Input needed for Christmas Photo Flash Setup
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techster82
Registered: Feb 14, 2006
Total Posts: 41
Country: United States

I own a couple of retail pet stores and for the past five years we've done "Photo's with Santa" as a fundraiser for Canine Cancer treatment and awareness. The photographer who's worked with us in the past won't be participating this year and we've decided to shoot the photos in house using myself and two of my employees who went to school for photography and graphic design. I'm confident that we'll deliver a quality finished product but I'd like some input on the lighting setup as I haven't done much studio work myself, only assisted on a few shoots.

My main focus right now is making sure I have the right equipment and on a conservative budget. Most of my personal photography is event and low-light work with no flash so the equipment I purchase will be used maybe a handful of times per year with the biggest being the three weekends we shoot the santa photos.

Because we will be shooting for six days and for 5-6 hours straight per day I need a flash setup that is AC powered. I've got a couple of speedlights but I'd burn through batteries at the rate we'd be shooting. Can anyone make a good recommendation on AC powered strobes that are cost effective and would work with a pocketwizard setup? I'm thinking I'll use two AC powered strobes with umbrellas triggered by the pocketwizards and we'll be shooting with a D600 and a 24-70mm lens.

Any input is appreciated. I'm really trying to get an equipment list together and ordered this week so we'll have time to dial everything in and get proficient before the shoot starts the weekend after thanksgiving.

I'll also need to purchase a background stand and am looking at using a white muslin backdrop that we'll add to for the finished product.



BrianO
Registered: Aug 21, 2008
Total Posts: 8454
Country: United States

techster82 wrote: ...My main focus right now is making sure I have the right equipment and on a conservative budget.

One man's conservative is another man's avarice; can you state a specific budget?

For this kind of gig you probably want to do like the shopping mall Santa Photo stations do: have one generic setup that works well with everybody. For that, a single strobe centered above the camera, with a regular reflector for fairly hard key light, and a fill light to one side of the camera with an umbrella or soft box.

Adjust the power levels of the lights once using a flash meter -- or a gray target and reviews of the camera's histogram -- and then leave them be since your subjects will be wearing different colors of clothes and have different skin/fur tones that could throw off reflected flash metering.



techster82
Registered: Feb 14, 2006
Total Posts: 41
Country: United States

Thanks for your response. Budget wise would it be unreasonable to stay under $600? I am hoping to go the used equipment route to make this figure more reachable.

I understand your comparison lightwise to the mall setup but we have done things quite a bit different in the past. From what I've seen in the malls they keep the camera stationary and its more of an assembly line. We won't be shooting stationary and our Santa usually gets down on the level of the dogs and has been known to roll around with them.

When you say a single strobe above the camera are you referring to me shooting something like my SB-600 on camera with another strobe off to the side?



JohnBrose
Registered: Aug 06, 2004
Total Posts: 1657
Country: United States

I also would go with a single strobe(not the camera one, a monolight style) bounced into an umbrella-approx 45inch diameter and keep it semi close to where you are shooting from. For a cheap monolight, try white lightning/paul c buff products or Interfit makes some very economical units. Photogenic has nice umbrellas and JTL makes some nice background stands-I have both their aluminum and steel styles. A hair light/rim light would maybe be nice to and for that you could probably use one of your sb units with a slave on manual. Plan to have your camera on a tripod so you can interact with the kids, when I used to to a lot of kid shooting, I would use a cable release so I could goof off/make the kids smile while triggering the shutter. Are you going to be printing the pictures while they wait or what is the plan for that?



techster82
Registered: Feb 14, 2006
Total Posts: 41
Country: United States

We actually won't have many kids, the photos involve bascially the pets with Santa. We do have some families that bring their kids as well and because we have a real Santa word has gotten out so we tend to see more each year.

We've never shot from a tripod before and probably never will as we need to get down low on the level of the animals and be able to move and adjust on the fly as many times the dogs don't want to cooperate for long.

The environment we'll be shooting in is an empty space next to one of my stores that is 20'x 80' deep. It's all fluorescent lighting with a ceiling of about 10' or so.

What we'll do is right after we shoot we'll import the photos into lightroom and I'll have a person go through the photos and flag up to five of their favorites. We'll then post process in the days following the shoot and have the photos printed and ready to pick up by the following weekend.

The reason I mentioned two strobes originally is because that is what the previous photographer used and it seemed to work well. If I recall correctly it was two alien bee units shot through umbrellas and triggered via pocketwizards.



techster82
Registered: Feb 14, 2006
Total Posts: 41
Country: United States

Here's an example of a photo from last year's shoot:

http://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=10150599877214988&set=o.207341275954356&type=3&theater



BrianO
Registered: Aug 21, 2008
Total Posts: 8454
Country: United States

techster82 wrote: ...I understand your comparison lightwise to the mall setup but we have done things quite a bit different in the past. From what I've seen in the malls they keep the camera stationary and its more of an assembly line. We won't be shooting stationary and our Santa usually gets down on the level of the dogs and has been known to roll around with them.

Interesting. The example shot you linked to looks like a Mall-style shot, but if you want to be more mobile then I'll change my advice considerably...

techster82 wrote: ...When you say a single strobe above the camera are you referring to me shooting something like my SB-600 on camera with another strobe off to the side?

Not originally; I meant a monolight (or the head from a pack & head system) mounted on a stand, boom, or frame over the camera position. But if you're wanting Santa to be able to get down and the ground and move around with the animals, that changes things.

I'd suggest just what you say: an on-camera Speedlight set to iTTL mode, which automatically adjusts its power for the camera-to-subject distance as it changes. I'd use a white wall (or set up a white panel) angled to the side of and behind the camera, and use the swivel & bounce feature of the Speedlight to bounce the light off the wall, rather than be aimed directly at the subjects.

With the use of a large bounce surface one light may be all you need, but adding another that can be triggered in Slave mode from your on-camera SB-600 Master would be even nicer.

[Edit: I'm mostly a Canon and Mamiya user, and not real up to date on Nikon gear; I just double-checked, and found that the SB-600 cannot act as a Master. You'll need an SB-700 or higher to be the Master, or your camera may be able to do it. What camera do you have?]



PeterBerressem
Registered: Sep 05, 2007
Total Posts: 729
Country: Germany

One AB800 with a PLM soft-silver (64" will do) pretty close to the camera axis (as Brian described) goes for $ 340. Add a light stand and you're done.



jefferies1
Registered: Jul 03, 2008
Total Posts: 2539
Country: United States

Make sure if you use 2 flash units both are set to fire only with the remote. You will have lots of people using cell phones with flash that will fire any light activated units (slaves). If you have 3 then get 3 receivers etc.

If you use a white background without additional lights focused on the background it will be more of a gray color if the subjects is a few feet away from it. For pure white you will need at least 2 light for the background itself.



eburge
Registered: Mar 02, 2004
Total Posts: 91
Country: United States

I'm interested in trying something like this also (only with kids).

Can some of you add lighting diagrams using something like this: http://www.lighting-essentials.com/lighting-diagram-tool-for-lighting-essentials/#more-1470

I'll be using 2 White Lightning 600's, Nikon D200, and 3 PW Plus II's. I also have a background stand with white, black and greenscreen backdrops.