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Help needed - Lighting a large group photo

shiny 13 6 United Kingdom
15 Sep 2012 10:44AM
Hi All,

I'm going to be taking a group photo to go inside a theatrical programme in a few weeks time, it's for my Scout show, it's about the 5th time I've done it (once every two years) and there are usually about 140 people on it.

It's always taken inside a school gym which has a row of high windows to one side which the sun always seems to pour through and hit the wall behind where they are arranged which always adds to the fun. They are usually in about 6 rows of about 20 or so people standing, on benches, sitting and sitting on the floor

My question is about how to light them.

I have a 5 portaflash studio lights and a metz hammerhead which in the past I have used with varying success. I've had softboxes and brollys on them, last time I even tried bare bulb (what a mistake that was).

I'm wondering if I'm using too much lighting and making it too complicated but at the same time I'm worried that if I lose some of the lights it won't be bright enough.

The last one I took was bright enough and they were happy with it but they all had horrible double shadows and I hated it (like I said - bare bulb was definately a mistake).

Should I try less lights? What about putting soft boxes on one side of the group and brollys on the other? Should all the lights be at the same power output or should I treat it like a portrait and have one side as main lights and the other at a lower power for a fill?

I could really do with a few suggestions.


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User_Removed 12 398 6 United Kingdom
15 Sep 2012 11:12AM
Sounds to me like your over complicating things. There are always compromises but especially in this situation with a group of 140 people.
To me I would perhaps treat this as a group wedding shot and get high and shot down using as much natural light as possible
- can this be done outside?
- if not and you have to use additional lighting use it by bouncing of walls or ceilings. but try and balance the lighting front to back as much as possible - bump the iso up too to get as good depth of field as possible.
You might not get it perfect but tery and improve on your last go.
Sooty_1 8 1.5k 221 United Kingdom
15 Sep 2012 7:50PM
If you put soft boxes on portaflash units, there won't be enough light to make much difference with a group that size, unless maybe you used a couple spread out either side to flood the area with light (hard if you only have a GN of 36!). Either way, you will have to balance it with ambient.
I would suggest as above - treat it like a wedding shot. A flash near the camera will bump contrast a little and fill some shadows, but essentially available light would be best. If its a gym, is there a car park or outdoor courts? Maybe with somewhere you can get some height, like a balcony or window? Maybe a stand? Could you arrange the people in the stand for something different?

As you know the layout, you have to decide where you want them, but keep the lighting simple. Up the ISO for a sharp/deep enough shot and use a tripod.

shiny 13 6 United Kingdom
15 Sep 2012 8:44PM
Thanks very much for the advice, it is a school gym we use, there are lots of railings and playground kit outside as well as building work going on so it wouldn't look too good in the programme. I have thought about taking it outside in the past but it is going to be mid october and the last few times have had terrible weather on the day.

I do like the idea of getting the height, I'm sure I could find some step ladders to take or something in the school to get up high.

I also like the idea of bouncing the light. In the past I have set the lights up with one next to me and the others in a half circle (2 either side) all on the same power but pointing directly at them, mayby this time I could try a similar set up but pointed at the ceiling (it is quite high) and have a flash on the camera straight at them for the contrast.

We have a rehearsal tomorrow in the school so I might have a little test run for the lighting in this format, there's always a few people standing round I could rope in to stand at the outside edges and see how the light is falling.

Thanks a lot, I'll let you know how I get on tomorrow.


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