Saturday, May 20, 2017

How to take a good group photo - Part 3 - Here comes the Sun!

Goats look great in full sun - people just look tired and wrinkly
Goats look great in full sun - people just look tired and wrinkly
So you have your choir, you have an outdoor location for the photo shoot, but you are NOT a professional photographer! Whether you are a member of the group or an earnest and interested volunteer, you want to make your chorale look the best you can.

Do some quick test shots while the group is settling and arriving. Always use a tripod and avoid using flash. Fill-in flash can be used, but practise the technique ahead of time to avoid a mutiny. Never try new ideas at the shoot - be prepared!!
Overcast day -- the best light!
Ben and Pete - near -- far. We must have focus!
You should have f-stop and light levels decided before they are ready to pose. This will avoid tiring your subjects - which will show in their expressions.

Once everyone is ready, take at least ten or fifteen exposures of each pose and each f-stop change. Do it fast and keep it light while you do. The only directions you should be giving them is positioning -- so all faces are clearly visible.

Never tell them to smile - make them smile instead.

With so many great photo editing tools available, there are many aspects of the final photo that can be tweaked if you have the time and energy to do it, but my advice is start with the best image possible.

Sadly, I only have a small size image of this group photo taken in the 80's
Note how the overcast day at Ottawa's Tulip Festival in 1988 produced a great group picture! Too bad the image file is only 293 kbs - much too small for todays standards.

Shoot at the highest level of JPG or even RAW if you have the photo editing software and storage capacity to handle it! I don't shoot much RAW, since my largest JPG images are good enough to blow up poster size if need be.

 GIMP can handle most RAW formats, and will even out the shadows and highlights because the RAW images have more information in each file. Especially useful in full sun shots, where the shadows and highlights can be harsh.
A past portrait - illustrates the pros and cons of natural sunlight
Some faces in shadow, some faces in full sun - this is the "fixed" shot - still not my favourite
A black and white variation I made that we never used
Sometimes converting to Black and White can be a solution
I think lighting is everything -- after composition and location, that is.  Those I will deal with separately in other posts. Don't worry, links will happen once they are all up :P

Bright sunny day
On a boat in Spain - using the  reflected light while shooting into the sun makes a photo they will love
Soft, indirect lighting is best. I love shooting into the sun - in other words, the faces in shade.
Pete, my brother-in-law , my sister and me, the consummate tourista
You can use a large piece of bristol board with tinfoil covering it (shiny side out) or even a large white card to reflect light onto faces. (Helper needed to hold the card). Don't assume the sun will give a flattering shot; direct sunlight creates harsh shadows - unkind to us older folks (see goats).

The shade from the church allowed softened shadows in this choir photo from 2011

Cloudy overcast day

Wow, such luck! The lighting will be diffused and gentle. Make sure to use the highest f-stop you can to make sure that all the faces are in focus.

Shutter speed will be slower, so expect some images will be blurred.

Take more shots instead of nagging them to STOP MOVING SO MUCH! Count to ten and keep clicking.

Smile, laugh, it's all good.
Take a fun pic once you're all done to leave 'em laughing
Overcast day shoot -- beautiful light, everyone happy = great pic!
Happy snapping!



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  1. Hey Holly

    Amazing series on How to take a good group photo. This installment just made me laugh so much, especially the link to the candid shots. Thanks so much for doing this and sharing it with all of us. Keep up the amazing work.


You can also email your questions to me - info (at) stairwellcarollers (dot) com.
Holly :)

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