OK, so I spent the day photographing St Nicholas, i.e. Santa Claus, in the mall. The real one (pull his beard, it’s the genuine thing).

So how do you do this? See yesterday for the tethering article, but I thought it might be useful for you to see how this is done in other equipment terms.

I used, and with the help of my assistant Daniel set up, the following in this order:

  • Lights:
  1. Two 400 Ws strobes (Bowen) on light stands, firing into umbrellas.
  2. A pocket wizard on each light to fire it.
  3. Power set to 4/5 as a starting point
  • Camera:
  1. Canon 1Ds MkIII, with power supplied by mains adapter.
  2. A tripod
  3. Wire release for the camera.
  4. 50mm f/1.4 lens (any lens would have done)
  5. Pocket wizard (to fire the other two)
  • USB cable to the computer.
  • Computer, tethered as per yesterday’s article

First, I set my camera to manual exposure, 100 ISO, 1/125th second, f/8. Then I set the lights to that, using a light meter.

Then I tried a test shot without  flash:

This is very important. I wanted the ambient light in the mall, which varied due to a large skylight, to not affect exposure. So that picture above should look dark. Else variance in the sunlight will affect my pictures. One lovely thing about studio lighting is that it is consistent.

Then I did a custom white balance (I had to shoot JPG for the printing company, so this was very important). So I shot a grey card on Santa’s seat, and set my custom WB to that exposure.

Then I set the camera “style” settings to extra saturation by one click. (I am shooting JPG and we have bright Santa- and kid-colours).

And then I was ready. Here’s me:

Having tuned a bit (set my aperture to f/9 instead of f/8 to reduce exposure a bit), I am now ready for shots. And for Santa!

And the great thing is that I was able to stay at these settings all day. And every picture was sharp as a tack, exposed perfectly, and the right neutral colour. This is what I love about studio light. Even in a mall, with a portable studio. Of course it is important to check every now and then that you are still set right – JPG, 1/125th sec, 100 ISO, f/9. But if you make no mistakes, you get the same great light all day.

And Jolly Old Nick will be happy, as will the kids – and more importantly, their parents.

0 thoughts on “Nick

  1. Very good info for prospective Santa photographers! Did you set the lens to auto-focus or focus manually. Is auto focus good enough for this environment?

    Are you going to write another post about the computer – PC connection and how the workflow worked out for you?

    I am thinking the best solution from a business perpsective would be to be able to make prints immediately with a printer in the studio. I bet that would make more sales as people don’t like to wait. Do you think it is do-able?

  2. Focus? Great question. I went back and forth between the two focus modes. Mainly autofocus with one focus point, since Santa was in the same place much of the time (allowing me to use that one point), and he did move forward and backward slightly, as did the kids.

    Printing is doable on site with an assistant but prints need to dry, so allow for that.

    Yes, will do about the PC (actually Mac) workflow. Using Canon free software which is available for both PC and Mac.

  3. Someone else asked (and I summarize): why not bring the umbrellas closer to create a darker background (we all know the inverse square law); why not add a hair light; and why not change lighting ratios to create more classical, less flat light?

    Great questions. After all, that’s what you’d do in a studio, for portraits. That and maybe even use gels to change relative colours or even to add some red and green here and there.

    So why not?

    Well, when shooting Santa shots it’s not that simple. First, the umbrellas are as close as they can get (there’s a sleigh in the way). IN any case, however, parents want flat lighting for these. Also, they want bright backgrounds. And they want even lighting, not vignetted shots – plus, I cannot vignette in camera since I shoot wide and the photo handlers crop the shots.

    Hairlight: could do except that would mean cables at the back, where the kids come and go, and it would need to be re-aimed for most shots, meaning an assistant, or more delays.

    So there’s method behind the madness.

    Sometimes you aim not at art, but at competent, simple, quick and reliable results. Some would call this “bread and butter” photography but I think that does not do it justice. This type of photography is a skill in itself, but not just for the obvious reasons. And it is a lot of fun – I am doing it again tomorrow.

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