Event portraits – can it be done quickly and reliably?

Some photographers make a bulk of their revenue off of holiday portraits, be it with Santa, or the Easter Bunny, or other holiday-based events. The question I get asked is, can it be done quickly with reliable, repeatable results?

The quick answer is yes, absolutely. The slightly more nuanced answer is that it’s much easier to have reliable, repeatable results when you start to use flash with your event photography. The reason is that ambient light changes from place to place and that means you have to problem solve your entire approach with each new event location.

Or, you could use flash and know that once you have it dialed in at one location, you most likely have it dialed in for any location! Flash offers us this peace of mind because you are dictating the light, rather than being at the mercy of what the location offers by default.

To get really technical for a second, I know I can walk into any room, and if I set my camera to f/9, my shutter speed to 1/125, and my iso to 100 and take a picture, the resulting photo will almost always be pitch black or darn near close to it. A pitch-black photo may sound like a serious exposure problem, but in reality, it’s a starting point. With that pitch-black photo, I can now go in and start adding in my own flash lighting and create a lighting scheme I can replicate pretty much anywhere I go.  I’ve done this so much that many of these settings are just automatic to me now. What used to take me hours to plan now takes me a few minutes. That’s the leverage flash and strobe lighting offers.

Let’s use a recent example to showcase what I am saying.

Here we have Santa with three dogs. Everything is well lit: from the subjects to the background, we can see all of the details and nothing is too dark or too light. And even though it’s evenly lit, there’s almost no ambient light in this photo whatsoever. There’s just enough ambient to let the lights on the Christmas trees shine through a little. Other than that, it’s all flash. The great thing about this is I can take this set up into a completely different location and get the same results without having to touch a single dial in most cases.

Here we’re using two flashes, both at the same power, pointing at the subjects in such a way that the light on the right side points to the subjects on the left, and vice-versa. This cross-light pattern gives you slightly more even lighting with fewer hotspots. I am also using two massive umbrellas as modifiers.

One last thing regarding the usefulness of flash lighting. I chose this photo because none of these dogs were sitting still when I took this photo. The Shepard on the left side, in particular, was very nervous and could not sit still for even a second. Under normal, ambient conditions, you’d never be able to get a sharp photo of a dog like that moving around as much as he was. But, with the stopping power of flash photography (it’s a thing if you’re not familiar! YouTube it and be amazed!) you’ll get sharp photos out of even those jittery of subjects!

Benjamin Lehman is a commercial photographer in the Canton, Akron, Cleveland, and Northeast Area of Ohio.