Michael Negrete Photography

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How to Create Amazing Group Images and Thrill the Band Director and Parents!

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I’ve worked with all sorts of sports teams and organizations over the years, but I had never worked with a band or orchestra until Taylor Estep contacted me.  Honestly, I’d always wanted to work with a band or orchestra and was even more excited since Taylor is the director for El Roble Jr Highs’ program and my son Aidan just started El Roble this year.  I took the time to find out what was most important to Taylor before I came up with a game plan for photographing his students.  Taylor explained that the group images are very important to him, since they’re used to promote the program for fundraising and submitting for competitions and even participation in parades.

Creating an amazing group image midday with a large group is very challenging.  The light midday is honestly horrible, the light is directly overhead and can cause the students to squint if you face them to the sun.  The background is another issue, placing the students based on the lighting often gives you a background that is distracting.  My approach was to place the sun behind the group, so it acts as a hair light, which also keeps the students from squinting.  The problem now is the students have really dark shadows on their faces; I solve that by lighting their faces with four beauty dishes on Einstein strobes.  The final result is a nice balance of light on the faces, the uniforms, instruments and even a rim light on the hair, so they separate from the background nicely.  

The background is still a mess with this technique; it has the gym behind it, electrical lines, trees, and extension cords.  To solve this issue, I turn the camera towards the gorgeous mountains in Claremont with a view of Mt. Baldy and take multiple exposures, so I have a nice blue sky, mountains, and even the grass that the students are photographed on.  I send the group images out for an extraction which removes the entire background so I can place them on the hero background.  This technique allows me tons of control of the exposure of the background to get the sky and mountains right, and I still have the students on grass, so it doesn’t look fake.  

One last thing we did was to photograph the group tethered to a laptop so Taylor could make sure that the placement of the letters for El Roble and the composition of the students was perfect!  This all may sound like a lot of work for an image, but actually, it was quite easy.  Being able to photograph with a yucky background and good light on the students made the group shot relatively quick to photograph and only required a little post-production to make it perfect.  All in all, it was a great solution to create an amazing group image with little hassle.  Taylor could schedule the picture day based on his schedule and not based on the light, a win-win for him.

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Two other issues that were important to Taylor were the individual portraits and also raising money to support his program.  Creating amazing portraits of individuals is easy for my staff and I since we do the senior portraits for Claremont High School.  We’re very adept at lighting, styling, and getting great expressions even under time constraints.  I didn’t approach the individual portraits like most photographers when doing portraits on location.  I brought a multiple light setup for two stations along with additional photographers, and stylists.  We were able to take a moment to remove lint from uniforms, ensure that lighting was perfect, and also get great authentic smiles.  I chose to photograph the individuals tethered to laptops, so we were certain we loved the images.

Regarding the fundraising for the program, this was simple.  I believe in honesty and being up front, so I asked Taylor how he felt promoting to the parents that the picture day was a fundraiser and adding a few dollars to the packages which go directly back to the band and orchestra program.  Taylor agreed that being up front and honest was the best way to go, and the parents responded very well to the idea.  We included on the order form and in email communications that the picture day was a fundraiser.

The entire approach to Taylor’s needs for his picture day was a great success.  The final group an individual images came out great, the parents were thrilled, and we took in enough orders to justify the staff required to give Taylor first class treatment.

One last project Taylor and I worked on was a large 8.5x11 postcard for further fundraising using the group images and text on the back requesting financial support for the program.  I enjoy collaborating with groups and supporting them, so I donated my time to design and order the printed piece for him.  I was able to order the postcards from a vendor of mine which gave Taylor inexpensive trade pricing.

The entire experience was excellent for Taylor, myself, the students, and the parents.  I look forward to working with El Roble Band and Orchestra again as well as other organizations with similar needs.