Photographing people in groups presents some interesting challenges, not all of them photographic.
The photographer can be faced with a variety of different groups – large groups, small groups, children, sports teams, compliant, unruly, and so-on. The type of group you’re working with influences your approach, but in all cases you’re dealing with people that you have to organise and exercise control over. This is the non-photographic challenge. Some people in a group are happy to be photographed whilst other may be reluctant. Whatever the group, they have to look like a group, rather than disassociated individuals sharing the same frame. This is where being a photographer becomes a “people job”. It’s about having an idea in your head about the best way to photograph the group and to organise your subjects into that group by communicating with them and directing them. And it doesn’t help if you don’t know all their names, which is often the case. If I’m addressing individuals in a group I usually refer to them as “young man” or “young lady”, regardless of their age. I usually try to pick people out by what they’re wearing, rather than personal attributes, although this can be a problem if you’re dealing with people dressed uniformly. You have to be assertive without being bullying. You have to be charming yet determined. And you have to do all of this within a time frame. If you take too long people will lose concentration and boredom will set in, making them harder to communicate with. They’ll also not look their best when you get to start shooting. Which brings be to the photographic challenges.
I frequently carry around a set of slimPAR38 LED spotlights. I use these as a contingency for events where the lighting falls short of what is necessary for good coverage.
One example is a Year 6 Prom I covered where lighting was not provided for a surfboard simulator. Without the PAR cans the only other lighting option would have been the venue’s main fluorescent lighting, which would have seriously compromised the atmosphere (and accompanying disco!)
Another example was a music event where the main lighting bar was obstructed by decorations, meaning that the performers faces were in relative darkness. I was able to use the PAR cans as uplighters at the side of the stage, which dramatically improved the lighting.
The lights are typically set to slowly fade through the colour spectrum but can also be configured to provide static lighting.
These lights have made otherwise un-photographable events possible, with very little overhead. They are easy to set up and adaptable for any event, either to provide direct lighting or simply to add atmosphere.
When I’m photographing events I always try and keep an eye out for peripheral details. Whilst the main event principally focuses on the people and places, I make a point of keeping an eye out for small details. This might be a wedding ring or a bridesmaid’s shoes, the features of a building, a buffet or party decorations. Whatever the event, it’s small things seen in passing that form an important part of the narrative.
I frequently work with Hertford Dramatic & Operatic Society, covering both production photos and promotional work.
Later this year The Society will be staging a production of When We Are Married by J.B.Priestley, for which I was asked to produce a period photograph of the main characters. This was to be a family photo similar in style to those used by other production companies to promote the play – a shot of the six main characters posing for the camera.
We did the shoot at The Society’s headquarters where we found a suitable backdrop to pose the actors in costume. We shot a number of poses but chose the final shot after experimenting with various expressions and positionings.
As this was a period photo we chose not to have the subjects smiling. This was the style of the day because exposures were long and holding a smile for that period of time was not feasible – which is why everyone in the 19 century looks unhappy!
As a final touch I then added a sepia effect to the image along with a vignette.
The photo appears on promotional materials such as posters, social media and in the printed programme for the production.
It’s not often that one’s work gets preserved in glass.
I took an enquiry earlier in the month from a client who wanted a photo of Hertford’s iconic war memorial n Parliament Square so that it could be used on a floor-to-ceiling window in an office. The image was to be 1.2m wide by 3m tall – an aspect ratio of 6:15.
Being familiar with the location I knew that the best angle was looking east, so an afternoon shot with the sun in the west was best. A few days later the weather presented an ideal opportunity for the shot, with plenty of sunny intervals. It as just a case of waiting for the ideal opportunity – for the odd grey cloud to pass and commercial vehicles unloading to pull away. Eventually I got the perfect shot and after editing for exposure and cropping to the required aspect ratio I submitted my work.
Over the last few weeks I’ve been working on some panoramic shots for Discover Hertford Online, for use as banner images on web pages. This was an interesting project requiring views of the town with an aspect ratio of 3:1.
Composing panoramic views requires you to look at a scene in a different way. I find this easiest to do in the viewfinder as this imposes a frame on any scene – you then just have to imagine the top and bottom quarters missing. You can do this either in the viewfinder or when reviewing a shot afterwards.
Townscapes offer a number of good compositions – especially junctions, where you can have buildings running off in to the distance on both sides of the picture.
Panoramas give the eye plenty of scope to travel around an image, as opposed to more conventional aspect ratios that typically have a single focal point.
The shot above of Sainsbury’s supermarket also features the store in the middle distance with the old Hertford Brewery in the background and a public artwork in the foreground.
This view of Hartham Common gives a good idea of the space and it’s relationship with the river.
The Cantate Alumni Choir held a gala concert at The Gresham Centre in Central London during April, featuring both the choir and former members who have gone on to form their own outfits.
Having worked previously with members of the choir I was delighted to be asked to photograph this event. Normally I would visit the location beforehand to get an idea of the layout, environment and lighting but on this occasion I was not able to do this, so I arrived well ahead of time to fully view the space and identify the best angles and plan the best way to move around without drawing attention to myself. Arriving well in advance of the performance also gave me an opportunity to talk to some of the musicians and the stage manager; and to take some shots of the venue and paraphernalia to illustrate the event.
The concert ran from 5pm until 7pm, so, being April, there was plenty of natural daylight in the building at the start due to the large windows. However, with the onset of evening, this became mixed with the artificial lighting of the venue (and consequent mix of colour temperatures).
There was plenty here to photograph – performers, audience, venue, instruments, sheet music – lots to give an idea of the feel of the event. There was also plenty to impress the ear too, with some stunning performances from both the choir, individual singers and small groups.
I’m increasingly being asked to provide informal coverage of events such as renewals of vows and blessings. One such event I covered recently took place in Harpenden. The couple had originally married a couple of years ago in the Caribbean but wanted a ceremony in the UK for those who hadn’t been able to attend the wedding.
I was asked to provide some formal shots of the couple and friends in the grounds of Luton Hoo, followed by coverage of the ceremony and reception at a nearby church and hall in Harpenden.
Feedback from the client was very positive: “We love the photos. You’ve done such a great job of getting photos of so many of our guests too which we really appreciate.”