Just when I thought the last commercial shoot for The British International School KL was a pretty tough challenge, I was called in on a moment’s notice to develop a new set of group shots again. This time, it was the photographing of numerous groups of students for both the sports and music categories that would be printed really large to be hung on the wall (ranging from smallest A4 to largest A1!).
Within 5 days of being called in for the urgent meeting, I arrived at 7.30 am on the designated day to setup with an assistant. We started off the session at the astro turf to photograph a few groups of Under-9, 11, 13 and 15′s football teams for boys and girls.
The brief was simple. The principal of BSKL didn’t want anything that looked too stiff and the usual hands-on-thigh smiley face staring straight ahead at the camera with a telling posture that screamed “Here, I’m ready for the camera. Take it now!” That didn’t mean posing was forbidden. Deliberate but natural posing that suggested a poised action in motion was the order of the day. She wanted something a little extra ordinary that spelled a little more fluidity as though the students were gearing up for action.
To be on the safe side, I took two sets of pictures for each group shot; one smiling and another non-smiling. Eventually, they went with the former, while I’m only showing more of the latter here, because I think they’re way cooler.
There was very little planning involved in the posing of the students. I just went with the flow and ensured great composition was achieved by “feeling” and “kneading” the shape out of every group shot by identifying body sizes, height, apparel colour and a whole lot of on-the-fly thinking (e.g. each individual’s comfort level of being told what/how to pose, props used, etc). When a new group arrived, I had to take considerable amount of time to put everyone exactly in their rightful position while coaxing them into the right state of mind/mood.
When possible, every student was made to assume a position that suggested readiness and action. Either that, or they will be seen as letting loose and seated back resting after a great workout or game. The shot has to convey the notion of as though they were chilling out in the middle of an after-game conversation when suddenly the camera called out and they turned toward it in just a split second for the shot.
We were trying to adhere to a planned schedule of 15 min per group shot (though I knew that was not enough time to get it done). They were many group shots lined up for the day and unfortunately, the shoot had to end by 2 pm. So we were cramming everyone in like crazy!
After the session at the astro turf, we had a short break before we had to quickly set up at the nearby gym just 30 metres away. It was a welcomed relief to be shooting indoors for a change after a tumultuous morning scrambling with long cables (courtesy of BSKL’s maintenance department).
The shoot for the first day (yes, we had to pull in another day subsequently!) ended in the gym and within two weeks, I returned to resume the shooting of other groups in the gym.
The lighting used was a simple 3 light setup. One heavily feathered key light soft box either to the left or right (sometimes feathered upwards but always running in parallel with the plane of focus or aimed towards the far opposing side), while 2 bare mono blocks to the rear left and right helped separated my subjects from the subdued background. This “subdued” environment by my maximum sync speed and stopped-down f/11 with my feathered key light lent a natural “vignetting” effect that was further enhanced in post. Occasionally, I would throw in 2 additional speed lights; one aimed directly back at the camera for backlit effect and another against the rear white wall for a halo effect. A large man-size silver reflector was also used to control detail and fill.
After the gym shoot ended, we quickly setup just right outside the gym by the pool for the final two shots in the sports category; primary and secondary swim teams. I used a 70-200mm for the reach. A similar lighting setup was employed for this. It was quite a tight and narrow edge to work with alongside the pool. I had to take extra precaution to distance my lights as far away from the pool’s edge as possible. Directing was difficult as I had to almost shout at the top of my lungs to get everyone in position. Note to self: a loud speaker much needed!
By this time, it was already about 11 am. The sun was fast encroaching into the frame from camera left (as can be seen clearly in the behind-the-scenes pics above). I had to rush against time to set the scene before this ray of party pooper kills my shot with two large noticeable areas of high contrast. My stopped-down settings and lighting setup wouldn’t be able to overpower the ambient then. Hence, the unnerving tension was eating me uncomfortably inside out. Fortunately, we pulled through just in time for an hour’s lunch break.
I took 30 min off my break to setup first in the auditorium for the music category shots before we settled down for a bite. Thankfully, all these locations were near and on the ground floor.
A similar lighting setup was used; however, I had another on-axis soft box served as my fill. This was needed to lift up a really dark large space for detail. A directly opposing into-the-camera bare mono block functioned as a back lighter, while 2 speed lights to rear left and right as my kickers.
As it was an indoor shoot with extremely poor ambient lighting, the surrounding lighting was easily overpowered to my advantage. The shots seen here are 100% flash-lit, which made my tweaking all the easier, resulting in very dramatic and dynamic low-key moods.
I even had time to squeeze in some portraits of Prefects, House Captains and Student Councils in between the alloted time slots for the various musical groups.
In the end, I even managed to grab a shot of the fitness teachers! This second day was surely way much more relaxed and smooth-going than the first.