I recently had the privilege of being asked to do a photo-booth type shoot for a combined 18th and 21st birthday party.
Naturally, I had grand ideas about what to do on on the shoot, and being and ex boy-scout I have a tendency to over prepare, so I started planning and getting advice early on on how to handle this particular shoot. It was a little nerve wracking as it would be my fist shoot with my new lights outside of my lounge...... anyway.
The best advice I got was actually from Danie Bester who suggested that creating some depth to the shots by perhaps shooting into the party, rather than against a flat back drop would work much better. I took this to heart and arrived at the venue the day before the party to check the layout out and have a chat to the birthday brother and sister about their ideas and discuss mine with them. We all agreed on the layout and the space I needed and I was on my way home to pack the kit for the next day. I had grand plans for a cool 4 light setup.
Being over cautious though, I essentially packed every bit of photography kit I owned into my car, just in case, and it was a good thing I did.....
Upon arrival at the venue (one and a half hours before the party kicked off) to set up, I was greeted with a scene that was not quite what was discussed the day before... Two beer-pong tables and a gift table were now taking up more than half of the length designated for the photography area. The door to the bar, which was supposed to be closed and covered up, was now permanently open, essentially narrowing the width of the area available by a third. Delightful.
No matter, after a quick chat to the birthday duo, they agreed to move the gift table to the DJ area and it was decided that the option of shooting into the party was a no-go as the beer pong tables had to stay and those would not make for a great back ground. So, with limited space I made the decision to raise the black backdrop (I had white and black, but the rest of the decor of the party suited the black more) and switch to a basic 3 light setup;
As I was unsure what was coming with regards to group size and hair & clothes colour, I put up two lights with shoot through umbrella's up front at about 50% each giving flat, but predictable light and setup a third light at 60% behind and peeking over the backdrop with a soft-box to create the separation. I opted to not max the lights as I knew the shooting would be fast and furious and even though I had spares, stopping to replace one light would kill the flow.
I then created a line on the floor with tape to serve as a marker for the "subjects" then tweaked the power on the lights for consistent F/11, 1/160th shooting at ISO 250 and bob's your uncle, a few test shots and tweaks later, I was ready to go.
Then the nightmare began..... :) Actually, I am being a little harsh, I really had fun and the booth was a big hit with the party goers and the "clients" were exceptionally happy. But from a photography perspective it was a difficult shoot.
From the get-go, the booth was in high demand and a queue formed very quickly. Each shot involved different size groups, mixed hair and clothing colours..... some were no problem while others, caused exposure issues with the black background and there was no time to make light adjustments for each shot. The space was so limited I often had party goers standing in front of the lights. I calculated that I was taking a new shots of new people, every 20 seconds!
After a short while, a new issue arose as soon as one of the taller guests walked "on-set". Due to the low ceiling, the soft box at the back was quite low and now either slightly intruded into the shot, or created a halo effect on the taller subjects. With no option of raising the soft box, I framed as best I could, moved the taller people when possible and prayed that I could edit the worst ones.
I also realised about a third of the way into the shoot that perhaps I should have setup the lights for f/16 and ISO-400 to get a bit more DoF for the larger groups. However in the interests of consistency and keeping the flow and buzz going, I stuck to the original formula and made sure I took at least 2 shots per pose.
Over-all, it was a fun shoot and I learned a huge amount. My over preparing allowed me to adapt to the changing situation and still give decent results. Looking through the shots and critiquing my own work, I can see the problems created by myself, the environment, the setup and to some extent crowd control and for the next time I try this I hope at least to avoid some of the same pitfalls.
And by reading this, I hope at least some of you can take away some of the positives and negatives of my experience and incorporate it into your future endeavors.
Here are a few samples. Happy shooting! :)
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