News and Views from Dave Wilson

Archive for November 3rd, 2009

Big, Scary Group Portrait

by on Nov.03, 2009, under Photography

The wonderfully talented Central Presbyterian Church Choir sang John Rutter’s Requiem last Sunday with instrumental help from Wild Basin Winds. It was a super performance (not that I’m biased by the fact that I sing in the choir). We were extremely well rehearsed (by our great director Cindy Couch) and I have been singing this piece for the best part of 20 years so I wasn’t too worried about the singing part. Getting this photo, however, was another matter entirely.

Cindy wanted a photo of everyone in “uniform” for the front of the CD that was recorded and I volunteered. I’d read both of Joe McNally’s books so I was sure I could handle it but that didn’t stop me losing sleep for a few nights before trying to figure out how to light it.

The church is pretty dim. I’ve taken many pictures there but always from a tripod with no-one around and shutter speeds in the 1 to 10 second range. This time, I had people to worry about. The first tricky choice was where to take the shot from. If I was at ground level, the pews would get in the way so I opted for the back balcony which put me about 75 feet from the group.

Next question was lighting. I got into the church an hour or so before the final rehearsal and cranked the choir spotlights up to their maximum. I then positioned 2 SB-600 flashes on the balconies on either side of and around 20ft in front of the choir. I had both of these gelled with orange filters (otherwise known as “CTO”) so that the flash light colour would balance with the tungsten lighting in the building. Both flashes were set to be triggered remotely using Nikon’s wonderful optilcal CLS system – the popup on my camera body sends signals to the flashes to tell them when to fire and how much power to throw out.

Retiring to the balcony, I set the camera in manual, told the flash on my right to fire at full power and the one on the left to fire at half power then fiddled with the exposure to get things looking right (with a few stalwart volunteers standing on the risers for test shots). I wanted to keep the shutter speed as high as possible while maintaining good focus throughout the whole group. The Photocalc app on my iPhone told me that I had to stick somewhere above f4 to get the right depth of field so this meant a shutter speed of around 1/40 which was fine on the tripod.

Once the choir was ready, thanks to the earlier test shots, I took 4 or 5 exposures and got this one which I’m happy with (no-one has their eyes closed, people look generally happy to be there, and nothing untoward is happening in the background).

Overall, a scary experience but one which was definitely a very valuable learning exercise for me.

Next week, however, things get worse since I’m shooting my second wedding. Prior to that, however, Nikki and I will be in New York for 3 days. I’ll be filling memory cards while she is at a writers’ conference.

Look out for wedding news next week…

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