Shooting for Family Events

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This topic contains 15 replies, has 7 voices, and was last updated by  Melanie Thomsen 7 months, 3 weeks ago.

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    Melanie Thomsen

    Good afternoon!

    Two questions for the webinar and anyone else who has some input!! 🙂

    1) Indoor Lighting. One of my greatest challenges as a photographer is photographing indoor events. The lighting can be a challenge, particularly when the windows are behind the subjects I need to photograph! My current lens is a 28 – 135mm with it’s lowest aperture being 3.5. Am I needing to look for an external flash (not the one in camera) or a lens with a lower aperture to be able to shoot these lighting situations clearly? Below is a sample picture (from a family gathering) of the kind of lighting I’ve experienced (ISO 1000, 135mm, f/8.0, 1/30sec, handheld). Input welcome!

    2) Developing a personal style. I’m so excited to finally feel just about ready to start developing a more specific personal shooting and editing style, beyond just taking good pictures. Any suggestions on developing that special twist that makes one’s photography unique?!

    Thanks so much!


    Melanie Thomsen

    Picture below 🙂


    Caitlin Compton

    “Indoor Lighting. One of my greatest challenges as a photographer is photographing indoor events.”

    It’s exactly the same for me and I was thinking of asking this question, too! 🙂 So I’m very interested in the answer. Hopefully it’s ok if I add another question to this forum topic, Would a speed-light be something to consider for this type of stuff?


    Jinny Schober

    I’ve had trouble with indoor lighting too! I am also interested in this answer. 🙁 On the lens I use for portraits, the lowest f-stop is 4.5, which is kinda too narrow for indoor lighting! I’m thinking I’ll get a lens with a much lower f-stop toward the end of the year when prices are lower. I was thinking about speed lights too, that is, if I can afford that additionally! 😉


    James Staddon

    Two more great questions, @melaniethomsen! Thanks for being specific, and providing an example. Will attempt to begin some discussion on these in the webinar tomorrow….

    This is EXACTLY the type of light I face at every single event I shoot and hold Photography Teams at, so there should be plenty to talk about. And yes, A speed lite is definitely something I never forget when packing my bags for an event.


    James Staddon

    @melaniethomsen, I didn’t have the time I was hoping to discuss this on the webinar. Was my quick answer sufficient enough for your first question?


    James Staddon

    And how about this answer, in reply to the second question about developing a personal style?


    Melanie Thomsen

    @jamesstaddon, Thanks for your input. I’m sorry I missed it on the actual day (was in NC on a family vacation!) and just sat down to watch most of the webinar today. Very helpful. After your advice on getting a lens with a lower aperture I wanted to make the purchase today – but am deciding to wait for at least one more day due to a second follow up question: what is a good speed light to start with? If they happen to be from the same company, I might be able to save time by doing a one stop shopping trip.

    And thanks for your input on the second question. Excellent advice. Lenspiration’s Scriptural foundation is something I greatly appreciate. I’m delighted to think about focusing on what I love (that the Lord also does) rather than spending lots of time trying to dissect a certain style. This is way easier! Thanks for the encouragement.


    James Staddon

    Very good!

    I started with Canon’s less powerful (and less expensive) speedlight, the 430EX. I regret that decision though. It wasn’t powerful enough for what I found myself wanting to do with it (shoot in larger buildings like churches and auditoriums and gymns, or even shoot things far away in a regular room).

    I then bought Canon’s more powerful (and more expensive) 580EX and have used that 99% of the time. The other one gathers dust or is used as a slave for a second light source (which I haven’t done much of).

    I really don’t know much about flashes (perhaps there’s a good, same-power cheaper-priced alternative). @buddingphotographer, Ben Cahill, and @nasa (and David Frazer?) would probably have better experience to add to this conversation!


    I’d just like to second James on a 50mm 1.8 That is by a long shot the most bang for the buck purchase you can make in photography. Bar none.
    I’m presently doing a lot of research on these things. I’m using a 320ex II (i think), but find myself quite limited in some ways. Mainly by optical slave, lack of power and a few other things
    Although I’m as much a Canon person as the next guy, I’m of the personal opinion that Canon’s (and Nikon’s) proprietary flashes are overpriced. They are rock-solid solutions that almost always have the features most people need, at varying price brackets. But since I like to save money, I’m taking a good look at both Godox (flashpoint if you buy at Adorama, just repackaged and rebranded) and Yongnuo gear. Those are the two main brands with a large ecosystem and a proven track record. (there are others such as Phottix, Interfit, Bolt, metz, and many, many others) Godox has the advantage of having a huge ecosystem of flashes, modifiers, mounts, strobes, etc. Yongnuo has the advantage that some* of their gear can be used side by side with Canon units using the same trigger. While they may not be quite as well built as their Canon or Nikon counterparts, at third the price one can consider that replacing a faulty still costs less than buying the proprietary gear. That being said, I’d always have a backup if I were doing paid gigs. (otoh I’d want a backup even if i were to use canon gear-moot point)
    As with all gear purchases, it’s a good idea to know what you’re your needs are, to know what to look at. I’ve assembled a quick checklist of flash features to consider in what I consider descending order of importance. Your needs may vary- some people may want radio slave over TTL for example. Don’t be intimidated, the main points are the first two. After that it gets technical
    TTL, acrostic for Through The Lens, is the ability to communicate with the camera and adjust exposure automatically, by adjusting the power of the flash. If you’re doing static shots where you have time to meter and adjust, you may not need it. But if your subject moves a lot, or you’re shooting in varying light conditions, (events) TTL is good thing to have. It’s not lazy- flash lighting is very tricky and takes time to get right manually.
    Optical/Radio Slave
    This allows one to take the flash off the camera and still have it fire. It allows one to place the flash to the side of the subject, behind the subject, in a modifier- the options are limitless. Radio and Optical behave about the same, but Optical requires line-of-sight between the trigger (normal the camera, or attached to the camera) and the flash unit.
    High power
    Consider what you need in the way of power. If you’re always in normal-sized rooms, you may not need that much. If you’re using modifiers, or lighting up the inside of large rooms, this is of first importance.
    Power variability
    High power comes at a cost- you can only turn down the power of a flash so far. So if you have a huge, fire-breathing, sky-cracking monster of a flash, it might be great for the 4×6 foot soft box you use every day, ( XD ) or it might light up a large section of auditorium, but it will be problematic when you want to do macro, or even portraits in some low light situations. The variability of a flash is in fractions such as 1/128, which is a good amount of variability. 1/64 is fine, 1/256 is usually only seen in high end units
    High Speed Sync allow you to fire the flash above the sync speed of the camera. It would require a whole article to cover. (as would most of these points)
    Master/slave flash unit
    Some flashes can behave as an off-camera flash, but not all those flashes can be used on camera to trigger other units.
    1st/2nd curtain sync
    All flashes do 1st curtain, some do 2nd. 1st curtain means the flash fires at the start of the exposure, and 2nd means it fires at the end of the exposure. It seems technical, but 2nd curtain is useful for things that move, especially for incorporating motion blur into the image

    If you’re on a tight budget, Here’s what I would personally recommend:
    If you have a little more latitude, I might go for this one which is more powerful
    This is the radio trigger that goes with all godox radio flashes:
    If you have a deep pocket and are always using large modifiers, I might consider this:

    sorry, this is kind of ramble-ish, I hope this helped think through some stuff. 🙂


    Jinny Schober

    Does anyone know anything about the Nikon nikkor 85mm f/1.8?


    Ezra Morley

    I have used, and highly recommend the YN-560 III flash, available from B&H. I’m pretty sure the YN-560 has the same amount of power as Canon’s 580EX. By the way, the YN-560 series is not TTL compatible. You’ll have to manually set your exposure. 🙂

    See my little article about the flash here:


    David Frazer

    I am a bit late on this one, but here are my thoughts:


    Although not directly related to lighting, I would also agree with everyone that says that a 50mm 1.8 is the best thing you can buy once you have a dslr body.
    total cost: 125$ – 220$, depending on your camera.

    I can second @buddingphotographer ‘s recommendation of the YN-560 III. I got a radio trigger (40$) that triggers and remotely changes the settings on the YN-560 III. (59$) If your main use is events, the absence of TTL on the YN-560 III will probably be sufficient incentive to buy something else, such as the Godox recommended by @nasa (85$ + 40$). A book on lighting would be the best investment for the money, even if you don’t intend to buy a flash, and I would strongly recommend getting a course or book if you are considering any kind of external lighting. Ezra’s post linked above is a good starting point. I personally have found that the third edition of this book (6$ used) is well explained and is quite safe as secular books go. Please note that some of the other editions do contain immodesty.
    total cost: 100$ – 150$

    If I had to choose which of the two has improved the quality of my photos the most, I think it would be the off-camera flash. However, it took me much longer to learn to use the off-camera flash than it did to learn to use the “nifty fifty”, and I have by no means mastered it. Notice the difference an off-camera flash makes in the quality of the attached images. The pictures are not great, but I think it illustrates the point. Notice also that when used correctly the flash makes the colours more realistic. (the zucchinis in the background, especially!)


    Don’t worry too much about this – as long as you are constantly trying to take better photos, your personal style will emerge on its own, and change over time. That is because each person has their own preferences. There is no harm in finding photos that you like and trying to imitate them.


    Melanie Thomsen

    Thank-you @jamesstaddon, @nasa, @buddingphotographer, and @dfrazer for your comments! The positive pressure on the 50mm was fantastic for helping me take the plunge and actually order it. It is now attached to my camera and I’ve had fun with it already! 🙂

    @nasa, no worries at all on the ramble. I know next to nothing about flashes, so it was most helpful! @buddingphotographer, thanks for the article! It’s going to be a great resource as I figure out working with a flash. @dfrazer, your pictures were instrumental in helping me realize I wanted to be able to take my flash off camera. And the recommendation of a reading a photography book is great – I did some fresh photography reading soon after reading your thoughts and hope to continue.

    I finally made a decision last week and ordered the second one @nasa recommended. And it arrived today!!! The box is awaiting my excited opening. The funny part is – I have a short space of time to figure out how to use it. I’m on call for informal family photos a day or two Thanksgiving week. Nothing quite like a deadline! 🙂


    James Staddon


    And a little word of advice I picked up over last weekend shooting some family portraits….even with flash units to fill in, still avoid positioning people in front of windows to keep them from looking like they are glowing. I think this is a fine effect in the outdoors, but inside it looks less natural.

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