You’d think the group shot is a pretty straight forward endeavor. And it is, with the right amount of pre-production, an attention to detail, and an enthusiastic group.
“Just grab a shot of the class….”
I was recently tasked (okay, self tasked as part of a school fund raiser) to do a group photo of my son’s 7th grade class. Thirty eight 12 and 13 year-olds - piece of cake. But the last thing I wanted to do was line them up and shoot them “straight”. It had to have a certain flair. I work toward an unbalanced compositional randomness in my group portraits. Much easier said than done. I've always admired the group portrait work of Annie Leibovitz and Mark Seliger for Vanity Fair. And for this project I drew particular inspiration from Irving Penn. All 3 have created beautiful, seemingly effortless, compositions in their group portraits. Little do we know how much thought and pre-production go into those images.
However, looking at their work for inspiration, I was hard pressed to find any groups over 20, let alone 38. The size of the group would be a compositional challenge. So my approach was to break up the large group into 5-6 smaller more manageable groups and then get those groups to work together. It worked great as each group tended to mingle together and give me some much needed space within the composition.
Lighting had to be beautiful, the location had to be very open and support the space needed for the kids. I scouted the location ahead of time and found that the school stage was perfect. It was large and the lighting system had just been upgraded. I could use those lights to highlight my lighting scheme and give me the theatrical look I was envisioning.
For wardrobe I was leery to have the kids show up in their “Sunday Best” It would be too formal and wouldn’t have the fun factor I was looking for. My wife came up with the idea of All-Stars, the theme of the fundraiser. The kids were told to show up for the shoot as though they were going to the Academy Awards. That was completely open to interpretation. Whatever that meant to them. Some showed up dressed to the nines, others a little short of that, but every one of them put some thought and effort into it and showed up in what they thought looked cool and fancy.
For propping I brought in a couple of ladders and apple boxes. We also had a floor stage and the upper stage to work with. And just in case, I brought in some of my old fedora and pork pie hats which the kids jumped on right away.
I had about an hour with the kids, but I knew they would never last that long. Realistically I figured I had 30-40 minutes of their attention, maximum! Most of the time was spent selecting and composing the small groups and then arranging those groups to work with each other. We moved kids around a lot to get the best chemistry and composition. We wanted it to stay loose and fun, both compositionally and stylistically.
The actual shooting time was about 10 minutes.
I was thrilled with the initial results, but it still took a great deal of post production to create the final image. One girl was absent on the day we shot so she had to come into the studio and be shot by herself and dropped into the composition. The final image is a composite of 4 different images - 2 main images for the kids, our absentee shot separately and one image to reconstruct a dress. All in all it was wildly successful. The final image turned out great as a result of the pre-production, everyone’s attention to detail (Composition, Lighting, Wardrobe and Styling), and the post production.
And we raised a bunch of money for the Parents Association.
Time Lapse of the shoot with the Warren Walker Middle School 7th Grade All-Stars.