Need Help with large group in Gymnasium

slpollettslpollett Registered Users Posts: 1,164 Major grins
edited September 10, 2013 in Technique
**Picture Added**

Band Mom with a camera back seeking help....AGAIN....!

I've been asked to take a picture of a high school band in the school's gymnasium. The band has 100 or so members. I've never been in this gym and I am taking the picture this Friday (8/16/13). I have recently acquired 2 Alien Bee 800's and 1 AB400, a 47" Octobox, a 64" silver umbrella, and a honeycomb grid for one of the lights. I'm still learning how to use them properly. I have an Olympus E-5, a 12-60 mm and a 35-100 lens.

I'm envisioning something like this:

(But I hope I can get the back rows lit a little better...)

I have searched for some how-to's for accomplishing this task and thought I had 'some' idea of what I need to do until I mentioned this to a photographer friend of mine who said "oh, no, you don't want to do that...." and started talking way over my head about what I really should do. I am asking my dGrin friends for help because I have found that the advise I receive here is usually spot on and I am truly grateful for that.

I was thinking that I need to set the 800's as high as my 13-ft stands will let them go, set them diagonally across the band students, and aim each light toward the middle of that opposite quadrant. Then, set the 400 in the middle close to where I will be with the camera so it can be used as fill. I plan to be on a ladder approx level to the middle of the band.

Does this sound about right? Do I use my umbrella/octobox/grid or should I just use the silver shield reflectors that came with the lights?

Any tips, suggestions, corrections or advise you can give me is much appreciated. If I keep hanging around this band and trying to do some of the things they ask of me, they may make a photographer out of me yet!

Thanks in advance,
Sherry Pollett


  • ziggy53ziggy53 Super Moderators Posts: 23,410 moderator
    edited August 13, 2013
    Note that in the picture you supplied, that you indicate you intend to duplicate, is shot from an above angle and from higher even than the back row. I suspect that it was shot across the gym and on another set of bleachers, and the camera was up pretty high. Any lighting should be higher still.

    Shooting from a high angle allows the necessary DOF to be less (the closer you get the plane of faces to equal the image plane of the camera), and it allows you to light more evenly if the lights are also on an equal-ish plane compared to the subjects.

    Cross lighting can be effective, but shadow placement can be problematic. Shadows can fall on the rows behind and could be both distracting as well as potentially obstructing.

    I recommend the "wall of light" approach and setting the reflecting surface as fairly high as possible/practical. Basically turn the monolights around and away from the subjects and behind and above your position, which would be somewhere across the gym and above the highest row of subjects (to match your supplied image). A white reflective surface is used to create the "wall", unless you are lucky enough to get a gym with white walls and ceiling. The white reflective surface can be large bed sheets or stretched paper table cover or white tarps or anything similar. The concept is that of a massive white reflector wall. The monolights should be pointed at the wall and spread enough for even illumination. As long as the reflector wall is above your position, it will cast shadows behind the subjects and if the wall is very large the shadows will still be soft. (The reflector wall becomes a giant diffuser.)

    Make sure that the gym lights are off as you don't need the conflicting white balance. (Most gym light is extremely poor color quality.) Watch for any hanging obstructions, both for direct interference/intrusion and for shadows which could affect the image.

    Light stands could be difficult on bleachers, so you may have to work out a sort of clamp to hold the lights, with or without the stands. You might also be able to use volunteers to steady the lights on stands.

    I recommend that any subjects with glasses either remove the glasses or, at least, lower them a bit to reduce reflections.
    Moderator of the Cameras and Accessories forums
  • slpollettslpollett Registered Users Posts: 1,164 Major grins
    edited August 13, 2013
    Thanks for the info, Ziggy. I will have one helper, but I don't know if I will have any other help available. The example I posted was to give an idea of the size of the band and the approximate layout/pose of the group. My picture won't be exactly like that, but I figured the lighting I would need would be pretty close to what was used in that picture.

    Here are a couple of other examples:

    I didn't think about turning off the gym lights, so thank you for that tidbit, too. If I can't get helpers and large white sheets to bounce the light from and if the walls/ceiling aren't white, should I just use my lights to shoot straight at a section without crossing the lights in a diagonal? I mean, set one light to my left and shoot straight at the middle of the left side...set another light up on my right to shoot straight at the middle of the right side of the band and use the other light to shoot up the middle? (Sort of create a 'wall' of light'?????) I still need the light higher than me, right? And I need to be on a ladder myself to get up higher for the dof. That may prove to be the biggest challenge of all.

    I guess I still have more to think about.

    Thanks again for your help.

  • ziggy53ziggy53 Super Moderators Posts: 23,410 moderator
    edited August 13, 2013
    For lighting a group of this size:
    1. You should always make sure that the light is coming from higher than the camera lens and enough height to show some natural shadows in the image. Light coming from the same height as the camera lens or from lower than the camera lens is very unnatural looking.
    2. If you can't get an entire "wall of light", then keep the light as large as possible (using any modifier that you have that is large) and close to the lens' vertical axis to keep the shadows falling behind the subjects. This means putting the lights and modifiers just in front of the camera/lens if necessary, but on either side of the lens. Think of your lights in terms of a large cluster, in this case.
    3. Using umbrellas (or similar stemmed modifier), bring the light further into the umbrella to spread the light and give you some feathering ability.
    4. Be sure to setup early enough so that you can check the lighting for evenness. If you don't have a flash meter, use your camera (assuming remote flash control) and a gray card (or anything reflective and matte or dull finish, including your palm in a pinch), and just keep the same flat angle towards the lights as you move around and take exposures of the card/whatever. Ideally, all exposures should be very close to each other in the histogram.
    5. Feel free to try crossing the lights if you sense that gives you more even coverage.
    6. Aiming at the top (most distant) row is probably best when you can't get the light too high.
    7. When you get the lighting evened out, take some test exposures with a few scattered subjects. Check the results to look for potential problems with reflections and other unforeseen problems.

    The following diagram is for a similar concept of lighting (overhead diagram view):
    Moderator of the Cameras and Accessories forums
  • slpollettslpollett Registered Users Posts: 1,164 Major grins
    edited August 13, 2013
    Thank you very much, Ziggy for the great advise given in a way I understand it. I appreciate your time and thoughtfulness. I will do my best to execute it well.

  • slpollettslpollett Registered Users Posts: 1,164 Major grins
    edited August 16, 2013's the result of my efforts. I see a number of things I could have done better, but I think it was OK for my very first time doing this. I think I had the lights a little too close. I probably could have moved them back a little bit more. I had them as high as I could get them but wish I could have taken them a little higher. I would have liked to have been a little higher, but was limited by the height of the lights. I also didn't quite get the dof I wanted.

    That's what I noticed off the bat, so what else could I do better next time (because they have already asked me to do next year's pictures, too)?

  • DonFischerDonFischer Registered Users Posts: 128 Major grins
    edited August 17, 2013
    Well you might see some things you could have done better but it looks pretty good to me. Nice job.
  • pathfinderpathfinder Super Moderators Posts: 14,679 moderator
    edited August 18, 2013
    I think you did a fine job as well. The lighting seems quite even across the image. and from front row to the far back.

    This is a large area to cover, and I think you did quite well.
    Pathfinder -

    Moderator of the Technique Forum and Finishing School on Dgrin
  • slpollettslpollett Registered Users Posts: 1,164 Major grins
    edited August 20, 2013
    Thank you Don and Pathfinder. (I did straighten the image before I delivered it, btw. :D)

    This band is from a small high school in a neighboring small town. They had been using someone from a national 'chain' outfit to take this picture for them every year. Parents complained about the quality and the Band Director told me the price was so high this year that it wasn't even worth it for them to do a picture at all if done by the old photog. The band uses this picture for a calendar. They sell ads for the calendar as a fund raiser and then give the calendars away to community members. They needed something less expensive.....(and as your eyes roll at that) so here I come.

    For the past 4 years, I have taken pictures of another local high school band because my daughter was in that band. I did that purely for fun, but I did make some sales to parents. I also put together a photo book as a yearbook sort of deal that I sold each year. The kids loved those. My daughter's high school band director asked me what I would charge to help out this other band. I gave them a great deal with the condition that they let me do some small group or individual shots for the kids that I could offer for sale to the parents. That little band gave me more sales in one day than my daughter's band parents gave me in the last two years!! Plus...they have already asked me back next year!

    I think after all this time I may have found my niche in the photography world!! I know I still have a LOT to learn (especially about lighting set-ups), but I am a pretty happy girl right now. A busy girl because I have a lot of orders to fill, but a happy girl. (Most of the orders will be self-fulfilled...only a few ordered through my smugmug account.) wings.gif

    I really do so much appreciate Ziggy's very helpful advise for lighting this gym.

  • SamSam Registered Users Posts: 7,419 Major grins
    edited August 24, 2013
    Here are my thoughts.

    First: I think you have surprisingly even lighting considering you only had 2 AB800 and 1 AB400.

    In fact it looks to me to be over exposed. Whites, faces and reds seem to have lost detail. (Hard to see with the small image.) I don't see any reason this couldn't be improved with some PP.

    Now as to thoughts: DOF, a couple of thoughts, rent a tilt shift lens, decrease your aperture, take two or three shots focusing on the front, middle and rear, then focus stack.

    As to exposure: If you have or can borrow a light meter you can get the exposure spot on and easily check the entire scene for exposure from top to bottom, left to right.

    I can see how your clients are happy with what you got them. clap.gif

  • chrisjohnsonchrisjohnson Registered Users Posts: 771 Major grins
    edited August 26, 2013
    Were I one of the kids at the back I would be feeling even smaller than usual.

    I like the arrow idea.
  • QarikQarik Registered Users Posts: 4,959 Major grins
    edited August 27, 2013
    the light and composition look pretty good! My only issue is that the kids should be closer together..the kids in teh back row you can hardly see. You could have eliminated maybe 4 rows by packing them in tighter.
    D700, D600
    14-24 24-70 70-200mm (vr2)
    85 and 50 1.4
    45 PC and sb910 x2
  • slpollettslpollett Registered Users Posts: 1,164 Major grins
    edited August 28, 2013
    Thank you Sam, Chris, and Daniel!!

    Yes, I thought I had the lights a little too hot & overexposed the front few rows of students. I definitely see room for improvement there. I was just so worried about getting those upper rows lit nicely that I didn't want to dial down the lights. I think I can move them back further and that will help. I had them set in the center of the gym floor and I think I can go back at least 6-8 feet and still get everything without having too much on the front.

    I also think I need to get myself higher. That means figuring out a way to get my center light higher, too. headscratch.gif I have a year to work on THAT at least!!

    Sam, I appreciate your suggestions for improving. I didn't think of focus stack!! I will most definitely give that a try. Also need to research the tilt-shift lens and perhaps rent one sometime during the year to experiment with it before trying it on the big group. (I see there is a tilt-shift challenge going on now, but I just don't have time to try that right now.)

    The band directors positioned the students the way they wanted them to be. I had nothing to do with that part. I also wish the kids in the back were more visible.

    Thanks again to each of you for taking time to comment and offer tips for the future. I really, really appreciate it!!!

    Sherry P.
  • QarikQarik Registered Users Posts: 4,959 Major grins
    edited August 28, 2013
    "The band directors positioned the students the way they wanted them to be. I had nothing to do with that part. I also wish the kids in the back were more visible."

    I would have taken it as a suggestion..if it doesn't work photographically then you need to make "strong" suggestion otherwise.
    D700, D600
    14-24 24-70 70-200mm (vr2)
    85 and 50 1.4
    45 PC and sb910 x2
  • slpollettslpollett Registered Users Posts: 1,164 Major grins
    edited August 28, 2013
    Yeah, you're right about that. I need to learn to speak up in a situation like that. It's easier for me to pose folks or make suggestions when they expect that of me, but these folks knew what they wanted and they were very meticulous about getting the students placed exactly a certain way. It just didn't occur to me to change what they did. I'm so NOT creative or artistic, I was thrilled that they knew what they wanted. I was thinking about how good their placement looked with the colors and the arrow pattern of the red dresses. It blinded me (at the time) to how small the upper rows looked. Yep, I should know better.

    Sherry P.
  • wilkeslgwilkeslg Registered Users Posts: 13 Big grins
    edited September 10, 2013
    The change I would make to the composition is to have the band members fill in around the girls in red and move everybody a little closer, so you can be seen better.
    Leslie Wilkes
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