great camera, but I’m concerned about using the popup flash on it’s own. I hope to have a nice background drape to take the posed photos against, but I need to know about lighting the guests. I could get a cheap light-triggered slave flash to sysnc with the popup. A decent flash (has to be manual, the FZ30 has no TTL flash capability) is much more expensive - I’d like really like one to match the FZs long lens, but the cost is pretty steep, and I don’t know that I will have time to figure out what I am doing with the exposure.

I have used an indirect floor light (100Watt halogen floodlamp) - it was sort of ok but I think the lighting created harsh shadows but the photos themselves were a bit dark.

Anyone got any advice?


If you could get a strobe to go on the hot shoe, I’d say use that but point it at the ceiling, then use a manual strobe high and to the side, preferably with a soft box or into a umbrella. Point the floor light at the backdrop.

Get to the venue as soon as possible. Take a volunteer dressed in black. Shoot some test shots and post them here. I bet you’ll get some really good advice.


What you basically don’t want is light coming straight from the camera onto your subject as your main light. There’s a million different ways to set up lights, but for straightforward, soft lighting, you basically want a large, diffuse light source coming at your subject from an angle (to shape the face. Just watch the nose and eye socket shadows.) This can mean using a softbox, an umbrella, or just bouncing off a convenient wall.

Getting an idea of the room and the walls and where you plan to take the pictures would help me give more specific advice. The absolute easiest thing to do would be to use a hotshoe flash with a diffuser such as the Lightsphere (if you’re resourceful enough, you can make one yourself), point it straight up and shoot. Basically, what you’re doing there is throwing light up and around the room, as well as forward for soft, even lighting. It’s not terribly interesting lighting, but it’s clean and works in a lot of situations. The old school way (which I like, too) of mimicking this is to rubber band a folded over sheet of white paper like this. That will do a lot to clean up and soften your light.

Now, those last two suggestions are the quick-and-dirty ones that can help anyone in pretty much any situation without much skill required.

Rent a couple of studio strobes + umbrellas for the evening.

Thanks for the thoughts, everyone.

So I put some examples here. The first 2 (2002, 2003) are photos I set up and took, using a couple of big blue blankets over a window, and taken with an Olympus UZ2100, popup flash and floor floodlight onto the ceiling (which is pretty high).

The 2007 photo was taken by a photographer with diffused flash angled up, strobe with umbrella, much nicer (lighter, sheer) backdrop and a Nikon D-SLR <sigh>. He isn’t available, so I have been asked to do them again. I don’t mind, I support the charity, my wife is away and I can concentrate on the photos, eat the meal, cut and deliver CDs on the night and leave - no requirement to be sociable :p.

Let me know your thoughts.

Also, my wife complains if I take photos that cut peoples feet off - I sort of agree, reasoning that a woman dressed up to the nines wants to be able to show off her Jimmy Choo’s (whatever). Should I persist with that full length photo?


You need more light on the first two. The exposure is good on the third one, but the reflections off her glasses are a bit harsh. Watch your shadows.

If you can get the lighter background, do so. With the dark background you’ll always be losing outfits against the back ground. Also, remember with digital photography overexposure is almost always preferable to underexposure. Try to move your flash guns away from the axis of the lens to avoid reflection in glasses and eyes; get them off to the side or use a diffuser. In formal poses, you’ll probably want to show off the expensive shoes. I don’t like standing poses because there is nothing to do with the hands. Consider seating the woman with the man behind her.

Actually, slight underexposure is preferable - there is information in the shadows that can be revealed in post-processing (may add some noise), but if highlights are clipped, they are gone forever.

My bad, beowulff is correct. Lean towards **under **exposure. I ‘hunt and peck’ type; see what my fingers say when I’m not looking?

Well, if you’re shooting JPEG. If you’re shooting RAW, you want to lean to the right (overexposure) a bit, but that’s beyond the scope of this question.

I shoot raw, and I think my statement above is still true for raw.

While they say it’s not the camera, it’s the photographer, this is definitely one case in which it’s particularly true. There’s really not much in the way of camera technology here that will help you. Your Lumix should be able to take a pic just as good as the Nikon. It’s all about the lighting here.

Personally, what I would do is set everything to manual mode. Your camera is on a tripod, your flashes should be consistant, you won’t be moving around. Set your camera to 200 ISO, 1/125 of a second, f/5.6. Set up your external flashes. Using a test subject, dial in the flash exposures, one flash at a time, until you get an exposure you like. Lock it in. That’s it. Once you have that set, you can pretty much forget about it. You don’t have to worry about the camera making the wrong calculations for you because one of your subject is wearing very reflective white clothing, and another is wearing very dark black clothing.

My standard lighting setup for something like this would be one light, 8’ high at 45 degrees to the left set to the correct exposure, one light to the right set to maybe a stop under (1/2 power) of the left light. (Or less if you want more dramatic modeling.) I might throw a light on the background, I might not. Usually, I don’t bother. Another way to light it, if you want to use a dark background, is to set up the second light behind and to the right of the subject, as a backlight that will separate them from the background. Like I said, there’s a million ways to do this.

This may be a bit beyond your skill level (or it may not), but The Strobist is the best website for teaching yourself lighting, especially with small flashes.

ETTR (Expose to the Right. You don’t want to blow your highlights (and your histogram on your camera will tell you you’re blowing highlights when in fact you’re not, because the histogram is based on a JPEG of your image, not the RAW data. In fact, you quite often have a good stop to stop or so of headroom when your highlight warnings start blinking.)

With all due respect, I don’t think si_blakley knows or cares about what you guys are talking about. He’s asking a specific question about a specific shoot. I believe he wants little or no post-processing with a wide margin of error just in case. Let’s help him out just for today and then we can digi-joust later. The guy has to shoot this, this weekend. Sorry if I sound pissy. I’m waiting for polls to close.

I know he doesn’t really care, hence the “but that’s beyond the scope of this question” in my first reply. I was asked for a cite, what do you want me to do, ignore it? I’ve given more than enough practical advice in this thread, thankyouverymuch.

Thanks guys, I do appreciate the advice, and while I do understand the RAW vs JPEG/Over vs Under exposure, I will be going for a manual static setup, people on the spot, chat, smile and click.

But the consensus is more and better lights - so a decent flash (which I have wanted for ages) and maybe a cheap slave, and I’ll see if I can get a spotlight on a stand to bounce off the wall/ceiling (the room has been redecorated, so should be a bit more reflective). I’ll see if I can tee up a lighter backdrop, too.

Thanks again.