Michael Negrete Photography

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Claremont High School Music Program Portrait Fundraiser

I recently photographed the Claremont High School Marching Band, Jazz Band, Orchestra, and Color Guard groups and individuals as a fundraiser for the music program. Creating great group images is very challenging. It is difficult to organize large groups in general; light them properly, and get a great background at the same time. Large groups require bleachers or risers which are challenging to set up, and once they are up you don't have control of your background or if lighting changes. I do not own risers and feel that even though they provide a great platform to get your group into a clean and organized formation, they have limitations such as set up time, lighting, weather, and background control. I've created a new way to do my large group photographs that address all the challenges and produces other benefits as well.

If you know me, you know I love a great challenge, I'm obsessive about quality, and I never shy away from hard work. Matthew Gilbert needed high-quality group images to submit for competition, individual portraits for the parents, and fundraising for his program. The high school didn't have any bleachers outside on the field for groups, and we anticipated weather issues as well. I create my group and individual portrait program around my clients' needs instead of fitting them into a constrained business process. After some brainstorming, Matthew and I settled on using one of the gymnasiums since they had bleachers to do the groups and individual portraits. We planned well; it rained most of the day on our portrait day.

I've come up with a simple process to control my lighting, student placement, deal with weather issues, and control the look of my background. I photographed the groups on the bleachers inside the gym, using multiple lights to light the faces properly; I hate outdoor shots that have harsh shadows when the photographer uses only available light. The next step is sending the group image out for an extraction; taking the entire background away from the picture so that I can place them on a new background. On the shoot day, the rain cleared when my crew was packing to go home; I quickly ran out to the football field where the Marching Band often performs and captured images ranging from light to dark exposures. I used Adobe Lightroom and merged about six to nine exposures into one HDR image of my background; I also removed some lines and some background distractions like a pile of sand and some fencing. The last step is merely placing the group on the background. It turns out it's not that simple; now my group looks like they are floating on the grass because their feet do not look like they are pressing into the grass, they're floating on it. It could have been good enough, and most wouldn't have noticed; I noticed, and it drove me nuts. I spent a day watching YouTube videos on compositing images and this awesome guy, Unmesh Dinda on the PIXimperfect channel showed how to paint little bits of grass, so the feet looked like they were sinking a bit into the grass. Bam! The resulting image looked real, and I was finally thrilled with the image.

Nice group image of the CHS Marching Band on a horrible background.

Nice group image of the CHS Marching Band on a horrible background.

Group image with background extracted. Notice the horrible silver metal behind their feet; it was changed to black metal in Photoshop.

Group image with background extracted. Notice the horrible silver metal behind their feet; it was changed to black metal in Photoshop.

This is six to nine images of different exposures stacked in Lightroom; some final tweaking was done to remove the soccer net and modify the fencing on the left side.

This is six to nine images of different exposures stacked in Lightroom; some final tweaking was done to remove the soccer net and modify the fencing on the left side.

Voila! The final image with the text added for the prints that go to parents and the band director. Note the distracting metal is black and the feet aren’t floating on the grass. The image was also toned a bit to match the late day sunset. We know it’s not real but it looks awesome.

Voila! The final image with the text added for the prints that go to parents and the band director. Note the distracting metal is black and the feet aren’t floating on the grass. The image was also toned a bit to match the late day sunset. We know it’s not real but it looks awesome.



I still find myself obsessing over the images I create so I can show my clients, friends, and family and wow them. I'm still the kid bringing home my artwork looking for approval and smiles. It makes me happy to create, and the images make my clients happy.

The process allowed us to have control of lighting, student placement, environment, and background. We were able to do the individuals in the gym immediately after the group shots, which expedited photographing over 200 students.

I offer my music directors the option of making their portrait day a fundraiser or not; they can add five dollars to the packages to go back to the program or not and save the parents money. I prefer that it's honest and straightforward; we tell the parents if its a fundraiser which encourages participation. Music directors need portraits for competition, the parents love the individuals, and the program needs money; it's such a simple way to do it all with no fundraising effort on the organizations part.

I loved the look on Matthew's face when he picked up his portraits and fundraising check. I brought home great art, an excellent experience for everyone, and money for the arts. My needs as an artist were satisfied. Enjoy the slideshow below of the other group images and some of my favorite individual and buddy shots. Please comment below; I’d love to hear your thoughts and I welcome questions.