Saturday night, my wife and I shot our first freelance assignment, the 50th anniversary reunion of the Magnolia High School Class of 1965. We had fun and made quite a profit, but it was also a stressful job of work and we learned many lessons.
Lesson No. 1: Electrical or duct tape can be vastly important on a shoot like this. It’s good, among other things, for taping down cords so that people don’t trip and hurt themselves and decide to file suit against the photographers. (This didn’t happen, but we did come to that realization.)
Lesson 2, yes, the lighting kit we ordered was a good call, and we learned how to operate the lights to maximum advantage. But it’s hard working with lights and it’s going to take many, many more shoots with them before I feel either super-confident or super-competent.
Lesson 3, getting folks together for a group photo is like herding cats. Fortunately, we didn’t see any eyes closed in the final product. A minor miracle.
The scene was the Magnolia Arts Center. We were permitted to come early to scout out a corner for our little portrait studio and to figure out how we wanted to pose the graduates for the group photo, as well as light them. Nothing was easy. Everything from finding sufficient electrical outlets to figuring out approximately how close I wanted to place the lights to the subjects turned out to be a chore. Much of it was guesswork, but we managed to guess correctly, for the most part.
We realized it would be best to pose everyone on a small flight of risers, 10 people to a row. By placing an umbrella on either side (not too close, not too far away!), I figured I’d be able to get a good amount of light on at least the first two rows. As to the very top row — well, there’d be no way of knowing how to light those folks until show time.
We set up for portraits in the back room – a perfect little corner, really, for our purposes. We built our backdrop stand (for the first time) and I took a long time designing the portrait, using Christa as a model for the lights. I mounted my camera to a sturdy steel tripod and found the correct aperture and ISO after taking numerous sample photos of my wife. Since we were using hot lights rather than slaves, all I really had to concentrate on was getting a nice even light on my subjects’ faces — no shadows.
After getting the camera settings and lens aperture correct, I used electrical tape to mark the tripod placement on the floor. We discovered at some point during the trial-and-error phase that we really didn’t need a three-point lighting system, just a key and a back light, so our second umbrella was set aside. I took a picture of the whole setup so we’d remember where everything went, then headed out for the rest of the day.
That night we returned to do our job. We were nervous and consumed with trying to remember each and every detail, or to prepare ourselves for each and every contingency. Finally it was time to take the main photo. Yes, getting 80 or elderly people together for a picture was exactly like herding cats, but we did all we could do to make it work. You can see an outtake from the group photo session on this page.
Turns out, most folks wanted to purchase a copy of the class photo. In fact, they lined up for it, and we sold a frigging ton of them. Almost no one, however, wanted an individual or couples’ portrait. No matter — we’d more than accomplished our goals.
The group photo, I thought, turned out pretty well, though the top row of faces is forever in shadow. No amount of burning and dodging in Photoshop will recover at least one face. And, the face of the guy to the left of frame was in soft focus in one otherwise usable image. Considering the overall difficulty level of setting up, framing and lighting the shot, I’m nonetheless happy with it.
We’ll see if this experience, and the word of mouth that goes with it, brings us more work.