Group Photo Tip: Create Windows

One of the most difficult things for photographers to photograph is large groups.

Communication is key to getting the best photo where you can see everyone’s face.

[NIKON Z 6, Sigma 24.0-105.0 mm f/4.0, Mode = Manual, ISO 200, 1/200, ƒ/8, (35mm = 24)]

One of the best possible solutions is risers. They are often called CHORAL RISERS.

Now even using these risers doesn’t solve the problems with people’s heads blocking the people behind them in a photo.

No matter how many times I work to get things just right there are always a couple of folks who move and from their perspective they think they are OK.

The two guys on the back row here think they are OK since they can “see” me. What you need is each row to create enough space between people that the space between their heads creates a “Window” space for the people in the row behind them to stand.

[Nikon D5, Sigma 35mm ƒ/1.4, ISO 100, ƒ/9, 1/80 – (2) Alienbees B1600 for fill]

Staggering people works, but telling the people on a row to help create a “Window” and have the 2nd row put their heads into those “Windows” can really speed up lining people up for a group photo.

If you don’t have risers be sure to create more space between people.


Camera Insurance? I wasn’t Covered!!!

I found out that while I was overseas for three trips this year if my gear was lost, stolen or damaged I wasn’t covered. I thought I had done everything right. I even wrote about it on this blog on how I screwed up.

August 1, 2012 I wrote this in my blog: [Camera Insurance]

Lesson Learned

A few years ago, I was reading on a photography forum how people were getting great deals through their State Farm Insurance representative. I was with State Farm for my house and cars at the time, so I called them.

I explained that I do not have a studio and do location work all over the country and occasionally overseas travel.  The quote I got was for about 1/3 what I had been paying. I jumped on that and had the policy for more than two years.

Just change that “State Farm Insurance” to “Allstate Insurance”. The difference in how I got burned this time was that ASMP had listed them as a benefit.

Howard Burkholtz was the representative that I talked with about switching from Tom C. Pickard & Co.

I explained that I travel and do not work out of a brick and mortar business. I travel to my clients all over the world.

How it all went wrong

While in Trinidad teaching in the Storytellers Abroad workshop I got up from my chair and my foot caught the power cord which was plugged into HyperDrive – USB Type-C Hub which also my 4TB Western Digital Hard drive was also plugged into. The hard drive went crashing to the floor.

Not everything on the drive was there a second copy of the files. I sent it off to get recovered. I knew that the insurance was suppose to cover this.

Image result for western digital external hard drive 4tb

Well I read in the policy they sent to me to sign that the limit was for $10,000 for data recovery. When I talked to the claims adjuster they informed me it was only for $5,000.

This is when I discovered that I wasn’t covered as told by the Allstate Representative.

When I just leave my house I was covered only by about 1/2 of what I had the policy before. I also found out that I was not covered at replacement cost, which I specifically requested.

The worst thing is I found out that my camera gear was not covered at all overseas. I had made three trips this year to Peru, Trinidad and Chile. Had anything been damaged or stolen I wasn’t covered.

So my coverage with Tom C. Pickard & Co. was around $800 a year. Allstate was originally quoting about $350. When they saw I did video as well that went up to $500.

Howard Burkholtz discovered the problem and was willing to find another policy that would cover me as I requested. He came back with a price of $1,800.

I canceled their policy and called Tom C. Pickard and company ( Allstate refunded me and the new policy is right back to about $800 a year for all my $45,000 gear.

I learned even the insurance recommended by a professional association like ASMP can be bad for you. My recommendation is to talk to other pros doing similar work as you and find out what they are using.

Helping when someone isn’t ready to seek help

Where there is no guidance, a people falls, but in an abundance of counselors there is safety.

Proverbs 11:14

One of the most difficult things I struggle with when it comes to my clients is wanting to help them, but I am not invited to the table.

Jeff Raymond listens to the story about Ashmir with the Storytellers Nathan Hiser and Lane Yoder during one of their many editing sessions. [NIKON Z 6, Sigma 24.0-105.0 mm f/4.0, ISO 16000, f/4, 1/250, Focal Length = 62]

What I have learned from my 35+ years in the industry is that I have what my friend calls “accumulated scar tissue”. I have seen so many things and been in so many planning meetings that when I listen to your ideas I am bringing all of this to the table.

Just on Facebook the other day a photographer went to an event where they had the podium in front of a window. This makes it nearly impossible to get a good photo/video of the person at the podium. This is a great example that someone could have spoken into the planning that has the expertise of why you are doing the event – for media coverage.

Most of the time people are not going to invite you in and hold a meeting to listen to you. They are not even going to invite you to the room.

They often have a fear that you may only give them suggestions that are benefiting you and not the organization. Even if you have built the reputation for giving them advice that doesn’t benefit you and them, they are still so cautious they are missing out on some counsel.

How to be present when the client isn’t showing interest

Be available – Do everything you can reasonably do without being a stalker to show you are there for them. Just check in with them. Be Supportive – You are not asking for work, you are genuinely offering to help in any way you can.

Be Organic – Imagine allowing things to happen naturally, and things work out, and all you did was smile and watch. To do this you must know what you can do. You let what is going to happen, happen. Accept the outcome, good or bad. Always try and learn from the situation. If you have this attitude then when your client talks about something they are working on you will have the perfect opportunity to offer counsel.

Columbia Theological Seminary Classroom photos [NIKON D3S, 28.0-300.0 mm f/3.5-5.6, Mode = Aperture Priority, ISO 6400, 1/500, ƒ/5.6, (35mm = 300)]

Do your research – Nothing is worse than to have an opportunity drop in your lap and you botch it. Those opportunities come seldom, so do your homework. This is very hard to do if no one is letting you know what they are working on. This is kind of like how the US has to monitor North Korea, they have to ask China, Japan and South Korea to give them intel.

Storytellers Abroad Multimedia Workshop Balkans [Fuji X-E2, XF18-55mmF2.8-4 R LM OIS, Mode = Aperture Priority, ISO 1600, 1/100, ƒ/5, (35mm = 29)]

Model the behavior – Have you ever noticed that you want your client to open up so you can help, but you haven’t opened up for others to help you? This is probably my weakest area myself. Find someone you can talk to and this can help you think better and also develop the patience necessary.

Set Boundaries – Realize your limitations. Don’t become the pest. You don’t want to put pressure on them in any way. They should never feel pressured by you.

Don’t Avoid Them – This is strange that I should mention this, but sometimes we treat our clients like they lost a loved one or have cancer. We don’t know what to say, so we withdraw from them. Amazingly just being there for someone can mean sitting in silence with them. Having answers and ideas all the time isn’t as valuable as just knowing when you don’t have an idea.

Capturing the best “Moments” of Theatre

The photo above is from the photo call for Show Boat performance at East Carolina to open the new theater April 3, 1982. The camera I shot that on was a Nikon FM2. I would have been using Kodak Tri-X film pushed to ISO 1600. The shutter speed would have been about 1/60 @ ƒ/2.8.

Everyone was in place and told to freeze. Notice how all the guys hats are in the same position. Would that happen in a real scene? Why was this posed? Well in the 1980s the film didn’t allow for you to move much or you were blurred.

Before writing this blog I surveyed my professional photographer friends who shoot theater. Not one doesn’t prefer shooting real time action over staged moments.

The first photograph ever shot, the 1826 photo View from the Window at Le Gras, took a whopping 8 hours to expose. When Louis Daguerre introduced the daguerreotype in 1839, he managed to shave this time down to just 15 minutes.

Technology made it almost impossible to get action shots as they really happen in a dress rehearsal or live theater.

I have been doing headshots for actors all of my 35+ years in this profession. Recently I tried to mix some real “Moments” into the photo shoots.

I asked the theater people to give me all the face expressions they can think of in 30 seconds. Even if those photos taken during those 30 seconds didn’t turn out the best, the photos that followed were far superior. The difference is going for a “real moment” and not a “posed one”.

Here is a blog post I did for actor headshots.

Oklahoma Performance
[NIKON D5, 120.0-300.0 mm f/2.8, Mode = Aperture Priority, ISO 18000, 1/500, ƒ/5, (35mm = 155)]

In 2017 I photographed my daughter’s high school production of Oklahoma and was shooting the live performance. Here I froze the peak moment where a dancer was doing a split. This was not possible in 1982.

Until the Nikon D3 was introduced in 2008 the maximum ISO sensitivity setting that you might be able to shoot at was either 1600 or 3200 (depending on the model), and even then, not particularly confidently.

I jumped from shooting ISO 1600 to ISO 12800. This was 3 whole stops of ISO.

Today I have the Nikon D5 & Nikon Z6 and have had to use ISO 51200 or higher to get photos. Before now they were not possible without a flash.

My daughter the banshee is on the back of Caleb Jackson who plays a monster in the play “She Kills Monsters” opening March 1 at CSU’s Riverside Theatre Complex. in Columbus, GA. [NIKON Z 6, Sigma 24.0-105.0 mm f/4.0, ISO 4500, f/4, 1/250, Focal Length = 48]

Nan Melville who shoots for The Juilliard School performances says, “shooting in real time in rehearsal is important – Instead of stopping and having the actors pose. I never do that.” [Nan Melville’s performing arts photos]

Alan Goldstein says, “I’ve photographed many performances and preferred dress rehearsal because I could move around the theatre. However, I have also photographed live performances from the rear of the theatre. Nothing was staged for me and I liked the spontaneity.” [Alan Goldstein’s work]

Jeff Widner said he shot these of the broadway show “Network” during the performance. Go here to see those photos.

Michelle Heimlich says, “I know Ball State University, that I shot for 15+ years ago with the move to digital photography, has gone to all real-time photography instead of dress rehearsals.”

Spring Dance Concert at Columbus State University [NIKON Z 6, Sigma VR Zoom 120-300mm f/2.8G IF-ED, ISO 7200, ƒ/2.8, 1/800, Focal Length = 195]

Now when it comes to dance that takes things to a whole new level. This photo if it was taken in 1982 with my Nikon FM2 would have been 1/2-second-long at ISO 1250 and ƒ/5.6. Also that wouldn’t be in color. Back then ISO for Color was about ISO 320. Your shutter speed would have been about 2 seconds.

Nan Melville says,

“With dance I find it almost impossible to pose pix and can generally tell when I see a photo that has been set up. Sometimes the set-up Photos with elaborate background can be effective when they are done on a grand scale if you know what I mean. Like the posters for ballet and opera.

That is with a setting and lights organized for a particular effect. However, these have to be really good or I think they are so fake.

Just recently a dancer asked me to take pictures during a performance because all the rehearsal pictures were so bad and the real intensity did not show.”

She Kills Monsters [NIKON Z 6, Sigma 24.0-105.0 mm f/4.0, Mode = Aperture Priority, ISO 51200, 1/125, ƒ/4, (35mm = 28)]

Only recently has it been even technically possible to capture the scene above that I did recently at the dress rehearsal for “She Kills Monsters.” ISO 51200 made this possible.

Show Boat at East Carolina University 1982

As you can see the actors don’t really have the emotion in their faces as they would have had during the actual scene. Stopping and posing just makes for poor aesthetic images.

Show Boat at East Carolina University 1982

It makes the actors look horrible. What I like about capturing a rehearsal and performance verses a photo call where we stop the scene for photos is that the emotions of the performance are lost.

Into the Woods Performances [NIKON D5, Sigma VR Zoom 120-300mm f/2.8G IF-ED, Mode = Aperture Priority, ISO 10000, 1/400, ƒ/5.6, (35mm = 380)]

To get high school performers to look real in posed photos has got to be near impossible. This is why I love shots like this of a high school performance.

Shuler Hensley Awards [X-E2, XF55-200mmF3.5-4.8 R LM OIS, Mode = Normal, ISO 6400, 1/160, ƒ/4.4, (35mm = 212)]

“Photography is not like painting,” Henry Cartier-Bresson told the Washington Post in 1957. “There is a creative fraction of a second when you are taking a picture. Your eye must see a composition or an expression that life itself offers you, and you must know with intuition when to click the camera. That is the moment the photographer is creative,” he said. “Oop! The Moment! Once you miss it, it is gone forever.”

“To me, photography is the simultaneous recognition, in a fraction of a second, of the significance of an event as well as of a precise organization of forms which give that event its proper expression.

Henry Cartier-Bresson

When theatre is done at its best, the storytelling becomes real and moves the audience to feel. Their bodies will react to those scenes. Your body wants to run when the scary parts of the story are told and cries during the sad moment. You laugh at the times of humor.

Photography of the theatre should do the same. It should capture those peak moments and bring the audience into the moment. When we stop actors and tell them to hold a pose we kill the moment.

The TV Show Lie to me! is inspired by the work of Paul Ekman, the world’s foremost expert on facial expressions and a professor emeritus of psychology at the University of California San Francisco School of Medicine.

The research is based on that people have micro expressions that happen only at about 1/30 of a second. I know that there are many seasoned photographers who can anticipate these types of moments. When you freeze actors, you will never capture these micro expressions which bring a level to the performance of a scene that is not possible without the actors in full performance mode.

With today’s camera the technology affords us the ability to capture theater and dance live, which was not possible just a few years ago. If you want to fill those seats in theaters with paying customers then the only thing that many will see that will determine if they come or not is the photos that promote the performance. You need the best possible “Moment” to promote it.

Hire a photographer who is known for capturing the “Moment” and has the gear to photograph in low light to get the best possible images to promote your performance.

Nikon Z6 on Beach Vacation

The photo above is of Brown Pelicans. The Brown Pelican is the only pelican that uses the plunge-dive while fishing. The bird flies some 20 or 30 feet above the water. [NIKON Z 6, Sigma VR Zoom 120-300mm f/2.8G IF-ED, Mode = Manual, ISO 800, 1/4000, ƒ/5.6, (35mm = 360)]

I am loving shooting with the Nikon Z6 camera during our families vacation at Ocean Isle Beach, North Carolina.

Leary Family Photo [NIKON Z 6, Sigma VR Zoom 24-105mm f/4G IF-ED, Mode = Aperture Priority, ISO 100, 1/1000, ƒ/5.6, (35mm = 24)]

Combining the Nikon Z6 with the Godox V860IIN flashes I was able to get some good group photos and portraits on the beach.

Stanley & Dorie [NIKON Z 6, Sigma VR Zoom 24-105mm f/4G IF-ED, Mode = Aperture Priority, ISO 100, 1/1000, ƒ/5.6, (35mm = 105)]

I love the ability to see what I am getting before shooting. Less chimping and checking the LCD. Also using the Electronic View Finder I can pretty much see what I am getting. While seeing the histogram is always helpful it is less necessary with the mirrorless as compared to the DSLR.

Manzi Family [NIKON Z 6, Sigma VR Zoom 24-105mm f/4G IF-ED, Mode = Aperture Priority, ISO 100, 1/320, ƒ/6.3, (35mm = 75)]
Early morning walk on the beach at Ocean Isle, North Carolina. [NIKON Z 6, Sigma VR Zoom 24-105mm f/4G IF-ED, Mode = Aperture Priority, ISO 110, 1/250, ƒ/5.6, (35mm = 48)]

I loved taking early morning walks each day carrying the Nikon Z6. For this photo I used the tilting LCD screen to get the camera low to the ground.

Early morning walk on the beach at Ocean Isle, North Carolina. [NIKON Z 6, Sigma VR Zoom 24-105mm f/4G IF-ED, Mode = Aperture Priority, ISO 110, 1/250, ƒ/5.6, (35mm = 48)]

I enjoy the dynamic range that the camera is capturing as well.

Fisherman near the Ocean Isle Peer. [NIKON Z 6, Sigma VR Zoom 24-105mm f/4G IF-ED, Mode = Aperture Priority, ISO 100, 1/2000, ƒ/5.6, (35mm = 105)]

I love being able to capture the family as well in candids.

The annual jigsaw puzzle [NIKON Z 6, Sigma VR Zoom 24-105mm f/4G IF-ED, Mode = Aperture Priority, ISO 2800, 1/250, ƒ/5.6, (35mm = 24)]

I like how the face recognition and eye tracking function works.

Adaline is shopping at Lowe’s in Ocean Isle Beach, North Carolina during our Leary Family Vacation. [NIKON Z 6, Sigma VR Zoom 24-105mm f/4G IF-ED, Mode = Aperture Priority, ISO 3200, 1/250, ƒ/5.6, (35mm = 95)]
Ultra light flying at Ocean Isle Beach, North Carolina during our Leary Family Vacation. [NIKON Z 6, Sigma VR Zoom 24-105mm f/4G IF-ED, Mode = Aperture Priority, ISO 100, 1/800, ƒ/5.6, (35mm = 105)]
Early morning walk on the beach at Ocean Isle, North Carolina. Leary Family Vacation [NIKON Z 6, Sigma VR Zoom 24-105mm f/4G IF-ED, Mode = Aperture Priority, ISO 110, 1/250, ƒ/5.6, (35mm = 48)]

All positives so far in using the camera during our family vacation.