Using flash is the perfect way to capture Christmas portraits in difficult mixed lighting. Follow the steps in our tutorial and find out how to use simple flash techniques to take natural-looking family portrait photography this Christmas.
With the festive season in full swing, now’s a great time to get your camera out and capture some fun group portraits of your friends and family.
Indoor portraits are often tricky to light, but worry not as help is at hand! In this tutorial we’re going to show you how to capture bright, colourful and perfectly exposed group portraits using only a flashgun and a diffuser.
A diffuser helps to soften hard flash light, and spread it evenly over a larger area for a more natural-looking effect, but don’t worry if you don’t have one.
Think about features in your home that you can make use of, such as a fireplace or Christmas tree. You can also give your subjects props to hold, such as a glass of fizz or a present; this helps your subjects feel more relaxed, as it gives them something to do.
We’re going to shoot our images in the JPEG format – as we’ll be carefully lighting our shots we shouldn’t have to recover highlight or shadow detail, so we don’t need to shoot in raw format.
01 Set the scene
Set up your camera on a tripod, and select the Manual shooting mode. Attach a flashgun to the hotshoe, and place a diffuser over the flash. Get everyone into position, making sure you leave enough space to get into the frame yourself!
02 Camera settings
Set the shutter speed to 1/125 sec, and the aperture to f/8 – this will keep everyone in the frame sharp. Set the ISO to 400 to facilitate the fast shutter speed; if you’re shooting in a very dark area you may need to push the ISO up even further. Select the One-shot AF setting, and focus on the face of a subject close to the centre of the frame.
03 Flash settings
Set your flash to E-TTL mode (the default setting) and take a test shot. The brightness of your subjects will be determined by the flash output, which you can adjust using the flash exposure compensation setting on the flashgun or your camera. The brightness of the background is determined by the ambient light, so alter the shutter speed to increase/decrease this.
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Set the Drive mode to 10-sec Self-timer; this will give you plenty of time to get into the frame. Fire the shutter and get into position – and remember to make sure that everyone is smiling! If your subjects are raising a glass to the camera, make sure that nobody’s face is obscured.
05 Informal portraits
To take informal portraits of one or two people, rather than a group shot, keep the diffuser on, but shoot with the camera handheld. Keep the shutter speed the same as before, at 1/125 sec, but you can open up the aperture to around f/4, as you won’t need to keep several people in focus. Again, you may need to increase the ISO to between 800 or 1600 if your shots are coming out too dark.
06 Have fun!
You want to capture your subjects having a good time, so communicate with them as you shoot to elicit a reaction. Keep their eyes in focus, and tilt the camera slightly to one side for spontaneous-looking shots. For more flattering results – and to avoid double-chins – shoot from slightly above your subject.
07 Tone down hotspots
Open your image in Elements. Glare on subjects’ skin can spoil a portrait, so to remove it create a new layer and select the Clone Stamp tool. Alt-click to sample skin tones from around a shiny patch and clone these over the problem area, then reduce the Opacity of the cloning layer for a natural-looking result.
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08 Adjust and crop
Next add a Levels adjustment layer to boost the contrast; for our shot we set the Shadows slider to 23 and the Midtones slider to 1.05. Use a black brush on the adjustment layer’s mask to remove your edits from areas where they’re not needed. To finish off, crop the image to improve the composition.
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