Prom Season

To help out a proud mom, I shot some images the other night of a young couple about to go to their high school prom. I thought I might share that process here.

The day was wet and dark – warm, but raining. And then it stopped raining – but it was still very dark, totally overcast, and remained that way.

Perfect. We want dark, so that:

  1. The sun will not cast harsh shadows;
  2. Our speedlights can overpower the ambient light, to make our subjects the “bright pixels”;
  3. We can render colours saturated (darker is more saturated).

So let’s start. First of all, of course I shoot manual. I set my camera to “sunny sixteen”, i.e. 200 ISO, 1/200th second, f/16. Then I go to f/5.6 to match the light (look it up: Sunny Sixteen, and totally overcast, no visible shadows). Then I go back to f/11 to make everything two stops darker. Then I go to 1/300th and f/9.0 – that is the same exposure but f/9 makes my flash more powerful than it would be at f/11, while the shutter speed makes no difference – provided I stay at or below my sync speed (on the 1D4 this is 1/300th).

Then I added flash – off-camera flash firing into an umbrella. My on-camera 600EX was disabled except for commands; the 430EX in the umbrella did all the work. So all I carried was a camera, two flashes, and a light stand with umbrella, with bracket to mount on pof those flashes. Light and easy.

Then, the setting. As the Speedlighter, I opted for outside, of course. A great back yard with a pool gives us this shot:

Note the Rule of Thirds, and note that I wanted a “home backyard prom” look, not a studio look, so while I photoshopped (Lightroomed, actually) away some items I did not want, I did want the chair, the pool, the lovely pink flamingoes, and the other items that show where we are.

Still, I did also take one more traditional vertical shot without all those trimmings:

The important thing is to have models look toward the umbrella: always watch where the light is.

I used TTL flash for this, so needed to occasionally change Flash Exposure Compensation (FEC).  Note: In my courses I teach you all this stuff. I do private coaching – and stand by also for my seminars at Vistek in Mississauga, starting 21 July – dates here soon.

Finally, I made some that make the scene even more of a home scene. In the following shot I electronically removed a container of chemicals, a barbecue gas tank, and a decorative frog:

…but I also made sure to zoom in and do a close-up:

In the above shots I had the umbrella on my right so that Vanessa was looking into the light – flattering for women – while her date James gets Rembrandt Lighting – flattering for men.

Postscript: when I say “looking toward” – I should be clearer, I mean “their faces turned toward”. Photographer’s jargon!

Do you see how this all works? Fun, isn’t it?


If you are in the Toronto area or elsewhere where I find myself and want lovely family portraits or “senior shots”, please contact me – you owe your family some great heirlooms…!


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