Monday, April 29, 2013

How I Got The Shot #36 - Large Group Family Portraits

Individual portraits and couples portraits are one thing, but what do you do when you run into a large group?  When I was originally called to do this photo shoot, I was told 15 people, and I planned accordingly.  What I should have done was planned accordingly and then some!!  What I thought was 15, really ended up being close to 30!    The only thing that I had to get creative one was the background.  The 10x20 black backdrop was just not enough to encompass the entire group.   Keep reading to see how we handled this shoot and covered the background issues.

Creative Process:
The client had a once in a lifetime chance - three full generations of family from all over the United States would be in town for one weekend only.  It may not happen again, we needed to make this happen.
She wanted the whole group as well as individual shots of each of the families.

One helpful reminder - have an assistant or two to help with setup, tear down and "client control".  During the shoot, you need to be engaging the client, but there are times you'll be making gear tweaks or solving technical issues.  The assistant can be organizing the group to be photographed and staging the ones after that.  Invaluable, even if you have to pay for an assistant - I highly recommend it.

The original shoot location was supposed to be an outdoor park.  However, the Ohio weather can be unpredictable, and a a nice cool, spring day we did not get.   It was cooler than it should be this time of the spring.   The client had an alternative - a gymnasium.
This presents its own obstacles as you don't have a ceiling to bounce off, and generally the color of the ambient lights can be less than desirable.

Obstacle 1 - high ceiling.
We handled this by using umbrella boxes, 2 to be precise.  We angled one from each side to do our best  to get a good coverage of all the large groups.

Obstacle 2 - color casts of the ambient lights.
3 words for you - kill the ambient.   We made our shutter speed 1/250th and that was enough to kill the ambient light of the gym.  This way, we only have the color of the strobes we were using to contend with.

Obstacle 3 - power.
I mean power to our studio lights.  There were outlets and we brought plenty of extension cords.  However, if there is no power to the outlets - no beautiful pops from the Alien Bees!  Alway be prepared.  We brought our Vagabond Mini Lithium power supply with us.

Obstacle 4 - too small a backdrop.
We will cover this more in detail in the post processing section, but a little hint for you - Photoshop CS6 and a little third party plugin power!  :)

Nikon D700
Nikon 28-85mm f/3.5-4.5
Alien Bee B400 x 2
Umbrella Box x 2
Radio Popper JrX Studio transmitter/receiver
Background stand
Light stand x 2
10 x 20 black backdrop

EXIF Info:
Shot in manual mode
Camera quality setting - JPG fine
exposure: 1/250, f/8, ISO 200
Strobe power between 1/4 and 1/2 power

Lighting Setup:
As stated earlier, we used the umbrella boxes and used this basic setup seen below.  Time was a factor so we needed something versatile for both the large and small groups we would be working with.
I skimmed the back edges of the umbrellas across the back of the groups and let the rest of the light overlap through the middle of the group.

Post Processing:
We strive to get the best possible image in the camera at the time of the shoot.  This keeps out need for post processing down.

We used onOne Software Portrait 2.0 software to get rid of the fly away hairs, sharpen the eyes and do some basic touch ups.

We handled the backdrop shortcoming by using another plugin from Topaz Labs called Remask 3.  This tool makes doing cut outs a relatively simple task, even for the hardest of subjects.   Basically, you make in red what you don't want, green what you do, and blue marks what you want the program to determine.  You do a little cleanup and you go from an image like this:

To this:

After the parts of the image you do not want are removed, you placed a black color layer behind the portrait image.  We then used the burn tool set to shadows at 65% to blend in the backdrop to the other portions of the black layer.  Some cloning was also needed for the green flooring to extend it out.