Today’s typical business group photography happens so quickly that the focus has shifted in many cases to optimization in Photoshop. Since most groups are commissioned late in the meeting or conference planning, we rarely have more than a couple day’s notice. Therefore our fee is what I consider “money found on the street” – welcome, unexpected income that is complete and can be billed just a couple days after we’re hired. It’s worth having your name out to several hotels where business groups typically meet. Being “on the list” is your silent salesman, and it doesn’t hurt to know the planners’ names and thank them if a client chooses you.
Here's a typical small group photographed in a hotel. The original base image chosen for fewest number of revisions required. Then the final released file for print and PR.
I find we’re usually faced with these concerns:
- short notice – sometimes only 2-3 days
- variable size – 35 persons can become anywhere from 24-50
- fluid schedule – expect multiple time changes at the last minute
- fixed location – scouting may be necessary
- lighting concerns – there may not be electricity where you want it, or there are union regs
- clothing variety – casual meetings are just that; expect wide variation, sometimes inappropriate
- ridiculously short photo time – sometimes no more than 5 minutes total
- reasonably friendly people – but with little concentration on the photo
Pre-shoot preparation is a big responsibility:
- scouting the location if you haven’t been there
- asking permission of the planner to make sure what area you can use
- requesting chairs or whatever else you need
- inquire rules about bringing in equipment or hooking up electrical if the venue is a union shop
- advance check out of equipment function before leaving studio
- arrival early enough to complete set and the all important lighting test
- and to trouble shoot inevitable glitches that seem to regularly occur with fast shoots
Posing is key for a graceful arrangement:
- decisions about placing people are made in quick moments
- one seated and two standing rows look best for a typical group of about 25-30
- VIPs or the most attractively dressed subjects in seated row
- tallest standing in back row, shortest in middle row to create the most visible faces
- people of size in back, and not together
- rearrange clothing colors alternating light/dark to balance the image (I could have done a bit better on this one with one more minute time)
- review each person to correct collars or ties askew, pants legs wrinkled etc.
- place feet of front row subjects for uniformity
- in standing rows each head and shoulders is clearly visible and even
Optimization in Photoshop is now where I make my money.
Optimizing any group portrait is commonplace. The public has grown to expect miracles in Photoshop, because everyone has seen how head switches are done on TV, and they think it’s routine. I’ll give it to them, but not for free. The postproduction charge is built into the bid.
- From the library of about 10-12 identical shots, I select the base image where the least amount of adjustments are needed. I examine each and every head and switch those needed for better expressions from other frames. Sometimes I change only the eyes or mouth.
- For people of size, whenever possible I give a little slenderizing in Liquify.
- Significant eye bags and neck wrinkles are softened either with a low opacity blur tool or the patch tool.
- Eye glasses glare is removed.
- Institutional things on walls, like fire boxes, must be eliminated.
- Check how the foreground and background look. Often the ceiling is really obtrusive, ugly. I use a combination of darkening, stretching and cloning out ceiling fixtures with the band-aid or patch tools. It’s obvious how much this correction makes the people stand out. This attentive service is what distinguishes you from the snapshot competition. Vignetting the foreground slightly at bottom and corners is a nice finishing touch.
- With a typical low ceiling venue and no electrical connections for large softboxes, shadows will happen from speed lights. They are natural, but we work to minimize them by placing lights as high as possible and making sure illumination is as even as possible. Classic portrait side lighting for dimension has no place here. As in my example, I remove residual shadows in post, because I’ve charge for that service.
There were 5 head switches, 5 eyes or mouth changes, as well as the ceiling. Here are some of the changes made:
TIP: how I charge for a group session. I add up my total time: prep, portal-to-portal transport, parking and loading fees, client contacts and after-shoot customer service + your postproduction. For us that generally runs 1/2 day, even though this is all for a less than 10 minute time the client will be on set. More elaborate lighting needs will escalate costs. Four eyes and hands are exponentially better than two. We work together automatically, but you may need to hire out and also charge. To estimate post costs, I figure that I will have to alter about 25-30% of heads in some way plus whatever needs to be done to background, foreground and in the way of shadows.