Over the July 4th weekend, I created portraits at a family reunion.. Thirty four people total! And while it was a typical southern California sunny morning, there were definitely obstacles to overcome. How do you light thirty four people for a photograph?
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The first hurdle to overcome was the golf game. Many of the family had scheduled a big golf game for Sunday, which was the only day we could shoot. So rather than a sunset-on-the-beach portrait session, we decided on a mid-morning start time of 9am. Not the best time in terms of lighting, but sometimes practical matters take precedence over ideal photographic conditions. The weather of the previous few weeks had provided a thick “marine layer” of low clouds in the morning, and I was actually hoping and praying that the overcast skies would continue! Why? Because that creates nice, soft light. I knew my strboes wouldn’t make much of a difference on such a large group, so I hoped the weather would provide me with a giant “soft box” in the sky.
No dice. We had full, blazing sun.
So you make do with what you’re given! I used my assistant Desirée as a test subject, turning this way and that, so I could find the angle that best lit her face and gave just a little bit of shadow for definition. At 9 am in July, the sun is pretty high in the sky. We were getting some shadows in Desirée’s eye sockets if her face was level. Also, the sun and bright sand were pretty blinding, causing her to squint. Alright then, sounds like a textbook “tilt and 1-2-3” approach was needed!
I instructed everyone to tilt their heads up just a little bit, so that their noses were pointing at the sun. Then I had everyone close their eyes, and I counted to three. On three, they all (in theory) open their eyes. That’s when I pressed the shutter. I ran through this process seven or eight times, which was about the maximum before people started to wander off. The tilt of the head kept their eye sockets from being in shadow, and having them close their eyes for a short period gave me a brief window to take the image, before they started squinting.
Did everyone listen to me? Well, most of them did, some of the time. And that’s where Photoshop comes in handy. The image you see above is a composite of several different shots. Those who were slow to open their eyes in one shot, got it right in another shot. Those who weren’t tilting their head right at first, did it later on. Thankfully I used a tripod, which made combining the images much easier. It is just a simple, available-light shot, but it took a lot of planning and mental preparation! And the actual arrangement and posing of the group took far more time than did capturing the image.
Do you have any brilliant ideas or cool tips on shooting large groups like this? Leave ’em in the comment section to this post!
And then on to “smaller” groups. Those groups were sometimes nine or ten people at a time, which is larger than most family portrait sessions I do! No big deal, I can light ten people like I light two people, and it’s much easier than lighting thirty.
For the images below, the key light is camera right, in a 43″ shoot through umbrella. Initially I used my Norman 200B, but it started misbehaving. So I switched to my Metz Mecablitz 60 half way through. I also had a SB-28 for fill, slightly camera left. I think I had the Lumiquest Softbox III on it. The sun was behind them and camera left, which you can see as highlights on their shoulders and sides of their faces. Because it was later in the morning, I had to be careful that I wasn’t getting too much sun on the tips of people’s noses. When the sun it too high, it will peek over the top of someone’s head and hit their nose…very unflattering. We finished just in time, before the sun was too high to work with.
We finished the portrait session in about two hours, which was an hour shorter than I’d estimated. I had promised I would memorize everyone’s name before the end of the shoot, but that didn’t work out like I’d hoped. If I’d had another hour perhaps? This was such a great group of people, I would have loved to have spent a lot more time with them! As long as it didn’t involve playing golf. So perhaps another time…
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