14 Dec 2011

My Santa Set-up

Since the 5th of December I have been taking the typical Santa in the mall pics that we see every year! It's actually quite fun, but a lot of work as it has been crazy busy. While I have been there a lot of "pros" and amateurs alike have expressed an interest in my lighting set-up, how I do it, and why! It seems that the "strobist" concept hasn't caught on in South Africa the same way it has elsewhere in the world. So here is a short explanation and a few sample pics.

My basic setup is a couple of Nikon sb flashes, one sb700 and one sb600. I bounce both of these into umbrellas in order to diffuse the light and get a nice even lighting over the entire set. I use a shoot through umbrella and a black backed bounce umbrella, and the reason these two? Because it's what I have of course! If I used studio lights it would become much more complicated and require cables running electricity around for people to fall over, it wouldn't be as easy to unpack and pack, etc. Here is a pull back pic of the entire set-up:

There is a very large skylight directly above the area where we are located and the light coming in is constantly changing because of the sun moving, clouds, rain, etc. so in order to keep the light and colour consistant I totaly underexpose the scene by setting my camera to manual at 1/200s and f11. Without flash it looks like this:

My flashes are set to TTL and they automatically bring the exposure back up to normal. I fire them wirelessly via Nikons very cool CLS system. The final result looks like this:

Perfectly exposed, sharp, and with very consistant colour! I don't have time to download these to a computer, tweak them and then print them, so I shoot jpg and make sure that all my settings are correct in camera to achieve the fastest workflow and print them directly from my SD cards at the lab in the mall. The resultant prints are just great!

So if you want to put that nice shiny new dslr to good use and actually make some money to justify the expense then you now know how to do Santa pics for Christmas 2012! Whoohoo!


  1. You do things I would never dare to do and somehow manage to come on top. There is no justice in this world.


    Anyway this is the most difficult part, as you give yourself almost no margin of error. And you know, those reds are quite something. I wonder if they are more vivid than they should or if they're the real McCoy... It's not very important anyway: the results speak for themselves.

  2. Ha! I have no fear... and it gets me into trouble sometimes!

    The reds are as they come from the camera, but I set the camera up to give sharp, slightly colour boosted images with pleasant contrast. The wonders of modern camera technology! In the "good old days" the clever chap in the darkroom at the lab took care of these things... ;-)

  3. Any favorite tips you use in getting little ones to smile for you and look at your camera?

  4. Ha! Good question!
    With most kids it's enough to pull funny faces and horse around a bit. Sometimes I would get one of my assistants behind me doing the same, even ringing bells and stuff. But with some children I give up and advise the parents to take them for an icecream and come back later when they are on a bit of a sugar rush! Seriously. And it works! :-)