How to improve group photo with >8 people

gossamer

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Hi, I was invited to be the photographer for an event involving some dignitaries here in NJ. It took place in a high school auditorium, similar to a movie theater, and with poor lighting. I have a D500 with an SB-700 and a 24-70mm 2.8E ED VR.

I'm interested in ideas on how to improve group photos such as the one below where the subjects were standing up against the stage. I was standing about ten feet back, a few rows into the auditorium. The first critique is obviously - I cut off the guy's foot on the left, and his ear is being lit slightly by the overhead projector.

I much prefer the upper-torso/bust shot to the full-length shot, but it's very difficult with the 24-70mm. Would the 14-24mm have been any better? Being back so far, I lose the personal details of each subject, unless I crop out the top and bottom of the picture, which then creates a horrible perspective.

You can also tell I'm shooting down on the group because of the incline of the auditorium itself. There really wasn't a better space available, and trying to corral a dozen people is difficult (for me?).

This was taken at f/2.8 1/160th at ISO 320 using flash at 28mm. Photoshop thought it needed +1.23 increase to be properly exposed. I'm always concerned about going any less than 1/160th, for fear of introducing motion blur, even with flash.

What do you call the current positioning of the subjects? I believe someone referred to it as racked, where one set is facing one way and the other set is facing the other way?

Please let me know if there's any other information I can provide. Would the original NEF or PSD or a larger JPG help?

DSC1603a-20.jpg
 

Braineack

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this looks easily "fixable" in ACR -- imho it's just a little underexposed still; possibly just needs shadow recovery.

otherwise, next time be mindful of the projector beam and feet on the edge of the frame.

very quick edit with polarr online, I'd be somewhere here with it.

DSC1603a-20 (1).jpg
 

tirediron

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Shots like this can be a real challenge; you've done a decent job of it, but it could be improved a little IMO. I would have had them stand on the stage which would have allowed me to get farther back and shoot with longer glass. I would also have arranged them a little more precisely with the tallest on the ends, tapering in to the shortest in the center or vice-versa. Using the two policemen as "bookends" would have framed the composition nicely.
 

Dave442

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Even with an older camera than the D500 I will bump the ISO up to 400 or 800 for an indoor shot with flash. I'll use some of that to stop down from wide open and to stay below the maximum flash output.

I have found a tripod often (really) helps, it lets you walk up to the group to help position them if you don't have an assistant along and gives you time to see all those details that become noticeable later on when you open the file on the big monitor.
 

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Hi, I was invited to be the photographer for an event involving some dignitaries here in NJ. It took place in a high school auditorium, similar to a movie theater, and with poor lighting. I have a D500 with an SB-700 and a 24-70mm 2.8E ED VR.

I'm interested in ideas on how to improve group photos such as the one below where the subjects were standing up against the stage. I was standing about ten feet back, a few rows into the auditorium. The first critique is obviously - I cut off the guy's foot on the left, and his ear is being lit slightly by the overhead projector.

I much prefer the upper-torso/bust shot to the full-length shot, but it's very difficult with the 24-70mm. Would the 14-24mm have been any better? Being back so far, I lose the personal details of each subject, unless I crop out the top and bottom of the picture, which then creates a horrible perspective.

You can also tell I'm shooting down on the group because of the incline of the auditorium itself. There really wasn't a better space available, and trying to corral a dozen people is difficult (for me?).

This was taken at f/2.8 1/160th at ISO 320 using flash at 28mm. Photoshop thought it needed +1.23 increase to be properly exposed. I'm always concerned about going any less than 1/160th, for fear of introducing motion blur, even with flash.

What do you call the current positioning of the subjects? I believe someone referred to it as racked, where one set is facing one way and the other set is facing the other way?
I call it "one line". To make a more rectangular composition, you could have placed the taller individuals in a back row and the shorter ones in a front row. That would have compressed the lineup to a shorter line.

When you use flash, the shutter speed has very little effect, and probably none at all. Put your ISO setting to "auto". Use a smaller aperture to get the depth of field deep enough to include two rows of people. Yes, it's still underexposed. The individuals are easily recognizable, so you're at the correct focal length and distance. I think you were more than ten feet back, and if that's really all the farther you were, then move back farther.
 

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For one thing, it's not straight; you were set up at enough of an angle to throw the whole picture off with feet cut off to the left and some barely in the frame. This is basic - you need to learn to be aware of that when framing and setting up.

Did you need what's projected on the screen in the picture? be aware of signage/lettering. It's necessary to notice this before people get in the picture. I don't know what that red sign is behind them, is it part of the event? do we need to see it? Set them up so it can be seen, or have them stand so it's blocked, or maybe ask if the event's done if you can remove it (they probably will be taking it down shortly anyway when they clean up/put things away).

Look at the outlet to the left, same thing, keep it out of the frame or rearrange them or something. And the sign on the podium, we should be able to see it and not have someone's head in front of it. It looks like moving them to the right so they were in front of those steps might have been better; then make sure you're perpendicular to the stage. Or if it's absolutely necessary to shoot at an angle, allow more space in the bottom of the frame.

This to me shows a need to be more aware of your vantage point. And framing. Your post seems to indicate some lack of basics. Shutter speed is faster or slower, so if you meant you don't like to shoot at a slower speed than 1/160 you probably need more practice.

I'd suggest a lot more practice and learning before you try to do shoots for other people. It seems like you've missed basics along the way and it would benefit your photography to work on developing those skills.
 
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gossamer

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I call it "one line". To make a more rectangular composition, you could have placed the taller individuals in a back row and the shorter ones in a front row. That would have compressed the lineup to a shorter line.
I need to practice that. I've tried it in the past, and it never turns out well because people seem to just peer over the person's shoulders in front of them, obscuring at least part of their head. People are also just so impatient, lol.

When you use flash, the shutter speed has very little effect, and probably none at all. Put your ISO setting to "auto". Use a smaller aperture to get the depth of field deep enough to include two rows of people. Yes, it's still underexposed. The individuals are easily recognizable, so you're at the correct focal length and distance. I think you were more than ten feet back, and if that's really all the farther you were, then move back farther.
This is a problem I've always had. It's not that I don't believe you about shutter speed, but there's a definite difference between my shots at 1/160th and, say, 1/100th with flash.

Another problem I have with flash is how to tell prior to taking the shot what the proper exposure should be since the camera's exposure meter can't be used. If shutter speed doesn't matter, how do you get a proper exposure?
 

Braineack

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This is a problem I've always had. It's not that I don't believe you about shutter speed, but there's a definite difference between my shots at 1/160th and, say, 1/100th with flash.

depends if you're in TTL or not: If you're in TTL, then the camera is going to alter the power of the flash to match to difference in exposure so the image may similar if the flash is contributing to the overall exposure

If the flash power is the same, SS shouldn't matter, but what it will effect is the ambient exposure.

Something you might want to try for the next attempt is to first setup the non-flash exposure. First choosing the aperture value needed for the shot first, then following with a slightly elevated iso and slower SS to 1. get more ambient and 2. keep the power power lower. Once you are happy with your exposure settings, then turn on the flash and dial the power in with the flash compensation.

look what happens when the flash cant light up the neighborhood behind and only my office:

DSC_7681.jpg DSC_7682.jpg DSC_7684.jpg

1/100sec f/11 iso500 | flash power 1/8
1/250sec f/11 iso500 | flash power 1/8
1/500sec f/11 iso500 | flash power 1/2
 
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gossamer

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For one thing, it's not straight; you were set up at enough of an angle to throw the whole picture off with feet cut off to the left and some barely in the frame. This is basic - you need to learn to be aware of that when framing and setting up.

Did you need what's projected on the screen in the picture? be aware of signage/lettering. It's necessary to notice this before people get in the picture. I don't know what that red sign is behind them, is it part of the event? do we need to see it? Set them up so it can be seen, or have them stand so it's blocked, or maybe ask if the event's done if you can remove it (they probably will be taking it down shortly anyway when they clean up/put things away).

Look at the outlet to the left, same thing, keep it out of the frame or rearrange them or something. And the sign on the podium, we should be able to see it and not have someone's head in front of it. It looks like moving them to the right so they were in front of those steps might have been better; then make sure you're perpendicular to the stage. Or if it's absolutely necessary to shoot at an angle, allow more space in the bottom of the frame.

This to me shows a need to be more aware of your vantage point. And framing. Your post seems to indicate some lack of basics. Shutter speed is faster or slower, so if you meant you don't like to shoot at a slower speed than 1/160 you probably need more practice.

I'd suggest a lot more practice and learning before you try to do shoots for other people. It seems like you've missed basics along the way and it would benefit your photography to work on developing those skills.
I agree with everything you've written. I'm not a complete amateur, but I definitely need more experience. I realized when I took the shot that it wasn't going to be as good as I would have liked.

I tried to make the current setup work. Having everyone on the stage, and perhaps even setting them up in two rows, would have been much preferred, but it would require changing to my 70-200mm, setting up the tripod, making sure the stage lighting wasn't shining in people's eyes, and of course corralling everyone into position, all while the presentation was going to begin shortly.

I'm not making excuses, but perhaps I didn't have the confidence to think that I could do all of that under pressure of time, or that the resulting picture would have been all that much better (now I know it would have).

I usually ask my contact to think of the top pictures they want, and make sure we do those first, but they just never seem to do that. This is the kind of thing that then happens. Maybe I also have a problem gauging just how much my contact wants to invest in having good pictures. Here's another example. These ladies were organized much better, and the shot is better overall, but it's just nothing special. Many times when I request a better organization, like asking them to all go up on the stage, I get push-back, like "why can't you just make this current position work?"

With these types of group shots, is it always necessary to get the full body length? Or can I do something like 2/3rds or just from the waist up, with enough space above their heads?

DSC1608-20.jpg
 

tirediron

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...Many times when I request a better organization, like asking them to all go up on the stage, I get push-back, like "why can't you just make this current position work?"
I suspect that a lot of this is your lack of practice at taking charge. It's critical to ensure that the people know you are the professional and that you're there to do a job. This is something that comes with time and practice. A good response to a question like. "Why can't this position work?" might be, "Well.... it can work, but I always want to make everyone in my images look their best and because of the angle/lighting/<insert technical {made up if need be} mumbo-jumbo, it's not ideal." People are always much more cooperative when (1) they have the perception that their appearance is at risk; and (2) they think you know what you're talking about.

...With these types of group shots, is it always necessary to get the full body length? Or can I do something like 2/3rds or just from the waist up, with enough space above their heads?
I find legs in most photos a waste of pixels, HOWEVER, when you get into groups like this a waist-up framing would probably look oddly disproportionate.

Watch the details in shots like this. Get rid of the extension cords, ideally before you shoot, but failing that, remove in post.
 

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With these types of group shots, is it always necessary to get the full body length? Or can I do something like 2/3rds or just from the waist up, with enough space above their heads?
Sometimes the proportions dictate the composition. In this shot, you've got very good proportions, but if you crop them at the waist, you'll get a "pano". (try it)

If I was in the pano shot, and if I thought myself weighing a few extra pounds, I would not like your pano shot.

Or a wide-angle lens either, for that matter.
 

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If shutter speed doesn't matter, how do you get a proper exposure?
Shutter speed is for ambient light, and either use your camera's TTL function, or purchase a flash meter. With a flash meter, you walk over to the subject, hold the meter toward the flash, fire the flash, and read the aperture. If you don't like the aperture that the meter is telling you, adjust the flash until you get the aperture you want. Then get out of the shot, and take the shot. It should be just right.
 
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gossamer

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This is a problem I've always had. It's not that I don't believe you about shutter speed, but there's a definite difference between my shots at 1/160th and, say, 1/100th with flash.

depends if you're in TTL or not: If you're in TTL, then the camera is going to alter the power of the flash to match to difference in exposure so the image may similar if the flash is contributing to the overall exposure
Yes, this was with TTL-BL. I'd be willing to use flash in manual mode in a fixed environment, such as perhaps a studio, but when walking around an event, with virtually every shot having a different amount of ambient light, I'm not sure I'd be able to manage manual flash.

If the flash power is the same, SS shouldn't matter, but what it will effect is the ambient exposure.

Something you might want to try for the next attempt is to first setup the non-flash exposure. First choosing the aperture value needed for the shot first, then following with a slightly elevated iso and slower SS to 1. get more ambient and 2. keep the power power lower. Once you are happy with your exposure settings, then turn on the flash and dial the power in with the flash compensation.
I will try that, but with this last event in a school auditorium, the shots I took on a tripod without flash were like 1/40th.

look what happens when the flash cant light up the neighborhood behind and only my office:
I also need to remember/practice the different sync modes, or is it okay to just leave it in HSS?
 
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If shutter speed doesn't matter, how do you get a proper exposure?
Shutter speed is for ambient light, and either use your camera's TTL function, or purchase a flash meter. With a flash meter, you walk over to the subject, hold the meter toward the flash, fire the flash, and read the aperture. If you don't like the aperture that the meter is telling you, adjust the flash until you get the aperture you want. Then get out of the shot, and take the shot. It should be just right.
I have a Sekonic Flashmate and use it with my Flashpoint XPLOR 600. I'm sure it would be easier if I had more practice, but when doing these events that require walking around with every shot a different light exposure, it makes it very difficult.
 

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?? said:
the different sync modes, or is it okay to just leave it in HSS?

Doesn't HSS or FP Synch dramatically cut down the flash unit's effective power?
 

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