I found this photo on this web site and I would like to try and reproduce it using my family. I have a decent camera EOS 70D but I am unsure of how to go about setting up this shot.

I am assuming they are looking out a window (or is it a soft light?), shining down from slightly on top? How do I go about setting up the shot to get this effect?

I have a 40mm f/2.8 prime lens, a 70-200mm f/2.8 telephoto lens, and an old 18-55mm lens as well. I also have Adobe Elements if I need to process after.

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    \$\begingroup\$ They could have been given something specific to look at instead of just randomly picking four different points in the sky. Gees! \$\endgroup\$ Commented Jan 13, 2015 at 12:17
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    \$\begingroup\$ @LightnessRacesinOrbit That supports the theory that it's a composite — everyone was positioned differently at different times. \$\endgroup\$
    – mattdm
    Commented Jan 13, 2015 at 13:31

4 Answers 4


The setup is relatively simple but to do this as one shot you will need space. An awful lot of space. Doing this indoors in a regular sized house is not going to work, the walls/ceiling are going to reflect light back filling in the shadows and you wont get the fading-into-black effect.

The easiest way to shoot this (short of renting a studio) would be to use a large outdoor space at night (gardens work well for this as you can get power from indoors with an extension lead).

Apart from that you just need a single large softbox positioned in front and to the side. It mustn't be too close (you wont be able to use the trick of having a small softbox close to the subject in place of a large one) otherwise the closest and furthest family members will receive different amounts of light and one will be over/under exposed.

Shooting from farther away with a telephoto lens is also required, not for the lighting but to ensure the faces remain "in scale" with each other by compressing the perspective. The other alternative is to shoot each person individually and composite the shots as Dan mentions. It's possible to do this in camera, and it's impossible to tell just by looking how the original was achieved.

  • \$\begingroup\$ ok. If I was to use this technique (outdoor in garden) would I need to shoot this at night or do I need a black sheet backdrop or..? \$\endgroup\$
    – kurasa
    Commented Jan 13, 2015 at 10:40
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    \$\begingroup\$ sorry, should have stated it needs to be dark if you're going to do it outdoors! The thing about black sheets is they are not 100%, i.e. they reflect some light back. The closer they are the more they reflect back, the further away they are the bigger they must be. However, if you get the background far enough away it doesn't have to be black (or a sheet), hence the naturally surroundings will show up jet black, provided they are far enough away. \$\endgroup\$
    – Matt Grum
    Commented Jan 13, 2015 at 11:33
  • \$\begingroup\$ Unless your subjects agree to have half of their faces painted matte black, you're not going to get this in a single shot. Faces make great reflectors (bouncing light off of a groom's face to fill the bride in a backlit shot is a standard trick of the trade). \$\endgroup\$
    – user35658
    Commented Jan 16, 2015 at 12:39

I recognize this exact picture - I've seen it before. There are two photography magazines that I read that showed how to do this exact type of family portrait.

This was done in a home with a simple black background. One article uses a softbox slightly off to the side and behind the subject. The other article uses a speedlight with a simple grid straight on (with subject posed in profile with respect to the background). Each subject taken separately and the layered into a composite in Photoshop elements.

I live in the US, but both of these magazines are published out of the UK. Contrary to the other posts, the technique described in both articles is fairly simple and certainly can be done in the home. I was going to do this montage for my neighbor (5 kids), but they were never able to get together. So, I have not done the technique myself. I've listed to the two magazines below. Perhaps you can order back issues online.

  1. Photoplus; July 2014; Issue 89, page 68; "Profile Portrait Montage". This article has the exact family in the sample picture you posted. The article you read was probably pulled from this magazine article.

  2. Practical Photography; April 2014; page 52; "Family Portraits".

Good luck!

  • \$\begingroup\$ thanks so much for finding this. I bought it and am reading it now :) \$\endgroup\$
    – kurasa
    Commented Jan 13, 2015 at 23:36
  • \$\begingroup\$ If the pictures are taken separately and then composed, there's not really a need for your neighbours to actually get together, is there? \$\endgroup\$ Commented Jan 14, 2015 at 13:55

To me this looks like a composite - the family members look too close together to not be clashing shoulders.

If it is a composite then you can use the trick @Math-grum mentions of using a smallish softbox very close up on each person in turn and you'll need much less space for the light to drop off to black.

It will also be easier to get a shot where everyone looks their best - you won't need them all to pull a perfect smile in the same shot.

For post processing, as the edges you need mask around are pure black on one side it shouldn't be too hard to cut out the three extra heads and place them on top of the one furthest back.


It's possible to achieve this anywhere without a black backdrop at any time of the day, I've done it on myself in my living room with my TV cabinet in the backdrop, but this method probably needs compositing in order to achieve the same level of effect on everyone.

What you need is an off camera flash and a reflective umbrella on a lightstand. Point the flash in towards the umbrella, and do not fully open the umbrella, in order to narrow down the light coming back out the umbrella.

Meanwhile, set your camera ISO to the lowest setting, and the shutter to the fastest sync speed your flash can support (about 1/180 to 1/200), and start off with a small aperture (maybe about f/11?). Take a test shot without firing the flash. You will want to achieve a completely black picture for this, if it's not black bring down the aperture until it is.

So when you got your ISO, shutter speed and aperture correct you're set. Position your flash, face the person towards the umbrella, and shoot with the flash. The face will be illuminated while the background will be dark. Make adjustments to the flash setting if necessary. Normally I start my flash at about 1/2 to 3/4 power and slowly adjust it until I get the desired amount of lighting.

This worked pretty well for me when I was trying to capture my profile picture for Facebook. It wasn't perfect, but considering I did this at 3am in the morning I wasn't really going to care much about getting the perfect picture anyway. Just make sure that your background doesn't have anything in the vicinity and it shouldn't be lit.


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