Recently I was asked to shoot a group of 150 people gathered for a family reunion at The Depot in downtown Minneapolis. This was a challenging assignment involving a number of technical and logistical issues.
Pre-planning for the shoot involved working with the reunion organizers to develop forms enabling family members to order photos during the reunion as well as after the reunion was over. I also consulted with a number of people about equipment and lighting considerations.
Initially, we thought we were going to have access to risers which would have made the arrangement of people easy. Risers weren't available and, for awhile, I thought we were going to be left to having everyone on a level floor. This would have added an extra challenge to the shooting. Just before the event we learned The Depot was able to provide a one level riser (essentially a stage) to place one row of people at a higher level. This development helped a lot!
I stopped by The Depot the day before the shoot to review the lay-out. Lucky that I did! Maintenance people had the risers and chairs set up in front of a wall-length set of mirrors. This would have been tragic as I would have had to deal with flash reflecting against the mirrors and back to the camera. I requested that the staff set-up black drapes behind the stage/risers.
On the day of the shoot, I set up four strobe units with soft boxes set at a level about equal to the eye level of the people who would be standing in the back row. I metered the units at ISO 400, 1/60, at f/8, using my Canon 5DMII and a Canon 16-35mm/f2.8 lens. The following images illustrate the set-up:
Fortunately, almost everyone showed up at about the same time. I gathered everyone around and told them we were going to make the shooting "fast and fun" (applause). I explained that I was going to divide people into groups to make it go easier. So, first I said, "All the Jews to one side" which got a lot of laughs because almost the entire family is Jewish (me, too). Actually, first I asked for everyone over 6 feet tall to stand to one side and lowered that amount until I got roughly 40 people. I sent all of them to stand on the floor behind the row of chairs. Next, I asked that anyone who wanted to sit to take a place on one of the 30 chairs. Following, I asked for anyone (adults and children) to sit on the floor in the front and finally sent all of the medium-sized people to the back to stand on the one riser level. I tweaked the arrangement by swapping a few people around and addressing requests for family units to be close or next to each other.
When I was ready to shoot, I told them to get ready and promptly pulled my iPhone out to take a picture. This got big laughs and kept everyone in a light mood. Using the 5DMII, I shot a number of images followed by a sequence I like to do for groups where I asked everyone to "get crazy on the count of 3." These shots were hilarious and was a great way to end the shoot.
Post processing was relatively straightforward. After initially optimization in Adobe Lightroom® 2.0 and Photoshop® CS4 RAW processing, the images were sent to Nik Color Efex® 3.0 Pro Contrast to give them some zip and sharpness. I then processed them through OnOne PhotoTools® to provide some slight skin smoothening and reduce noise. Even with 150 people, only 2 or 3 blinked in either final image. I was able to copy faces and eyes from other photos taken during the session. The 2 final images follow.
Be sure to click on each image to enlarge it.
Family members click here to purchase prints or digital copies of these images:
I submitted the final images and this post to one of the professional photographer groups on LinkedIn. Here are some of the comments:
"Nice play by play of the shoot."
"Well done! And thank you for sharing!"
"Nicely done. Bravo!"
"It is always kind of challenge. Especially when children are involved :-). But I love to shoot this kind of photo. I think I would compare it to directing an orchestra :-) Congratulations !!!!"
"Job well done!"
"A lot of photographers don't scout the area first when they have an opportunity (that means they live in the same city or get into town a day early). I especially appreciate the descriptions of your interaction with the group. Most pieces of this nature only cover the technical aspects of the session. Well done."
"Large group shots are always an intimidating task! Nicely done, thanks for sharing!"
"Great job setting this up!"
"Great job! Thank goodness for the stage. I'm vertically challenged so I use a ladder in big group shots too."
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