Skip to main content

Shoot: Group Portraits with Flash

Lesson 38 from: Lighting, Logistics, and Strategies for a Life in Photography

Joe McNally

buy this class


Sale Ends Soon!

starting under


Unlock this classplus 2200+ more >

Lesson Info

38. Shoot: Group Portraits with Flash


Class Trailer

Class Introduction


Location Assessment


Gear Overview


Direction and Wardrobe


Exploring Location and Available Light


Bar Owner: Setting the Scene


Shoot: Bar Owner


Shoot: Bar Owner, Evolving the Look


Lesson Info

Shoot: Group Portraits with Flash

Now do the cables need to be on the other side? Okay, just open it this way, and that way, and mimic that please if you don't mind. How's this looking? Which one? Why don't you speak into my microphone or your microphone. There's no sense in whispering. The guy in the plaid shirt. No, there's two plaid shirts, I'm sorry. Cliff? Yes. Dark plaid shirt? No, no, no. Or Josh? No, no. Josh is on the end. No, no, no, we have to fi--, okay, I have to fix your collar. I'm sorry, I'm not like Joe with names, so I remember faces, but names, not so much, so don't mind em. Wardrobe adjustment. Okay, not that I notice these things, but you know. No, not that Lynn is detail-oriented on any level. Alright, so now we got a little kickup here. V-flats are an incredibly handy thing to have in your studio. Cheap, you know, highly effective. Just a quick thing, too, you stand 'em vertically, you can cove your light you can put light into it, and then bounce it off of a white surface...

, and you get this ping-pong effect of the light, where your subject is in front of you, you've got two V-flat coves right here, the light comes forward, okay, into those, bounces back against the white surface, and then just rolls over your subject like a tidal wave. This is a wonderful way for a group photograph, if you want to put a gradated surface in the background, and gradate your background, you can take a couple of clamps on either end of this, (snap) and. And clamp it, so that you can actually, it acts as like a louvre. Big, full expression of light on the background, and then highly gradated. Put a couple clamps in there, and you're done. Alright, so now, we have V-flats in there. Alright, and it absolutely did diddly-squat, okay, which is a highly technical term I use on the set every once in a while. Now there might be a small amount of inflection here that's rising up and meeting you. Just a tiny bit, maybe a couple of tenths of an F-stop, something like that. See, people are laughing at that point, people were laughing when I shot, hardly anybody sharp. I can't risk that, right, I can't risk that. Now if I tell you, don't move, nobody move, everybody look at the camera, nobody move! Nobody move, you're moving! Then it rapidly becomes no fun for everybody, you know, including me. So I'd like to have you guys a little bit looser, and kind of be able to kind of relax and enjoy yourselves. So let's start off with this, oddly enough, let me skip a little light off of these as a first step. Let's put these guys, can you tell me, let's take the dome diffusers off. Put 50 on 'em? Yeah, 50 millimeter zoom, bang 'em down. Put 'em a little bit forward, maybe in the middle of each of this, the near term V-flat here. Yeah, yeah, why not. And you know, let me know what group that is, D maybe? We have 'em at A right now, it's your only thing. Oh okay, 'cause, yep, alright, cool. Let's see if we get translation. Okay, so it's TTL Group A, now you may look at this and say weird, okay, why is he lighting us from the floor? Well, I do create problems for myself there, honestly, and that's what I live for. So, Tonya's glasses, Danny's glasses, could be an issue now with light bouncing off the floor. But what I'm basically doing is amplifying the skip, and that might be an interesting first way to start this off. Alright, so here we go. So now I'm gonna take, and I'm gonna underexpose the whole scene with aperture priority just a little bit. I'm gonna take one stop out, what's that gonna do for me? Make my shutter speed faster. I'm gonna take my ISO, and let's see, where am I going here with this, let me go back down to, maybe I can risk 800, let's see. (camera clicks) Okay, now I've got a lot of impact from those flashes. I'm gonna do this, I'm gonna take TTL way, way down, just so it's a little flick of light, let's try that. Looking good, looking good, stay with me gang, stay with me. You know what I did again, I'm just, you know, did this camera come back from repair and they reversed, you know what happened, this just got repaired, and it reversed my plus-minus, 'cause I keep going to plus, I keep going-- Yeah, 'cause I reverse my indicators, and it just came back from repair. Alright, here we go, good, better, hang in there, hang in there. Gonna go back up, I was at minus-three, now I'm at minus-two. Hang in there gang. Just do a gradation thing here, we're gonna do a minus-one, getting there, getting there. That's actually really lovely light. It's really kind of pretty. I'm gonna risk danger here and pump my TTL response back up to zero, zero, that's gonna be pretty full. Now remember, I'm underexposing you guys by a stop, underexposing the scene by a stop, what do we think of that? That's pretty much, pretty nice, right. Now, so that's still a little bit of a danger zone, little bit of a danger zone. But let's shoot a few. Stop along the way, like you know, I have an advantage here, because you guys have to work with me. You know, a big group, I would be all set, right, I would be ready, and I've done group photography for FDNY in New York. You don't wanna be a shrinking violet in front of 65 firefighters, 'cause they will eat you alive. So you gotta be tough and with it and moving fast, and get ready, and you're ready, and you're gonna go. You guys, eh, you guys are easy. Real quick, what I would do is give a little more room on the bottom. Just a little more? Yeah, kind of cutting close to the feet there. Too close to the feet. You need to get rid of the top a little bit. Alright, so Callie is counseling me to pull back from the feet. I tend to push my frame, and then as you saw yesterday with him with Photoshop he's looking for a little bit of breathing room, okay. So you know, I'll humor him. I'll bring it back out. Nice, nice, nice. Good expressions, good expressions. Victoria could we get you a little more, a cup of coffee perhaps or something, perk you up just a little bit, that's it. You know, Bob, you know, put a hand in a pocket, relax, enjoy life. You know, yeah, there you go, there you go, that's nice, no, I'm not gonna do that Bob. But Bob's over there like, uh, what do I do with my hands, oh my god, alright, here we go, here we go. Good look, good look, stay with me, stay with me, eyes, eyes, eyes. Okay, cool, nice. Dylan, Dylan, you know, like, yeah, yeah, nice, yeah, come on, work with me Dylan, work with me. Alright, cool, nice, pretty, good. Can I say something? And it's not meant to be kind of like sexist or anything like that, but the women are doing a gangbuster job, and the guys, you kind of suck. But we're doing well here, we're doing well, I'm lying, but that's okay. I'm not gonna sit in front of a bunch of people and say, oh, lady in the front with the hat, you know, god, yeah, the checkerboard scarf and the striped dress is really working for me. No, you're not gonna comment like that, you're just kinda nice, nice, nice. Very pretty, very pretty. So you see what I'm doing here with these little lights, I'm letting the overall ambient take over the photograph, and I'm bouncing these guys in just as a little assist, like a little kick, like a little glamour fill, okay, because it is very soft light, and by the time it translates to you, it probably needs a spark, okay, so that's essentially what this is. How we feel about that? Yeah, it's feeling pretty good. I like the, yeah, the light matches well. I was gonna say we could maybe turn up the kicks maybe a third or a seventh of a stop just to have that capability. You suggested it, so could you do it? Sure. You're good. You gotta have fun on the set, right? You really do, you have to be collegial, you have to be polite, you gotta laugh, okay. If you are not laughing and enjoying yourself, that translates to your subjects. Now there's one thing as I'm standing here picking this up, Suzie, can you inch to your left please. There you go, and then what just happened there was I was getting too much of a vertical column of Suzie and Kayako, okay. Now Kayako, have some fun up there, you're like the head of the class, you're standing on-- There you go! There it is. That's perfect. Honestly, that's great. Zing-o. Alright, nice. Lean over, yeah, yeah, alright. Here we go, here we go. Nice, nice. Cool, good look, good look. Good, way to go, Cliff, that's looking good, that's looking good. Nice, nice. Alright, alright, alright, everybody's good. Now as a photographer, you got this set up, I have my cursor dropped on Tanya, back-button focus, I'm keeping that depressed, and I'm looking through this, and it's all looking good, but I'm also now I'm getting my eyes out of the camera, and I'm looking around, looking for details. Suzie you've been in front of the camera before, because you've got this thing down. Oh that's your Sue Bryce thing going on? Alright, let me do Peter Hurley here. Everybody imagine they have a hook in the top of their head, okay, and now everybody give me their jaw, mmmmm. Okay, you know, alright, pterodactyl city, here we go. I shouldn't have said that. No, that's okay, that's alright, Peter and I are friends, it's cool. That's right, you are. That's totally cool. You were. Oh my god, Peter, I'm so sorry man. No, I use Peter's headshot, there's validation for you. Okay, that white seamless shot, I think actually Creative Live might have used it a couple of times, on my Twitter, Peter shot that. Peter shot that. And he shot it over in Dubai, took me a while to get around to it, but he actually, yech, look at me, I mean this is not great material, and Peter did a great job, you know, he really did. Alright, that's great Shandy, you're kicking it now girl. Look at that, you are kicking it. Okay, now Victoria, kind of maybe, try an elbow on the knee kind of thing. Yeah, yeah, what do you think of that Lynn? Yeah, that could work. Nice, nice. Delicate hands, delicate hands. Yeah, there we go, there we go. (camera clicks) See I feel very confident at a 25th at F11, because I have the flash assist. It's still a predominantly available light photograph, but I'm getting that sharpening effect from flash duration. Cool, cool. Dylan, up straight man, up straight, come on. There you go. There you go, there you go. Oh let's do this, let's send it to Peter. Everybody reach over each other's head and pull themselves up. You know, come on, come on, come on. There we go, Bob, participate. Ili, Ili. That's it, that's it, that's it, Good, good, good, good, now keep it going, keep it going, keep it going. Alright, alright. We're not gonna say sha-bang, okay, we're not. Yep, a little bit there. Just a bit. Just a bit. Now Tanya, you have to do me a favor. Don't look down at the boards, let me just do this, quick, quick, quick. Yeah, see when you look at me that way you're fine, you're clean. You look down this way, your glasses fill with boards. Okay, we are deep in the boards, so keep your chin going up that way, okay. Alright, nicely done, everybody is truly amazing. You guys are great. Even Bob, no, I mean, no, I'm sorry, I didn't mean that at all. That's roughly a quick sort of, everybody can relax from their posing, posing, posing. If you want to get off the boxes, but remember your positions, okay, remember your positions. Andrew, see where Ken is, can you construct yourself a similar perch and get yourself in the photograph? Yeah, now let's do this. Why don't we shift over. I'll put my pro photo air remote on. And we'll, see the light is actually fairly strong from here, let's just kind of float the five-foot octa up in here. You want it literally right here. Maybe further, Just give me a spot, I'll bring it over. Here, yeah, here, maybe like sort of at the corner here, and feather that way. Now we're gonna go into a thing called unnecessary flash. Which happens to be my specialty.

Class Materials

Bonus Materials with Purchase

Joe McNally Gear List
McNally Lighting Diagrams

Ratings and Reviews


What is there to say, this is a master at work. I feel like I owe Joe a hundred lunches for the information I’ve learned from him and used in jobs through the years. Personally I relate to his slightly self-deprecating style quite well. Joe’s a confident, supremely knowledgeable and incredibly experienced photographer who doesn’t need to wear that on his sleeve to get the point across. He is also clearly a great leader who has built a terrific team. I snap up everything of Joe’s I can find and use it as a library, where every time you watch you take away something new. Thanks Joe, you’re a legend and good on Creative Live for offering this wonderful and beautifully curated course.

ileana gonzales photography

When I saw the chance to learn from the great Joe McNally I jumped through the screen at the chance to be in the audience. It's one thing to see how a fantastic photographer works, thinks, composes and styles, but to get a behind the curtain view at the way his entire shop operates was truly amazing. By allowing us to see Lynn's processes and Cali's workflow it encouraged me to diversify before taking the plunge into the business side of photography. Truly an amazing team and an unforgettable learning experience.


Joe is fantastic! The wealth of information, experience and extraordinary talent he shares is invaluable! He's also a very engaging, humorous instructor who keeps an audience a part of the "discussion." Don't miss a Joe McNally class, seminar or workshop opportunity!

Student Work