Children’s Portraits 2

Adding some color to the scene can make pictures more interesting. Don’t forget to show your subjects a preview while you shoot to boost their confidence. I added a red gel on this shot.

Now that I’ve decided on the location of my makeshift studio, a stairwell, it’s time to break out the light stands and speedlights.

Before beginning, I set the zoom setting on all my speedlights/ flash units to 105mm so that the light is more focused and not scattered all over.

Main light

Adding a colored gel in the back aimed at your subject’s head can give it separation from the background. Placement can be tricky at times because you have to hide the speedlight.

Think of your main light or “key light” as the one dominant light source.

Once its output or amount of light is set, the other lights in the setup will be some ratio of this.

This is the aperture you will set on your lens throughout the shoot.

My light setup. Note during this shot, the 550EX Speedlight had turned itself off to save power. Annoying especially since there is no way to disable this feature. Every time I turn the flash off and back on, I have to reset the unit to Manual and 1/4 power.

A good strategy is to set all your speedlights or flash units to Manual.

I used a Lumiquest softbox with my 580 EX speedlight set to … th power, took a quick test shot of myself.

A peek at the histogram confirmed I was getting f5.6 with the flash about 2 feet from my subjects.

That’s plenty of depth-of-field with a 50 mm lens especially when it’s a one person subject.

Before I forget, what shutter speed do I use?

Since I didn’t want the available light to cause motion blur or ghosting, and I was lighting the entire scene, I set mine to 1/125 sec.

That means if my flash units weren’t working, I will be under-exposing the scene by 5 stops.

The available light exposure was ISO 200 ¼ sec @ f5.6.

Counting the increments from (¼ sec,…› sec ,1/15 sec, 1/30 sec, 1/60 sec,1/125 sec)

Hair or accent light

A color accent can make your portraits more interesting. Changing the color is just a matter of switching the gel on the backlight. Some gels have more density and will make more saturated colors. The tricky part about this accent light is placing it where it can’t be seen.

Whenever you want to color a scene with the use of a gel, the setting on this light determines how saturated the color will be.

Generally speaking this light should put out 1 to 1½ stops less light.

So, if I keep this light the same distance from my subject as my main light, I would have to lower the power of my flash from â…› to 1/32 power.

The actual power setting will vary slightly depending on the color of the background and the density of the gel.

This reverse angle picture by Lauren should give you an idea. The blue on the wall behind is the result of a blue gel placed over a speedlight that’s aimed at my subject’s head.

Back light

Portraiture does require you to shoot fast. When using Speedlights, you want them to recycle quick so they can keep up. Placing your lights closet o your subjects allows you to reduce their power output so that they recycle quickly.
It’s probably a good idea to try verticals and horizontals just so you have a variety of choices.

This light has to be more powerful than the main light for it to register.

Exactly how much depends on taste really.

It probably won’t even be obvious in your picture until you make it 1 stop brighter than the main light.

Again, keeping things simple, if you keep the distance to your subject the same, then all you have to do is change the power ratio setting.

For this light, I set the power output higher at ¼. (Main light was set at …›.

So logically you will need to keep an eye on this speedlight/flash to make sure it fires and recycles since it’s the one putting out the most light in the entire setup.

There are some other variables here and there you can experiment with like changing the zoom setting on the speedlights but that’s the gist of it.

Don’t forget about your subject

Needless to say, the more familiar you are with your equipment, the more time you can devote to your subjects.

It’s always a good idea to have your lighting and exposure figured out so that by the time your subject arrives for their session, you won’t be fussing too much with your gear and lighting.

Portraiture is always a collaborative effort between you and your subjects.

The more they trust you, the more at ease they will feel.


I didn’t get to stay for the finale when the kids performed for their parents but here are some of them rehearsing.

Students rehearse their play on the final day of Puppet Palooza in preparation for a performance for their parents.

Back to Part 1
Peter Phun Photography

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