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Beach family photos with 18-55mm kit lens

edited June 2016 Posted in » Nikon D5100 Forum
Hi All,

I will take any and all suggestions regarding some beach family photos during daylight and sunset. I have a pretty generic D5100 with a 18-55mm kit lens. I have a silly flash I bought in a battery purchase, so I don't think that will help. I am considering buying a lens but I don't think I want to go down that road unless I have to. I want a 35mm because of all the added benefits (nice shots + Bokeh), and I read that @Moose likes the Tamron 18-270mm as a general purpose good lens to have. Pretty soon now I will need to not spend money on a professional photographer, and instead tripod our family shots on a beach in Wildwood, NJ. I have a remote for the camera, as I have to be in the pictures as well. I am also armed with @Moose's Cheat Cards for the D5100. So advice on taking remote controlled pictures of our family on the beach would be much appreciated!


  • Hey @izivanovic - If you primarily take family photos, I would get the Nikon 35mm f/1.8G (see here: This is a great all around lens, fantastic for portraits of the fam at the beach. I wouldn't worry about the flash too much, unless you're taking a bunch of photos at night near a firepit. Even then, the 35mm f/1.8 will fare pretty well by itself.
  • edited June 2016
    I thought you would have recommended the "nifty fifty", but this one is just as good! I will probably have problems with indoor group family photos, will I not?
  • edited June 2016
    The 35mm will give you a somewhat wider view, and more "normal" perspective. The 50mm will give you slightly nicer out of focus blur and closer portraits, but be less versatile overall. If you had a 35mm on the camera and lost all your other lenses, you'd still be pretty well off.

    The one thing I would add is that if you are shooting at the beach, you need to watch out for underexposure. If the people do not constitute a major part of the scene, the camera may tend to expose for the beach and sky, at the expense of faces. If the sun is overhead, you may also have issues with shading on faces giving people "raccoon eyes". Shoot in Raw mode if you can, so that you can open up exposure a bit as needed. For general darkness of faces, you can use exposure compensation, or switch your metering to center weighted, or in more drastic conditions to spot metering. If you spot meter on a face, the face will be well exposed, but the meter will utterly disregard the background, and it will almost certainly be blown out. That can work nicely at times and produce a good high key portrait, but you need to be ready for it. this is not likely to be the best setting for an "environmental" portrait where the surroundings count.

    If shading is very difficult, and especially if subjects are back lit, fill flash can help avoid shaded eyes or silhouettes, but you may have to practice a bit. Flash can also help in an environmental shot, where you need both subject and background to be well exposed.

    The IR remote works very well on these cameras. The 2 second delay gives you time to relax and palm the control. Note that unlike the self timer, the remote does not require resetting for every shot. There's a menu entry for setting how long it goes before switching back to normal shooting. If you are doing a lot of remote work, just fire off a wasted shot as that time approaches, and it will restart the clock.
  • Thank you guys so much for all the input!
  • edited June 2016
    So I am getting the Nikon 35mm f/1.8, but now I will have to practice as soon as I get it within 6 days. Our beach family photo shoot is towards the end of the month so I don't have a lot of time. Now the cheat cards are kind of out of the window in as far as the 18-55mm kit lens if I use the new "prime". So some of the settings should stay the same, like M-Mode (or A), ISO between 100-200 for sunny vs. overcast. Any other suggestions like shutter speed? I am trying now to emulate the 35mm on my kit lens but I am getting a lot of really dark pictures indoor with low light. Have not tried it outside in the sun, but will have sunny days ahead.
  • edited June 2016
    Yeah I don't know what I did in the settings, but no matter what setting I use indoors, now I get a very dark image. Not sure what I did as I played with the ISO sensitivity setting under the "Menu" button.
  • edited June 2016
    It seems really under exposed inside now, unless I use flash. Weirdly I can only use my on board flash. I bought this relatively cheap flash which is mountable. Seems to be too strong or something, as the pictures come out having this really bright horizontal line above the top, but a regular picture on the bottom. Not sure if it's because the flash is cheap and too strong, or I am setting this incorrectly.
  • edited June 2016
    So I am reading a lot about the out-of-focus issue if I were to use the "prime" lens in regards to large format photo, i.e. a large group of people. I'd like to avoid that if possible, as we may use the print for a large format framed picture for my in-laws. Do you think that a 35mm lens will be able to compensate enough, if I were to back up a little from the group. How far should I back up to keep everyone in focus. We will have small children which is going to make for a fun setup as they are rowdy. But all in all there will be around 15 people in the picture.
  • edited June 2016
    I am asking this as I have no beach and 15 people to test this on before going out "live" and doing this with a wireless remote and never doing it before in my life (especially not with a 35mm prime)!
  • edited June 2016
    With regard to the external flash, if the flash is not TTL, you will likely have to go to Manual mode to use it.

    A manual flash will have one of two possibilities. The first is full manual. The flash will have a "guide number", which tells you what exposure to use for specific distance of subject. It's a bit complex to explain, but you can find charts for this on the web. Some manual flashes will have an additional power range, which allows you to cut the guide number to a given percentage. Low power settings can work well for fill. There's a lot of versatility here, but it takes some practice.

    An alternative, in some flashes, though less seen nowadays, is the "auto" flash. This type uses an exposure meter in the flash itself. There will be a chart on the flash that tells you what aperture and ISO to use (shutter speed is not an issue as long as it's at or somewhat below the camera's assigned flash speed). You set the camera manually to that, and the flash duration is adjusted by its own meter. A good one will work surprisingly well and the short duration will provide the equivalent of an impossibly fast shutter speed on moving objects.

    If you're getting a distinct horizontal line, the flash and camera are not interacting correctly. Make sure you set the shutter speed to something around 1/250. There's some leeway but if the shutter speed is too slow, you'll get ambient light as well as flash. Slow sync and rear curtain modes use this combination correctly, but you need to do it on purpose.

    If the shutter speed is too high, you'll get a black band. The built in flash always adjusts the camera to an acceptable shutter speed, but an external one will not, in manual mode.

    The 35mm should be fine for a large group of people, but make sure you use a small (high F number) aperture, so as to get enough depth of field. Depending on the light and the ISO, the shutter speed might get a little low. No problem for people holding still, and a camera on a tripod, but if children are moving about they might be a problem. For a really active group that won't stand still, a full-flash picture might work. Set the camera to take a flash picture (not just fill). If the flash is strong, you should be able to stop it down for depth of field, and the duration of a flash is very short, which is the equivalent of a very fast shutter speed which will stop all motion. I'd try it both ways if you have time.

    I'd set auto focus at a single point when aiming it at a group of people. If the group is standing still, single servo or automatic servo will work fine. Multi point AF may work, and usually will be fine with people, but you can't entirely control where it chooses to focus.

    If you are using automatic ISO and have set its maximum too low it can run out of headroom in some circumstances. In A mode, when the ISO hits the maximum, if the meter calls for a shutter speed slower than your setting, it will override the setting. For that reason it will almost always give a good exposure even if the shutter speed is way too low to be sharp. Try a non-flash shot in A mode. If it comes out all right, but the shutter speed is too low, raise your maximum ISO or open up your aperture, or both.

    Make sure, too, that you did not accidentally engage exposure compensation. It's easy to miss sometimes.
  • edited June 2016
    Wow, awesome info. Thank you so much for all the info! I will have to print this out and take it with me.
  • edited June 2016
    I got the 35mm lens, and wow, I am professional portrait taker now! Not really, but man does it take good portraits, closeups I mean, at least. Having a bit of difficulties with distance in close quarters though! And I need to learn how to keep a correct distance from subjects to take that important shot. I love how easily you can get a "bokeh" shot. I am reading about how to interact with the "three kings" as I am having difficulties getting correct exposure while sunny outside. I set the f/2, ISO to 100 with "Auto ISO" off as I cannot seem to get that silly thing to work with, but I guess I just need more practice. My exposure is off almost always to start with. I usually start with 1/60, and then use the command dial to stop up or down, but if very sunny I had to step up to 1/1000 and beyond. I got to 1/4000 and then it stopped me from going further.
  • You'll always have problems using a very wide aperture on a sunny day. Photographers who want that wide-aperture bokeh often use neutral density filters to keep the shutter speed in range. It was a little easier back in the olden days when many films had lower ISO. The original Kodachrome had an ISO of 12. When I was a kid I thought I was in high speed heaven when I got Ektachrome with an ISO of 64.
  • edited June 2016
    Apart from "bokeh" look I don't think I will need for a larger group of people (I am trying to put I think the least amount of background as I can). Other than a low aperture (i.e. f/16) should I use a filter while taking these photos, maybe if it's really sunny? I don't know what to do with flash fill as I have no money right now to get a really good flash that would make a difference. Also, should I opt for morning light or afternoon light you think? I would guess that earlier would be better suited for low amount of beach-goers as well as children would probably be more apt to cooperate.
  • edited June 2016
    I would not bother with a filter, as most of the things that were once accomplished by filters (UV and haze reduction, etc.) are not needed for a digital image. A polarizing filter is nice to have for reflections and sky color, but not likely to be needed for portraits. But unless you actually run out of possibilities for proper exposure (i.e. you 've hit f/16 and 1/4000 at it's still too bright), you don't likely need a neutral density filter.

    Light is a matter of taste, and I don't think it matters too much as long as it's not too bright and too high overhead, unless you must have your subjects facing a specific direction. But morning is likely to be better for beach population.

    If you cannot use fill flash to brighten up faces, you can do a little exposure compensation. The background will tend to wash out, but it will cure dark faces. If you're not too far from the subjects, it's worth while to try the built in flash too. It's likely to be a little harsh and direct, but if you are outdoors the shadows will not be bothersome, and in P, S, A and M modes it defaults to fill, so it might come out all right. If it is too bright, you can tone it down with the flash compensation.
  • edited June 2016
    Do you think I can overcome underexposure, overexposure, dark faces, or similar if I get Adobe Lightroom? I am planning on purchasing a copy very soon to use for post editing.
  • You can overcome a certain amount of underexposure, and especially dark faces, with various programs that allow for opening up dark areas more than the built-in D-lighting does. If you shoot in Raw mode, a number of programs can also provide exposure compensation in both directions. Nikon's View NX2 will give you two stops either way. Capture NXD may give you more.

    For relatively simple treatment, including of JPG files, you might try the free program "Faststone Image Viewer." This has what turns out to be a very decent "adjust lighting" option that opens up shadows. Even if you find you're better off with Light Room or other more sophisticated programs, which probably do a better job at the pixel level, you'll get a pretty good idea of what can be done, and what the effects will be.

    In all cases, when you increase exposure either overall or locally, there's a likelihood that you'll also increase noise in the opened up areas. Getting it as good at the start is preferable, but there's a lot you can do after too.
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