Shooting a large group

Discussion in 'Portraits and Fashion' started by john_ashby|2, Mar 20, 2012.

  1. On Thursday I have an assignment to shoot a group of about 60 people, and I've never done more than about 6 before and always in studio with nice strobes and backdrops, so I'm hoping for some advice, both about composition and technique. The room is formally decorated with dark wood paneling, lit by overhead fluorescents, but not brightly enough. I will need a final print of at least 16x20 which is pushing my camera even under ideal studio lighting.
    I took a few test subjects to stand around the area for practice and couldn't get a decent result. The faces are blurred and noisy almost to being unrecognizable, I was shooting at 1/30th second, f4, iso 200, with a tripod (and VR turned off). I tried with an off-camera speedlite pointing from the side at a 45 degree angle and towards the ceiling at a 45 degree angle and without a flash.
    In terms of gear, I have a D90 with the 18-200 lens, a 50mm 1.8 lens, and an SB-800. I may be able to borrow a second SB-800 and an SB-900 but I can't count on it.
    Thanks for any suggestions you can make.
     
  2. Use a tripod, wide angle and crank the ISO to 800 or more. If you can get or rent another Nikon
    flash do so and use CLS to sync them wirelessly. Get a ladder so you can shoot down on the
    group and make sure you shoot about 5.6 or smaller to get several rows in focus DOF wise.
     
  3. You may not have enough depth of field with the F=4 to cover 60 people.
    I would use faster than 1/30 sec even if on tripod, even if people were told to freeze.
    If your main source of light was a flash, then there should be no motion blur, but possibly out of focus blur.
     
  4. This is how I would shoot this so take it with a grain of salt.
    I'd setup 2 strobes with large softboxes. (You may be able to rent them from your local camera shop for a day) One on each side of me raised high and aiming down. I'd have a ladder and shoot down while everyone was looking up toward me. I'd meter for about f8, ISO 400 and 160th. At 1/30, even with a flash, I bet you're getting subject movement that is getting picked up from the natural light. Posing would still be the normal stuff. Short people up front and taller in the back maybe in kind of a semi-circle.
    Good luck
     
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    When I do large groups I never use lights, I just orient them to face open sky.
    Step ladder and wide angle zoom are the most important tools IMO.
     
  6. Thanks for your replies.
    Mark, I'm a bit confused how I'd use a tripod and a stepladder, so do you mean one or the other? If I do manage to have 3 speedlites; I'll put 2 of them to the left and right pointing at 45 degrees inward at the group, what do I do with the 3rd? Do I point the lights right at the group or try to bounce off the 20 foot ceiling? The only modifiers I'll have are the diffusers they come with, thought I wouldn't mind buying one umbrella stand for the light I actually own if it will help.
    Frank, DoF is an even bigger problem because the group will be spread front to back more than normal because of the nature of the room. The faster I shoot the less DoF I have, so, I'm already making a tradeoff which hurts the quality less. I can try to move the shoot outside, but it's in the city so there's not really any open spaces I can think of. I may try to do it inside but have 2 groups of 30, though that won't be as nice.
    My D90 has pretty bad low light performance, at iso 800 I can't even get a usable 8x10 out of it.
    Mike, at least around here I can't rent gear on such short notice, I'd love a couple of big powerful strobes with softboxes; usually I rent a studio space that comes with good lighting gear so I've never felt the need to buy my own. As I said I'll have the 1 speedlite for sure and maybe 2 more. I will be able to get a ladder.
     
  7. John, with all due respect, part of holding yourself out as a professional is not taking a job and charging money unless you have the gear and expertise to do it properly. You only own one flash unit? Even if that was all you needed for the job, what if you got there and it died on you just as you started to shoot? Is there a camera store within driving distance? Go buy what you need today so you'll be properly equipped to tomorrow's job and going forward. At the very least, you probably should have two shoemount flashes on light stands, with a Quantum Turbo or the equivalent on each to get fast-enough recycling, and either CLS or a radio trigger so people aren't tripping over cords. The flashes don't have to be SB-900s. Anything from a Vivitar 285 on up will do just fine. Do any friends have flash units? You say you can't rent on short notice but you also say you rent studio space -- can't you rent the strobes from the studio you rent? Sounds like you only need them for a couple of hours. And they would deliver more power than the SB's, so you wouldn't have to worry about having enough light for a good f-stop and sufficient depth of field.
     
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    Sorry, I guess I didn't read the part where you are in a dark-walled room.
    Probably not do-able unless it is really really lit. You can't do it with what you have and get a remotely professional shot.
    Try and talk them into doing it outside, or bail.
     
  9. John,
    First of all, are you locked into this location? How large is the room? Could well be that you don't begin to have the space to accommodate this many people. Is there a possibility of moving the shoot to an outdoor location?
    With a group this big, unless you are in a fair sized dining hall (not home dining room), or the atrium of a hotel, you will be WAY better off to move them out doors in one of your favorite open and natural locations.
    Secondly, lets deal with posing. The simplest would be front row seated on the floor or ground, middle row seated in folding chairs and the back row standing. This is still 20 people wide which makes for a very side angle panorama shape for cropping, so you may need to add a fourth row standing on supports behind the row of folks standing on the floor. That will cut it down to fifteen wide and make the shape a bit closer to fitting the traditional boxy rectangle.
    The problem with that is that it is horribly not creative. An outdoor environment will offer more opportunities for better creativity in the posing. If you can, break it down into sub families so that you have clusters of people who are tied together within the groupings. It also lets you get farther back from the subjects which helps with avoiding a wide angle effect on bodies and makes it possible to use a larger f opening since the plane of focus would then work with a more shallow depth of field.
    (A step ladder has been mentioned and it may be a good idea if you can stay fairly far back. Up close with a wide angle, you will get big heads and pin point feet which will look lousy and get you enemies instead of allies.)
    If you've got to be inside, see if a local high end hotel will allow you to use their atrium or court area, especially if there is some sort of balcony from which you can shoot (at a distance) slightly downward on the people...that does not mean overhead or even at a strong angle, it means at a slight downward angle so that everyone looks comfortable.
    Finally to the lighting. As has been said, you are drastically under powered on lights unless you jump your ISO up to the high numbers which can risk a bunch of noise. You've simply got to man up to the need for some more serious lighting gear, whether bought, borrowed, or rented! (I love using powerful monolights because they are easier to place independently where they are needed and the power is simple to adjust. With this size group I would likely use umbrellas for the soft light spread.)
    Why the big lights, because you need at least an f8 and likely f11 for enough depth of field to carry focus from front to back in the group and that means lots of power to bounce that kind of light from an umbrella.
    Why, because one or two traditional electronic flashes without modifiers (soft boxes or umbrellas) will produce very harsh shadows on the faces and cause any dark clothing to get lost in the depths of the background as well as (depending on placement) cause faces to be well exposed, but the lower bodies much too dark.
    Why, because this kind of job can make or break your reputation (clients talk either way) and using the right gear for the job is part of being sure you don't screw it up. Big power, with the softening effects of soft boxes or umbrellas so that each face looks good instead of blasted with light and the lighting is even from head to toe, is totally the point of what you HAVE TO achieve for these clients.
    Do it right and this job could bring you dozens of new clients and literally thousands ofdollars in new sales. Do it wrong and you are the target of their disappointment and that also filters down to all of their friends and associates with your potential clients looking for another source.
    One more hint, try to find examples of really big group portraits on the internet and take a hard look at the posing and lighting. Try to get ideas from those and use them in working with your group.
    Oh, yeah, if there are small kids in the portrait...place them last so that they don't have a chance to get crazy impatient while you organize everyone else. You'll be rewarded with much better expressions.
    Good luck.
     
  10. Hi John I am so interested in the outcome of this shoot. When you say assignment do you mean paid gig? Do they understand that you do not have the proper lighting to pull this off? I can only assume by what i am reading that this is a do me a favor job and take this group shot the best you can.
    I do group shots on location all the time and at minimum I use 1,000 watt pack. I have done a 100 group shot and used four strobes and four 1000 watt packs. Ok back to your seniario, Please get those extra two speed lights so you have two on each side of you. Yes use a ladder and keep the flashes above your head a few feet. You even might trying bouncing two strobes and aiming the other two direct. You said nothing about how you will pose and if they will provide any risers or apple boxes so I assume not. This will be the most time consuming and require you to direct the people. Seat people on the floor and then on a chair then standing and finally a fourth row of chairs for people to stand on providing the chairs are not folding chairs. Set iso to 800 and fstop 16 and have fresh batteries.
    One tip keep the flashes further from the people so the light fall is at minimum. (newton inverse square law) This is also another reason not to use speedlights when taking on such a large group shot. Also Don't be tempted to set your lense wider than 24mm otherwise you will have watermeon heads on the sides. It would be best to borrow a prime 24mm lense.
    Good luck and please let us know the outcome.
     
  11. oh by the way don't bother with a umbrellas cause you will never get the depth of feild that you will need. Forget about soft light just be concerned about getting everyone lit and in focus. They obviously did not have the budget to do it right.
     
  12. The room huge, it's roughly 50x100 feet. It is possible to move it to another location but the room is preferred because of the way it is formally decorated and how it ties into the people. Space is an issue because of large desks with electronic equipment bolted to the floor and under-floor cabling from the desks, so the people will be between the desks. There's a podium at the front, but realistically I can't fit more than 10-15 people on it, with the rest spilling to the sides and in front. I also can't have people sitting in front of it because the desks are high enough to block them.
    Outside might be a better option, but the only place remotely close is a big empty parking lot with nothing around and when I did some test shots under bright sun yesterday I either had them squinting into the sun or too bright a sky (and again I don't have enough flash power to balance the sky for such a large group).
    I confirmed I will have 3 flashes that work with CLS, so maybe I will have enough light to shoot inside.
    The client knows I mainly shoot 1 or 2 person portraits and I'm doing this more as a favor than anything else, but your points about the effect on my reputation are well taken and that's what I'm worried about.
    The 16x20 print size also concerns me. I've printed larger from perfectly exposed studio shots that look great at the big size. For this shoot I know the print size will magnify every bit of blur or soft focus.
     
  13. With your set up, it sounds like you will have a very deep posing situation with people organized from near the camera to well back on the podium area. You flashes will tend to expose for the foreground, especially in any kind of auto mode. The ideal for what you describe would likely be two or three very powerful flashes bounced off the (hopefully) low ceiling which would help to get the light toward the far people and a couple of units on high stands angled slightly downward toward the faces to through light into their eyes.
    Try to keep the depth of how the group is posed as tight as possible on the near to far axis. That will help greatly with both depth of field, and light fall off.
    Best of luck.
     
  14. So, how did it go?
     
  15. John, I'm interested in hearing how the shoot went and how you solved the lighting problems. Hope it turned out in your favor.
     
  16. I'm guessing you've done the shoot already, but if not, and if you aren't able to get additional lighting, you may want to try focus-stacking this. Tell them to hold their poses for three shots. Shoot with the first third of the group in focus at, say, f/5.6 or so, refocus on the middle and shoot, and then refocus on the back third and shoot. In post, you'd have to layer this together.
    This is a horrible substitute for proper lighting, mind you, but it might get you some additional in-focus subjects if you're just not able to come up with the lighting equipment you really need.
    Let us know how it turns out -- post the final image if you're able.
    EDIT: didn't realize this was from March, so, yeah, I'm sure you've done this by now. How'd it go?
     

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