How to take a large group photo of 700+ people?!

Discussion in 'Beginner Questions' started by daniel_sauceda, Jul 5, 2014.

  1. So I'm a beginner photographer (been doing it for about 2 years now) and this is my first time doing something like this. My church is having an event next sunday where they want to take a picture of the whole congregation since they will be wearing their nations colors (for the world cup). Anyways they asked me to help them take the picture but I seriously need help.
    I have a Canon 5D m3 and will be probably be using my Tamrom 28-70mm lens. I have 2 flashes.
    We are probably going to take the picture at about 12pm eastern time. The sun will be at it's highest point. I'm really hoping it will be a cloudy day so I don't have to deal with shadows or squinting of eyes but I guess I can't control the weather. I'm going to be standing on a ladder to get everyones face. We are going to arrange kids in the front since they are the shortest and men in the back since they are the tallest. They also want the church's building to be visible in the back (not sure if that would be possible). The space shouldn't be a problem at least I don't think so.
    I need help! I've never done something like this and I kind of have an idea of what I want to do but I really need help from someone that maybe has done something like this or has more experience. They want to blow up the picture to like a wall size, maybe like 10'x5'. HELP :/
  2. Hi Daniel, I think you'll probably need to get much higher than a stepladder to cover 700+ people; ignoring for the moment the need to include the church.
    The problem isn't so much with coverage, but that a lower perspective will render folks at the back much smaller than those at the front - assuming you have them lined up in a grid of roughly 30x25.
    Since it'd be unrealistic to have the expectation of accomplishing everything in one shot, I'd probably go with several shots - one of the group with attention to achieving the greatest detail, another of the group including the church, sacrificing detail for compositional aesthetics, and finally a few group shots by dividing the congregation into smaller clusters.
  3. SCL


    700 people-WOW! My guess is that you are going to really need to back up...maybe 150-200 ft. to narrow the perspective and capture everybody in a reasonable DOF. I'm not sure a 70mm lens is going to cut it under this scenario. But I'm just guessing how I might approach it. Seriously, if I had this assignment, I think I would sit down at a drafting table and plan the arrangement of people and church, then determine the angle of capture for various distances from the subject. That would tell me what focal length I would need. If people are arranged too will have a wide angle and unless you back up a lot, you will have lots of distortion of faces and bodies at the edges of the frame. OTOH, if they are arranged too deep, you will need a large depth of field, and hence need to back up a lot to get everybody in focus. It seems like a real juggling act. Also, personally, I think a ladder might be insufficient and you would be better off renting a lift or perhaps a church member in the utility business or construction business could donate the use of one for the shooting session. By elevating yourself higher you should easily be able to capture the church (and presumably its steeple) as well as the congregation. By way of example, I shot this today while testing a lens to determine its sweet spot. I was up 2 stories and the buildings in the shot were about 270 feet away. Point of focus was the foremost green utility box in the center of the picture...I used a just acquired very sharp 50mm lens (making this the equivalent of a 100mm lens on a full frame body) on a micro 4/3 sensor. As you can see - at this distance, I could easily capture 2 stories (think church) and probably fit 800 people side by side in rows. Of course I had to downsize and downrez the picture to attach it, but in the original, even on a micro 4/3 sensor I could get everybody recognizable, but not crystal clear. Blown up 5'x10' one would need to step back about 15-20 feet to see it clearly.
  4. If that was me, I'd rent digital medium format (Hassy or Phase One). You may also need to elevate yourself to some degree, so a cherry picker would be useful. But, it would be more solid if you shot the photo from a building (higher spot). Anyway, tripod and curtain get the most clarity.
  5. 700 people is a wicked task to take on even for the most advanced pro's.

    If it were my job I may rent some risers, but I'd rather not. I wish I could offer you some sort of an easier

    If your church has lots of steps that could work really well. Is there a wider hill around the area? Both
    would give you a chance. A place with a lot of steps. I'd look around the area for something like this.

    The hardest one I ever did I decided to rent a helicoptor! Well it worked. I won't get into the wind factor
    from the blades from the Helicoptor. The company wanted the building which everyone worked at in the
    background. I took 3 shots. One shot with just the building, one with the people, lastly one shot on
    everyone plus the building.

    I took the final image of the building and the other image of the people and used photoshot to put the 2
    images into one image. It actually looked pretty decent. I think I made about $5000, with all of the

    I hate to say this, and I'm a bit bummed, but at high noon your flash units won't really work. You need something somewhere around 3200 watt seconds to pull this off. Most flash units are around 100 watt seconds, give or take about 200 watts for something like a Quantum or a Norman. Even those won't work.

    Can you get a ladder and climb up on the roof?

    I'm just throwing out all sorts of ideas, hoping that this may offer some ideas of how to achieve 700 people!

    The last option I can think of is to take 7 shots of 100 people or even less, much smaller groups. Then
    use photoshot to set the images up as a panoramic. I've also done this before. Use a tripod and don't
    move it, EVER, so that every shot looks the exact same per group. This will help you align all of these
    groups and then make something like a 10X40 print or even larger, 10X60. What ever has to be done to
    to fit the groups together.

    I can't stress enough to keep the tripod the same and group of people aligned the same. If you are using
    a zoom lens, don't adjust it. EVER! This works! It's not fun though when aligning the assorted groups

    Hope this helps. Feel free in asking more questions.

    Let us kown what happens!
  6. My company's office recently had their 'portrait' taken. Based on what I saw and my own thinking, consider the following....
    1. DEFINITELY a significant ladder or lift. I'd say a not-less-than 17' ladder. Risers for 700
    is probably unworkable.
    2. We had 160 people and not a lot of front/back space. I think you will want to rent a much wider lens than your 28-70
    3. Use one of those sun position apps to figure out where the sun will be on that day/time. Don't count on it being cloudy and people will have moderately low tolerance for you figuring it out on the fly. Have a plan and a backup plan and maybe shoot an 'environment' shot(s) earlier/later in the day and Photoshop in the sky.
    4. you could figure out approx what the space requirements are by looking at how much space a human takes up in a 'crowd'. I'd hazard a 2-3 sq.ft per person packing density.
    5. You will probably need an assistant to help herd (er, crowd control and directions) everyone.
    6. you could perhaps consider a multi-shot pano and put some form of cleat/arm and ballhead on the ladder as long as people know to freeze during the few seconds it'll take to scan the crowd. Since the camera will probably be at a down-angle, you'll need a fair about of slack at top and bottom of the framing to eliminate the 'wave' you get in those situations. 3-4 shots should do it and that should take about 10+ seconds if you're swift.
    That's all. More coffee :) Good luck!
  7. I'm a beginner photographer​
    You are in over your head, Daniel. Ask the church to spring for a professional photographer. All the replies above are correct. You need to get much higher and have a stable platform and have top-notch wide-angle lenses. Ever consider the logistics of positioning that many people? A big task. You need two or three assistants on the ground with bull horns as well as you. Using 35 mm format pretty much guarantees no individuals will be clearly recognizable which may or may not be important. You are in for a very stress filled time. Good Luck.
  8. Thank you guys so much for the help! I will keep all those things in my as I prepare for this.
    Let me just say that getting people to assist me shouldn't be a problem. I can get 10 or 20 ushers to assist me in positioning everyone. With all the help it shouldn't take us more than 15 minutes to position everyone. Also the ladder we have is pretty tall, I think like 20ft, could that be enough height?
    Also let me add that I am pretty good with photoshop and photo manipulation since thats what I used to do before I started doing photography. Would stitching be possible with so many people? Can someone give me more help on this if you think it could be an option. I could get my hands on a wider lens if it were required. I also have a 50mm L 1.2 lens but I doubt that's usable. What kind of lens do you guys suggest.
    I live in florida and it's been cloudy the past days and its expected to be like this for next week so I'm hoping it wont be a sunny day that would cast shadows and cause squinting of eyes. My biggest concern is that I need a backup plan in case it is sunny.
    Also if last case scenario my height or positioning isn't working we do have a hill in our back which is huge so maybe that could be an option. I just want to be prepared for any situation. Once again thanks so much for all the help so far! :)
  9. As an aside, how far back would you need to stand to take in the group of people, 30 wide by 25 deep?
    Assume working at either end of your Tamron, 28mm or 70mm.
    Assume the people are on about two foot centers.
    Assume the group is "rectangular", i.e the back row is the same number of people wide as the front.
    Assume the group then represents a block some 64 feet wide by 48 feet deep (approx.) (It would be different if you made a trapezoidal layout, i.e. each row progressively wider as you move from front to back.)
    For the 70mm end, that would be a stand off from the front row of about 128 feet to the camera.
    For the 28mm end, that would be a stand off from the front row of about 50 feet to the camera.
    (If I did my math correctly and made decent assumptions) the below diagram sort of shows the scenario. Note: no concern given to depth of field here, just angle of view to capture the width of the group.
    Good luck. I did my church some years ago, but that was 60 people on 4 steps in front of the building; easy peasy.
    Jim M
  10. An alternative for a multi-shot panoramic: Rent one or two additional cameras. Mount them side by side, each framed to contain a different segment of the crowd, with some overlap. Shoot all cameras simultaneously to minimize variations. Combine in editing.
    Regarding safety: How are you planning to support a ladder? This sounds like a serious safety hazard. Consider renting a lift. Some rental companies will supply a trained operator to handle the lift, including safety harnesses/lanyards for occupants. All you need to do is concentrate on the photography.
  11. BTW, regarding the cost of my safety recommendations: It'll be cheaper than an emergency room visit, not to mention the long term consequences and possible permanent disability.
    Take up a collection to cover the cost of renting one or two additional cameras, lenses and panoramic mounting rig, and a hydraulic or scissor lift with experienced operator. With 700 people in the photo a buck apiece would cover the cost. Make it $5 apiece and you'll have enough money to cover the processing and printing too.
  12. I agree with Lex and those who have said to rent a lift. Your 20' ladder is not going to get it. Also - get yourself a way to communicate with the group - as in a PA system. 700 people standing around asking each other if anyone knows what's going on is not going to be something the naked voice is going to overcome.
  13. Photographing 700 people will be a challenge even for a professional.
    I think it's unrealistic to rent a cherry picker or lift truck and PA system and rent a Hasselblad medium format camera considering you are volunteering for your church and they are not likely to reimburse you for the costs.
    Maybe find a spot to shoot them from a second floor window or separate them into groups.
  14. Unfortunately when you tell non-photography people that you are into photography, you will get requests like these. I have gotten plenty of requests like these, which I skillfully learned how to turn-down.
  15. I know what I'd use: this calls for friendly neighborhood camera drone operator. And the best part is you never have any
    trouble getting EVERYONE in the group to look at the camera!
  16. Actually, a camera-drone might be a great alternative if the operator can guarantee quality images that will meet expectations. It might well be worth the couple of dollars it might cost from each participant.
  17. look at the work of Spencer Tunick, there are enormous groups in his work and it will give you an idea of scale. (yes his shoots are of nude crowds, obviously you wont do that...)
    I remember seeing a video on how he arranged one of the shoot etc and it might be somewhere around the net .
    You will need to explain to the whole group what will be going on beforehand, make sure your assistants will know what you need from them. Bullhorn is ok for the crowd, but if you have a walkietalkie, or cellphone with some similar function, its a more efficient way to communicate with one of two (not all of them) of your assistants when you are high up and you need the final things done.
    If you plan on stitching all the panorama rules apply
  18. not sure i would use a stereo setup with two cameras because of parallax errors that might give problems in stitching since its rows of people and some of them will be in the foreground, small differences in perspective would be noticeable and you cant deform their faces to align the shots. A rail (or similar temporary setup) would be enough to bring the nodal point on the ballhead for a single row of pictures, you wont really need a panoramic head unless you plan to have multiple rows tilting the camera up and down
  19. Please let us know what you decide and how it works out.
  20. Regardless of what you decide to do - take at least 20-30 shots and maybe - just maybe you might get one where everyone has their eyes open.. ;-)
  21. OK

    Danial. Is this church big enough to hold 700 folks? Is there a balcony?

    Maybe this is a very simple way to solve your problem. Can you all meet at another
    church that will accommodate 700 with the balcony?

    Then, with the use of Photoshop you can add a title at the bottom with the name of
    the church.

    Needless to say the very first thing you have to see is the lighting. Will it work?

    "Also let me add that I am pretty good with photoshop and photo manipulation since
    thats what I used to do before I started doing photography. Would stitching be
    possible with so many people? Can someone give me more help on this if you think
    it could be an option.Also let me add that I am pretty good with photoshop and
    photo manipulation since thats what I used to do before I started doing photography.
    Would stitching be possible with so many people? Can someone give me more help
    on this if you think it could be an option."

    To answer your question it depend totally on your lens of choice. A wide angle lens
    will distort the images and the people won't line up correctly, curved, as you try to
    paste the images together.

    Another question for you - Unless you create a 10 foot panorama you won't see the
    faces of the people. Can you ask and see if you can ask if you can order a quality
    photo book and put 8X10 prints on each page? About 30 people per page?

    Or can you take photos of everyone in small groups and make 8X10 or 11X14 prints
    mounted on frames. Again you can use photoshop and write a title at the bottom of
    each photo.

    I'm just throwing out ideas for you. It bothers me that you won't be able to see any
    faces. You are looking at major bucks printing something like an 8 to 10 foot photo.
  22. Hey guys first of all I want to thank you guys for your amazing responses, it feels good to know that other experienced photographers are willing to help out those who are just starting out.
    In regards to the picture we finally shot it on Sunday and it turned out that they weren't expecting anything too professional, they just wanted to gather everyone and take a picture. So they weren't expecting to see everyone's faces they just wanted to see the huge crowd I guess.
    All week it's been cloudy and I was expecting a cloudy day since I knew a sunny day would be a huge problem and on that sunday it was the sunniest and hottest days its been here in weeks. I was a little upset but I just did what they asked. There were around 700-800 people that day and it took us about 20 minutes to gather everyone together and I shot about 10 pictures in only about 2 minutes since it was too hot they didn't want to do anything else.
    This was the final picture they chose:
    Not the best picture I know but it worked for what they wanted and they were really happy with the outcome. The shadows were very harsh, people closed their eyes, and many people's faces didn't show since some raised their hands to scream lol. I shot it with my Canon 5D Miii and my Tamron 28-75. My setting were f/8, 1/180 sec and 100iso.
    Even thou I'm not happy with the technical/artistic part of the image I still had a lot of fun throughout the process and learned a lot of things through this forum. Thanks a million guys and opinions and comments about the image are welcome.
  23. James G. Dainis

    James G. Dainis Moderator

    It looks like you did a pretty good job. Congratulations.
  24. Hey, what a great job you did! I'm sending you a high 5!
  25. Daniel, that was quite an undertaking and the result is quite impressive given what you had to work with.
    It's also interesting how few pixels are required for faces to be recognizable, but it's still a shame that the crowd just took up about a third of the the frame although I'm not sure how it could have been any different given the circumstances.
  26. Thank you guys for the feedback!
    Michael, yes I agree this is the original image but the one they are printing will be cropped tighter in landscape format so most of the top and bottom will be cropped in the final print.

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