Lighting a Large Family with One Speedlight

Posted on: January 2nd, 2014 0

Talk About Pressure!

This post is aimed at those of us who are tasked with getting a family photo in crappy light, while being asked to “hurry up we want to eat”, while trying to get a large group to semi-cooperate! In this scenario I had my camera, a Fuji X100S, and one speedlight triggered via wireless transmitter…..and the most important factor…..a white ceiling. It was the ceiling that allowed me to pull this off.

So first off, I didn’t get a great photo. I didn’† even get a good photo. What I got was all I could get when I had literally ONE SHOT at getting it. There were 15 hungry people sitting at the table waiting to eat. No way were they gonna put up with my usual “work the shot” strategy, in which I take many photos. They were willing to give me one crack at it….period.

here’s the end result:


There are more things wrong with this image than I care to list. But the bar was low…..I just needed to light everyone reasonably OK, and get all of the faces in the shot. Regarding the faces, I just said; “If you can’t see the lens on my camera, it can’t see your face.” That solved that problem right quick (thanks to David Hobby at for that).

The Lighting

I needed to evenly light everyone as best as I could. I knew I had a white ceiling, so I knew I could turn my small light source (a Yongnuo 560 II) into a LARGE light source by bouncing the flash off of the ceiling. The only question was where to put it! I didn’t want to have it on my camera, because the people in back would be too dark, and I also had an archway extending down from the ceiling right in front of me, which made it difficult to aim the flash head at the ceiling from where I was standing. My location was totally determined by my focal length, which on that camera is a 23mm fixed lens, which due to the crop factor gave me an effective FL of 35mm. Therefor I had to position myself where I got everyone in the frame……no zooming.

Therefor, I decided the best place for the flash was right in the center of the table, aimed up at the ceiling. That would spread the light around the room, creating soft, downward light. Also, each person had an empty white plate in front of them, so I was hoping I’d get some up-light off of those. Consequently, I hid the flash behind a red bowl on the table, below:


My exposure was such that the entire scene was mostly lit by the flash. I’d say the ratio was about 80/20 flash vs ambient. This was total guess-work, as no one was gonna let me take the time to get the proper flash/ambient ratio. I guessed at a flash output of 1/16 power. I figured I could tweak it in Lightroom if the exposure was wrong. I got lucky!!


Again, I’m not saying this is a great, or even good, photo. But it serves the purpose. The thing that bugs me the most is that the chandelier in the top of the frame is soooooo bright! It took a direct hit from the flash. What you’re seeing is not the light from the chandelier, but the glow from the flash blowing out the gold material that was wrapped around the chandelier for decoration. I can see everyone’s face, and they’re reasonably well-lit. That’s the best I could hope for, and given that I had one shot at it, I’ll take it! Serendipity definitely played a big part here too. Regardless, I hope that y’all get some insight into how to grab an image under pressure. I know you’ve all been there at some point. 🙂 Here it is again so you don’t have to scroll back to the top:


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