Groups: making them work.

I shot a music school this past weekend. Wonderful work, great people: fun.

One shot I particularly relished setting up is a portrait group of nine musicians. This is a challenge because:

  • You need to get nine people lined up in a space that is always too narrow.
  • You want to avoid making them look leaden by lining them up straight.
  • You have to light them all well.
  • You need to light evenly, too, so umbrellas and so on need to be moved back. The room is never wide enough either, of course.

First tip: always be confident when doing this. Take your time, but never hesitate. The captain is in command, just like in the USS Enterprise.

I start by deciding who sits, who stands, and who leans. Not “the older people sit”. More like “the taller people sit”. Then the older people can lean against chairs. The rest depend on height and other properties.Sometimes you just have to do what you can.

Then I look to see how people stand. What is their body language. I turn everyone. I make small groups. Back to back or facing one another.

The biggest challenge is to get everyone in front of the backdrop, which as said is always too narrow. And when people are having fun, they will not necessarily obey your orders accurately – which is fine: they are there to have fun, not to obey.

Then you shoot. Lots. Make sure everyone’s face is clearly visible in every image. Tell your subjects that when you ask for adjustments, you want “baby steps”.

In the end I decided this shot had merit and was suitable for finishing:

A group of fiddlers (Photo: Michael Willems)

A group of fiddlers (Photo: Michael Willems)

The finishing now consisted of:

  • Adjusting white balance, exposure, and other basics.
  • Cropping and rotating.
  • Lightening a few darker areas using Lightroom’s selective brush tool.
  • Darkening bits that need darkening. Possibly even a little vignetting.
  • Now popping briefly into Photoshop CS5 and using the “content aware fill” tool to fill in the backdrop.
  • Then, one last look and  final adjustments.

And I am done. Here is the image almost finished:

A group of fiddlers (Photo: Michael Willems)

A group of fiddlers (Photo: Michael Willems)

See it larger by clicking. Not a boring shot – a little more like Rembrandt’s Night Watch.

Yes, OK, that is a stretch – but you get my meaning.

And that, as they say, is a wrap!

Tip: If you are near Toronto and want to learn technical flash techniques using small flashes and modifiers, there are still a few spots left on the March 19 one-time special featuring special Guest Star David Honl. If you are interested, act quickly, since they are filling up rapidly.

2 thoughts on “Groups: making them work.

  1. I liked the final touches, especially the part where you fill in the backdrop.
    Does that mean you have to do that to all your photos where you cannot fit everyone inside the backdrop before handing it over to your clients? Time consuming!

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