Last year I offered to photograph the kids at my son's preschool. I had a blast taking portraits of each of the little tykes and the parents really seemed to love the prints. The process of lighting, shooting, processing and printing the job was a great learning experience for me and I felt like I did a good job of capturing the kids in this amazingly cute time of their lives.
This year I offered to do the school photos again and they enthusiastically accepted. The preschool is very small, but growing fast. Last year I photographed a dozen kids. This year the number was almost 30. I also shot class group photos, but those are incredibly hard to nail down as each kid has the attention span of a gnat. I won't be sharing those and we can chalk them up as pure documentation instead of inspired art.
The setup for shooting the individual portraits was based on three Canon EX-RT Speedlites. I love the radio remotes on the 600's and even though I now shoot a Sony camera, the speedlites work with the Chinese knockoff of the Canon radio commander. The Canon commander only works with Canon cameras, so I sold it and I've been very happy with the clone. I use the speedlites in manual mode, and the radio pops them every time without fail. I set up the "studio" in a small room at the school. This room is tiny! It's about 6 feet by 9 feet, so I was crammed in there. As a backdrop I used a massive 4-foot by 6-foot diffusion panel that I propped in one corner of the room. Behind it on the floor I placed one speedlite on the floor with a Magmod full CTO gel. This speedlite was set at 1/32 power. The soft orange light filled the corner and illuminated the diffusion panel giving me a warm backdrop for the kids. I set up my Sony A7R Mark II camera with the amazing Zeiss Batis 85mm lens on my small Really Right Stuff tripod and ballhead. just to camera left I placed a short C-stand with a grip arm holding my 26-inch Westcott Octabox. In the octa I placed a beauty dish reflector and a soft diffusion panel cover to give a nice even light on the kids' faces and a sweet round catchlight in their eyes. The Octa was fitted with a speedlite set at ⅛ power and aimed directly at the face of the subject, about 3 feet away. On camera right I placed a traditional light stand with another speedlite and a shoot-through umbrella. This speedlite was powered to 1/16. The room had a nasty overhead florescent light which I turned off. Because I needed to have some light to focus and compose, I placed my LED continuous light panel on a clamp and turned it up just enough to give me work light. The LED panel is daylight-balanced so it worked great.
Once I had the lights setup and dialed in, I began photographing the kids one by one, starting with the youngest. I started with the little daycare toddlers first because they quickly devolve through the morning from clean, presentable little charmers to slobbery monsters. Some of the toddlers were completely at ease in front of the camera while others required serious cajoling. A couple need straight up bribing, but eventually every one of the kids surrendered to my pleading.
I really enjoy doing portraiture, especially when I get to photograph really charming people. Some of these kids were incredibly compelling and I could make thousands of frames of their delightful faces, others not so much. Now, if you don't mind I have a whole stack of prints to make!