Group shots using composites
Question: How do you get 40 dancers to pose and not blink for a group shot?
Answer: You don’t.
On Saturday evening Dorian had her dance recital. After weeks of practice, her tap group at the Mina Nelson Turning Point of Dance performed and gave a marvelous show. I was asked to take some photos of the dancers and knowing that the night of the performance would be too hectic, we opted for shooting during the dress rehearsal. The goal was to get group shots after each performance and then to composite them into one big poster of the entire dance company. This was inspired by an article in the May 2010 Professional Photographer magazine titled The Big Picture, where photographer Drake Busath provided instructions to composite large groups from smaller images. Why not try it out? BTW, Professional Photographer is one of the few magazines that I actually subscribe to, always has useful articles which you can get on their website for free.
We set up on the stage in a side area where we had a black background and wood floor. I taped off a small box on the floor for people to stand, and set up the camera on a tripod. I used two umbrellas on either side. As each group finished, we corralled them off to the side and took their photos. There wasn’t a lot of precision in the posing, but I tried to make sure everyone stood in the marked area and never changed the zoom on the camera. It was quite a challenge getting everyone positioned as things needed to move along and people were not focused on getting their pictures taken. I also noticed that someone was playing with the overhead lights totally screwing up the ambient light situation. The fact that the lights were colored didn’t help. I paid dearly for this when trying to merge backgrounds of different color and intensity.
I ended up compositing 13 different images for the final. Took me about 6 hours of meticulous blending. Is it perfect? No. But it was fun and the result pretty amazing. I added some text and made it into a 12×36 poster, printed at Costco. Just about everyone ordered one. Lessons for next time: 1) Control the ambient lighting, this was the most difficult part to deal with when blending the layers, 2) Use a seamless if possible, especially if you are going to include everyone’s feet. I’m looking forward to trying this again on another project soon!