I'm a little late writing this, but I didn't want to let it escape me. Probably because I had so much fun doing it even though it was incredibly stressful. I've been trying to grow my photography in many different ways. One of those is portraits. I figured I'd better learn how to become a decent if I ever wanted to do photography beyond taking pretty pictures of landscapes. With Christmas coming up fast, I thought I'd do a run and gun shoot. I suggested doing it at my mom's church, Our Saviour's Lutheran Church in Arlington, WA. The idea was simple. Put a notice in the church bulletin and offer free Christmas/winter themed photos for families to share on their social media pages. They could come by the church gym after service and get their photos taken. Little did I know what I was in for.

The setup

A couple of weeks earlier, I had taken photos of my nephew with a Christmas backdrop. It wasn't anything fancy, just a nylon backdrop that could be pinned to a wall. It actually worked pretty well. Here's a photo of him for attention!

Back to the setup. I used the backdrop you see above and I decided it worked well enough that I'd purchase a couple more. That way, people could have their choice of backdrop. One problem with that brilliant idea. I only have one camera and one lighting setup. You'll see the problem with that later. Here's what I used for my shoot.

  • Nikon Z7ii
  • Nikon SB-700 Speedlight
  • Nikon SU-800 Wireless Speedlight Commander
  • Manfrotto Alu Aircushioned Lightstand 7'7"
  • Profoto Shallow Umbrella (Small 33")
  • LumeCube Panel Pro and Lightstand
  • Three vinyl backdrops from Allenjoy on Amazon (6'x8' or 5'x7')
  • Soft, fuzzy faux fur blanket (white)

Mom let me into the church on Saturday to scope things out. We needed a place to put the backdrops and I wanted to make sure the lighting was okay. After evaluating classrooms and a school play area, we settled on the gym. There were three bulletin boards that we could use to hang the backdrops. After a couple of test shots with mom, it was going to work out just fine. I dropped by her place, printed out some release forms and I was ready to go. Or so I thought.

The day of the shoot

When I got to church that morning, I realized I had been doing a lot of flash photography lately. Good thing I brought batteries. I went to bag to replace the batteries. Wrong kind of battery! I scrambled to Safeway to get new batteries. Luckily, that didn't take long. It was just the beginning of a frantic afternoon.

I got back with plenty of time to spare. Whew! No problems so far. I sanitized some pens, laid out the release forms. I was ready for the, maybe, 10-12 people that would show up. Upwards of 30 people stormed the gym immediately after service! It was chaos and everyone wanted to go first.

Big families!

The rush of people wasn’t the only problem. Some of the groups were big! You can see the family of 7 up above. There was also a group of 6. The backdrops weren’t that big, so we had to huddle tight. I hadn’t done this before, so I was a little nervous about getting everyone situated, the light just right and everyone in focus. (Pro tip: try to keep groups on the same focal plane as much as possible and close that aperture a bit.) Oh, did I mention that everyone wanted different backgrounds?

Musical chairs

That was an adventure too. It was like a game of musical chairs without the music. We bounced around from backdrop to backdrop. I was dragging the light and off camera flash around and hoping and praying that things would turn out. I was definitely worried about shadows and white balance. That ended up being okay, but I did end up with some minor reflections on people’s glasses. With some simple photoshop, I was able to spot those out. I learned I need to make sure I put the flash up higher and angle it down as opposed to directly across from the subject. Makes sense and seems like a “no duh” moment now.

Final Thought

So, all in all, it was an awesome learning experience. I think the photos turned out pretty well, and I was pleased with the number of downloads. I saw them on people’s social pages and I was happy to contribute my time and energy so people can share photos for the holidays. I just need an assistant!