Our neighbors across the street had seen the Christmas photos I took of the family next door, and they asked if I would take similar photos of their family. The night of December 22, 2017 presented the opportunity. So, I reassembled much the same equipment configuration out in the street in front of their house, and we took some photos. Afterwards, we went inside a took a few more shots around their Christmas tree. Every such opportunity gives me more chances to improve my technique.
My list of equipment was as follows:
- (1) LumoPro LP605s 7.5′ Compact Lightstand
- (1) MagMod Basic Kit Light Modifier
- (1) Manfrotto 119 Short (16mm) Adapter Spigot with 1/4″-20 & 3/8″ Female Threads
- (1) Manfrotto Avenger C-Stand 33
- (1) Manfrotto Avenger C1575B Super Clamp
- (1) Manfrotto Avenger Snap-in 5/8″ Pin for Super Clamp
- (1) Manfrotto Avenger D200 Grip Head
- (1) Manfrotto Avenger D570 Extension Arm with Swivel
- (1) Manfrotto Compact Advanced Aluminium Tripod with 3-Way Head
- (1) NIKKOR AF-S 28 mm f/1.4E ED Prime Lens
- (1) NIKKOR AF-S 85 mm f/1.4G Prime Lens
- (1) Nikon D850 Full Frame Digital SLR Camera
- (2) Nikon SB-5000 AF Speedlights
- (1) Nikon WR-R10/WR-T10/WR-A10 Wireless Remote Adapter Set
- (1) Padcaster Cold Shoe Adapter
- (1) Phottix Varos Pro S Multi-Function Flash Shoe Umbrella Holder
- (1) Savage Universal Luminous Pro LED Ringlight Plus
- (1) Sony 128 GB SD UHS-II SF-M Series Memory Card
- (1) Sony 128 GB XQD G Series Memory Card
- (1) Westcott Rapid Box Strip 10″ x 24″ Softbox
As with the shots I took of the next door neighbors, I configured one of my speedlights (Ref. 13) as the main light (set at 10 mm zoom), I installed its diffusion dome, and I mounted it in the softbox (Ref. 20) without its interior deflector plate. Then I mounted this assembly to an arm extending off one of my Avenger C-stands (Refs. 4, 7 and 8). I also mounted my ringlight (Ref. 17) to this C-stand (Refs. 5 and 6) to provide some continuous light to aid in setup, and also to constrict the pupils on my subjects (I turned it off during shooting, to avoid unwanted reflections).
I configured my other speedlight (set at 135 mm zoom) as an accent light. I mounted it to the compact lightstand (Ref. 1) using an articulating adapter (Ref. 16), and I constrained the light output using a MagMod grid (Ref. 2). I think both flashes were set at about 1/128 power.
I mounted the 28 mm f/1.4 prime lens (Ref. 10) to the camera (Ref. 12), and I mounted these on the tripod (Ref. 9), and I triggered the camera using the radio trigger (Ref. 14). From the camera setup menu, I programmed the remote’s Fn button to toggle the “Lv” function, so I could use it to turn off Live View without touching the camera. The camera was set to manual focus.
Posing & Shooting
I posed my subjects sitting on the curb in front of their house, and I framed the photos to show various portions of the house and Christmas lights in the background, and the luminary in the foreground.
For each shot, I illuminated my subjects using the ring light, and I used the D850’s Live View video display to zoom in on one of the subjects’ eyes to manually focus. Then I turned off Live View (required to trigger flashes), turned off the ring light, and triggered the shot. Then I checked the play-back for proper focus and exposure.
The next day, I started working on editing the photos. Since I was determined to make my editing workflow as simple and automated as possible, I started to ‘Google’ ways to integrate Adobe Lightroom Classic CC with Portrait Pro 17. Luckily, this was pretty easy. You just specify in Lightroom that the Portrait Pro 17 ‘.exe’ file will be an external editor, and then you can just right-click on a photo in Lightroom, and a menu will come up with the option to edit the photo using Portrait Pro 17. From within Portrait Pro 17, you just set its Preferences to act as a plug-in for Lightroom, and so when you are finished editing using Portrait Pro, you can just press “Return to Lightroom” at the top of the window, and Portrait Pro will close, and you will return to Lightroom (The file that comes back is a TIFF, and not the original RAW.).
Some of the better photos are shown below (Nice photos are easy when the subjects are photogenic.).
1. I should get rechargeable AA batteries
When I was first setting out outside, I luckily checked the LCD on my speedlights when I turned them on. One of them was showing the low battery indicator, which unfortunately on the Nikon SB-5000 you only get to see right before the batteries die. The lack of a continuous battery power indicator in this design was a major oversight. Basically, what it does is force me to plan to buy rechargeable AA batteries (Consider Panasonic Eneloop rechargeable NiMH (nickel-metal hydride) high capacity batteries, as recommended by Scott Kelby in The Flash Book, p25.).
2. The Westcott Rapid Box Strip 10″ x 24″ Softbox works nicely as a main light for a group of 3
When I shot my next door neighbors’ family of 5, I could see the light from this softbox rolling off on the subjects at either end. This doesn’t appear to be the case for a cozy group of 3. For larger groups, it looks like I’ll need either an additional flash setup like I used here, or a larger rectangular softbox, which would then required a more powerful studio light.
3. Aperture f/1.6 doesn’t provide enough depth of field when shooting a group of 3 subjects
I’m always trying to maximize aperture to get nicer bokeh. Unfortunately, it appears that I need either f/1.8 or, more likely, f/2 to get a depth of field that is reasonable even for 3 subjects who are posed in a parallel plane.
4. If you want to maximize bokeh, 1) maximize focal length, 2) get close to subject, 3) put background lights in the far distance, and of course, 4) maximize aperture
When I shot my next door neighbors’ family, I was a little disappointed that the bokeh effect on the Christmas lights in the background, using my 28 mm f/1.4 prime lens, was not as dramatic as I had come to expect when using some of my longer focal length f/1.4 prime lenses. So, I brought my 85 mm f/1.4 prime with me when we went into these neighbors’ house to shoot, but unfortunately I didn’t mount it until some of the final few shots. Sure enough, the 85 mm lens created much nicer bokeh. It was a little tough to shoot these from the same room as the subjects, but I’m glad that I confirmed my suspicions.
5. Get SnapBridge set up
The LED display on my cameras is just not that suitable for verifying proper focus and exposure of photos. I need a bigger screen. Right now, with the options I have, that would mean using either Nikon’s SnapBridge app, or the CamRanger device. I see another experiment in my future.