Recently I bought two Profoto Umbrella XL (silver) with the optional Front Diffuser, they are really big and gives a soft light (of course, as they are quite big light sources) but with contrast. Maybe not the light modifier I would use primarily for portraits in the studio (I have tried it, and it is ok, but not great), my 5-foot softbox Octa is still more my choice there, but for assignments on locations they are very good. And they are easy to carry, and easy to set up.
I was hired to take publicity photos from an event a client of mine had which included a prize ceremony and they needed good photos of the winners. That included single portraits of the winners as well as group photos in different sizes.
What made me very glad was that with just two umbrellas (big ones, but still just umbrellas) I could use the exact same lighting setup as well as light settings and exposure to get good portraits and good group shots.
Simplest two-umbrella lighting setup
Here they are, in all their glory. I put two Profoto D1 250 Air with their respective Umbrella XL and put the Front Diffusers on. As high up as I could with the low ceiling, just to get a small shadow under the nose.
Two lights almost on-axis with the camera
Instead of having the two lights at 45 degree angle, I opted for a more frontal lighting, mostly because I wanted to avoid getting shadows in the group photo from the different people. If they don’t stand on a very straight line, that can be a problem otherwise, and I tend to miss that when I check the photos in the camera.
Why I didn’t place the with just a small opening for the camera and faced straight at the wall, I don’t know. Maybe that would have worked well too.
Shadows and background
But this angle worked good as well, all the people in this medium sized group photo are evenly lit, and they don’t cast shadows onto each other. The group is placed about one meter from the green wall, so there is a little, and very soft, shadow on it.
In this smaller group photo, the shadows on the wall are more visible, but that is not actually from the people but the large checks, so with a ordinary group shot there might still look normal. Even if I think it is ok with shadows, it looks a bit more natural and not like a cut out picture.
If I had more space, I could have used a third light and aimed it at the background to create a gradient and made the group stand out more, but I didn’t, and I think this worked well too. It all blends in a good way, just pure luck that the colour on the checks matched the colour on the wall in the hotel’s conference room.
The conference room we used as a studio was very large by my standards, but I think this setup can work well in smaller rooms too. It doesn’t take too much space, and with all the light coming from almost the same direction, I could put a group against a wall and it would still look good. I think.
My main idea with buying the two large umbrellas was to be able to travel without a massive amount of bags. For this assignment I could fit everything into two bags, not counting the camera bag. I think I can trim it down to the large Kata Palms-2 but for this job I brought a third monobloc, but with just two, it might fit.
I have a lot of assignments where my clients wants individual portraits and then, when I am already there, why not do a group photo as well. With a simple setup that can be used without moving anything or changing the light setting for both smaller to medium sized groups as well as portraits, it can be very useful.
All in all, I think it took less than ten minutes to set this photo shoot up, and even shorter to pack it back down. And did I mention that I didn’t need to adjust it while the group stood there waiting? Always a stressful moment to fix things with people waiting, especially for group shots where people tend to lose focus and interest pretty quick.
Feet are nothing I think adds value or interest to photos, if you don’t sell shoes, so I usually crop group shots higher. Mostly because I think it looks better, but also for the simple reason that clients tend to use tighter cropped photos more often than zoomed-out ones.
But, with a lighting setup like this, there might be good to add a reflector under each umbrella to lighten the lower part of the picture. If you would want full-body shots, the falloff made the legs and floor a bit dark.