Most professionals try to keep the camera aperture at f5.6 or wider (ie f4), sometimes dropping to f8 for deep groups (several layers of people) especially if they are fairly close to them. This will help to keep the whole group in focus - always focus on the eyes of the front row. f5.6 allows you to throw the background out of focus for portraits(providing a 3D feeling) and enables ND graduated filters to produce subtler effects. f5.6 also produces less sharp background effects from closer range, giving the images a feeling of depth. With the 150mm lens which is used for facial and half length portraits, the shutter speed is determined by the ambient light meter reading (from the shade for negative film) - often 1/500 on a sunny day with 1/30 to 1/15 in deep shade. It can vary greatly in some weather conditions! Hand holding the camera will permit you to get candids - but beware of minimum shutter speeds (keep them proportional to the focal length of the lens).
The metering prism gives a fully corrected image. It also provides constant metering information. This is particularly useful on days when exposures are changing rapidly with the weather conditions.
The equipment choice allows very quick working - moving in for half length pictures and back for full length versions (if you take two of each important set-up to avoid blinking, make them different and double your possible sale for little extra effort).You have to open up the aperture if the shutter speed becomes too slow for hand holding. (1/30 on the 80mm lens risks 'shutter shake' unless you have a very steady hand, or unless you are using direct flash indoors.)
There is a logical order we try and stick to:
Big group - start off with wide lens if required, progress to standard lens next. Church interior - wide moving through to telephoto lens.
Portraits - standard to telephoto lens.
Keep lens changing to a minimum and always work from wide to long rather than swapping back and forth.(ie Always work from far to near in each 'block'of photography!)
Controlling depth of field with formal groups
In more formal groups, focus on first the front, then the back row of eyes - viewing the distance scale on top of the lens. This will indicate an aperture small enough to hold both the front and back of the group in focus. Refocus to the point mid-way between the two distance readings and select the aperture indicated to keep both points on the scale in focus. Finally set the new shutter speed required and adjust flash lighting as needed. (On 35mm or digital cameras you can use a depth program but be careful to re-set flash units if required.)
Pro 4 base gradient filter
The Pro 4 ND (neutral density grey) graduated filter is particularly useful when a light background is unavoidable as it 'holds the background in' / stops it 'burning out'. The base gradient filter subtly darkens a light sky perfectly, when upside down it will also reduce the highlighting effects of flash on foreground detail - such as when the bride and groom have to be photographed across a table with direct flash.
NB f8 and smaller apertures give a harsh border on graduated filters.
Keeping window light within tolerance
If using flash indoors to directly expose a scene with a window in the background, meter the available light outside - setting the flash to the same aperture as the camera will now balance the flash to the outside light.From this starting position you can drag the shutter by 1-2 stops to lighten the window light (which often makes the result look more natural) - or shorten the shutter speed by a stop to begin to darken it.
NB The flash can be bounced from a reflector to spread and soften it for a more
flattering effect - see below.
'Dragging' the shutter
Having lights glowing in the background generally looks better than a black background or flash shadow. If you are doing groups and excluding daylight from the windows; set camera aperture to say, f8, and allow the shutter to drag. (Typically 1/15 to 1/8 of a second is about right). NB Use the tripod and expose with the flash.
NB The flash helps to keep the foreground sharp of you're hand holding the camera - so you can drop the shutter speed on a standard lens to1/30 of a second if you're of a fairly steady hand, to help provide a warm flattering background effect with the lights 'switched on'.
Bouncing flash off a reflector
If using direct flash to expose formal shots, such as groups or portraits indoors, you get softer and more flattering effects by tilting the flash gun upwards into a reflector held at 45 degrees above the camera position. Let the shutter 'drag' in order to let background light bleed though. Turning on the small auxiliary flash at the front of the Metz will create catch lights in the eyes. Any stray reflections in spectacles can be retouched out afterwards.
In a churchyard with lots of off-putting gravestones in the background, or in a poorly decorated house, exclude the background as much as possible with close composition.
If the scene is flattering to the overall image, open up the composition more and include it creatively to enhance the overall result.
About the Author
Mike Upstone Ba (Hons.) CrGWP, LBIPP, LMPA won the Sinar 50th anniversary calendar competition in 1997 with a digital image. Mike is Managing Director of alienideas and created Procedures for Professional Imaging (PPI), the first complete training manual of professional imaging techniques. The manual has already been described by industry insiders as 'the industry standard for digital imaging' and is available as PDF files on CD, and as online downloads from the www.alienideas.com web site.
This article is part three in our four part series and kindly reproduced from the Procedures for Professional Imaging manual. It is from the A02 Professional techniques - weddings module. There are another 440 or so pages with loads of essential information for photographers wanting to turn pro. See our review here or go to alienideas to view the contents of the manual http://www.alienideas.com/training/training.htm.