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How-to's

Seven Things I've Learned Photographing 500 People

Mike Hagen (Mike_Hagen)


Keywords: how, to, portrait, group, family, photography, lightroom, studio, kids, seniors, smiles, wrinkles, technology, tethered, cable, wifi

I just finished up a project where I photographed about 500 people for a church directory. I’ve done this in the past and I greatly enjoy the process.

Image1

Here’s a screenshot of Lightroom with just a few of the images from the photo directory shoot.
Click for an enlargement.

 

A project of this scope requires a lot of planning and forethought in order to pull it off. Every time I photograph a big event, I learn new things, so I thought I’d share seven things from this project that might help you if you ever decide to tackle a project like this on your own.

Because this was for a church directory, most of the people that came into the photo studio weren’t happy to be there. For many, they were there out of obligation, rather than a desire to have their portrait taken.

As such, I had to work hard to calm people’s nerves and make them feel comfortable. I made a point to always be smiling, encouraging, and reassuring. My goal was to make the experience as painless as possible for each of the families while also working very fast to minimize the time spent by each person/family.

One of the ways I was able to make people comfortable was to notice and comment on the little accessories they were wearing. For example, most women would wear some type of jewelry like a necklace, bracelet, or broach. I tried to acknowledge that item and ask about it because it was obviously important to them. Just having that simple conversation took their minds off the process of photography and helped dissipate their nervousness. Bantering back and forth immediately relaxed the atmosphere.

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23 comments

Jeff Nott (NikonNottyboy) on December 16, 2015

Thanks Mike very helpful and quite informative. I do photo large groups myself. Thanks again. Jeff NikonNottyboy

Mike Hagen (Mike_Hagen) on December 7, 2015

Expert photography teacher

@hidesert - You have to be really diligent about renaming the files immediately after the portrait session. In many cases, I had a line of families waiting for the portraits. This was my process: 1. Have family sign in by writing their name. 2. In my Lightroom tethering application, I write their name into the file naming box. Each time I take a pic, LR imports the pic to the hard drive and sequentially adds a number after their name. 3. Move family into position 4. Take 5 or 10 shots 5. Show them their images on the computer 6. Have them select their favorite (mark it with a green label [8] in LR) 7. Repeat

Allan Derickson (hidesert) on December 7, 2015

How did you do the file names with the family name? At the time of shooting or afterwards?

User on November 25, 2015

Having photographed a church directory for a congregation of 600, I know what a huge task this is. Also I know how people really hate posing for this sort of thing and how hard it is to make any income from reprints (people prefer being posed in their homes or yards to these kinds of shots). Your comments about mature women is right on; they were the worst to photograph. And kids ... it is amazing how parents have such little control over their kids. Actually scary. You didn't touch on lighting or how you deal with having to go from a single portrait to a group of 15 people and back to a couple. That drove me crazy and took up so much extra time having to change the lighting, seating, lens, exposure. You're a good man to tackle this job. Once in my lifetime was enough for me.

Cheryl Tadin (ctadin) on November 23, 2015

Mike, Thanks for sharing your very informative article. I have definitely done my share of the 10 minute portrait sessions from shooting on film to now digital. Digital is definitely easier since you have the ability to view your results immediately. When I shot on film, I used a Polaroid Rangefinder Camera (which I still own) to take a test shot of the subject/subjects to check my lighting and show the subject so they could approve and we could continue shooting. Happy Thanksgiving!

Mike Hagen (Mike_Hagen) on November 20, 2015

Expert photography teacher

Neil Arnold - I know. This is why I still haven't upgraded OS X. Two days ago, Pete Green from Adobe posted this - Tethering is still an issue with both Nikon and Leica cameras. Nikon has acknowledged this — https://support.nikonusa.com/app/answers/detail/a_id/19495/~/mac-os-x-version-10.11-el-capitan-compatibility-announcement , in the meantime we’re waiting on an update from them before we can work to fix this within Lightroom. https://helpx.adobe.com/lightroom/kb/lightroom-and-el-capitan—mac-os-10-11.html

Mike Hagen (Mike_Hagen) on November 20, 2015

Expert photography teacher

Larry - I've had similar situations. I set out specific dates and times that I'd have the studio available for the photos. Everyone had to sign up for a time slot. If they didn't, then they weren't going to be included in the directory.

Mike Hagen (Mike_Hagen) on November 20, 2015

Expert photography teacher

Frederic Hore - That's a huge undertaking. Keeping track of names is difficult for small projects. Keeping track for 35 different classes sounds crazy. Thanks for sharing.

Mike Hagen (Mike_Hagen) on November 20, 2015

Expert photography teacher

Tom Schellin - I hope the pics come out great. Be sure to post some so we can all see.

Neil Arnold (vespista) on November 18, 2015

Great article thanks Mike. Last week I did 184 bottle shots for a wine distributor client. It would have been so much easier to shoot tethered like I usually do but having upgraded to El Capitan, Lightroom no longer recognises my Nikon! Grrrr. On the positive side though, wine bottles don't worry about their wrinkles, just their reflections! Cheers, Neil.

Larry CdeBaca (elcee) on November 18, 2015

Fellow Ribbon awarded for his sharing knowledge contributions to the community in addition to his words of encouragement for further advancement Awarded for his in-depth knowledge and high level of skill in several areas.

Having done the exact same process (my results weren't nearly as good :( ), this really resonated, Mike. My "two-Sunday project" took 3 months due to resistance and straggling. I wish I'd tethered as you advise in point 4. The back of the camera just isn't good enough. Nice article!

Frederic Hore (voyageurfred) on November 18, 2015

Great pointers Mike! May I add have some pitchers of water and glasses, or bottled water for people who may get thirsty as they wait. I did a high school renunion session where I had to photograph 35 different classes, in much the same process as you did, organizing them in 10 minute sessions. Some of the classes had 20 or more people, so that meant setting up a riser with three different levels, draped in black cloth, plus a row of chairs in the front. Of course after organizing them all, I had to get their names in the correct order. For that I had an 8x14 legal sized sheet of paper, with a plan view of every row, in a grid pattern, and just hand wrote the names from left to right. I had to do this before every photo, as I knew everyone would leave quickly for the next group to appear. Of course, the shooting sessions starting stretching longer as time went by, and more people arrived "happy" and a bit too relaxed after all the meet and greet cocktails! But it turned into a fun (and long) evening and everyone was pleased with the results. Cheers, Frederic in Montréal

Tom Schellin (guitarbts) on November 18, 2015

Great job Mike! Some really good points and tips. I also do the portraits at my church so I will apply some of your suggestions next time! Thanks, Tom

Diane L. Simmons (coolmom42) on November 18, 2015

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Lots of helpful info in this great article!

User on November 18, 2015

Really worthwhile suggestions--well done Mike

Mike Hagen (Mike_Hagen) on November 17, 2015

Expert photography teacher

Allen Henderson - feel free to contact me if you need any assistance preparing for the directory shoot. Alan Dooley - Ahh, the days of film. I once shot a job for the American Red Cross on black and white film. I had the same experience you describe with the contact sheets. The client reviewed the pics with a loupe then circled the ones they wanted printed.

Allen Henderson (AAHNikon) on November 17, 2015

Mike, great article. I am the lead photographer for the photography ministry at my church (Faith Christian Center-Phoenix (www.fcc-phx.com) and this type of project is surely on the horizon. I have been envisioning how to organize this project when it happens and you've helped tremendously with this article. Thank you!!

Zita Kemeny (zkemeny) on November 17, 2015

Short article but full with very good tips. Thanks :-)

Alan Dooley (ajdooley) on November 17, 2015

Awarded for his frequent encouraging comments, sharing his knowledge in the Nikonians spirit. Ribbon awarded for his generous support to the Fundraising Campaign 2015 Ribbon awarded for his generous support to the Fundraising Campaign 2017 Ribbon awarded for his generous support to the 2017-2018 fundraising campaign Awarded for his in-depth knowledge and high level of skill in several areas, especially photojo Ribbon awarded for his repeated generous contributions to the 2019 Fundraising campaign

Oooooooooooops... Well... I THOUGHT I'd attach an example... but I now know you apparently can't DO that! I'll drop it in over on the "Picture I took" forum.

Alan Dooley (ajdooley) on November 17, 2015

Awarded for his frequent encouraging comments, sharing his knowledge in the Nikonians spirit. Ribbon awarded for his generous support to the Fundraising Campaign 2015 Ribbon awarded for his generous support to the Fundraising Campaign 2017 Ribbon awarded for his generous support to the 2017-2018 fundraising campaign Awarded for his in-depth knowledge and high level of skill in several areas, especially photojo Ribbon awarded for his repeated generous contributions to the 2019 Fundraising campaign

This was so interesting, Mike. Much of what you said is obvious, easy to grasp -- and yet ignored by many photographers who are really little more than camera operators. When I was a student at Syracuse University in the Navy's year long photojournalism program, we were assigned to shoot 30 people on one 36 exposure roll of Tri-X B&W film. We processed the film and prepared a contact sheet. For those who have never seen one, it is prepared by placing the film in a device that held the film carefully -- emulsion aide down -- by its edges. Then a piece of print paper was placed under film, which was held down by a thin sheet of glass. The entire rig was exposed under an enlarger light and then processed -- developer (Dektol), stop bath and fixer. Then it was washed for 30 minutes and dried. It was delivered to the professor, and he returned it with 6 images circled with a grease pencil (no Sharpies in those days!) and we had to go into the darkroom and prepare exhibition quality 16x20 inch black and white prints. We were graded on our results: 36 frames of film, a minimum of 30 people, someone else chose 6 to print. If you didn't believe in checking backgrounds quickly, getting people to relax and then carefully focusing on the near eye, you sure did at the end of this assignment! The memory comes back very often when I am shooting pictures of people -- even 52 years later. Thanks for sharing this monumental effort with us all! I'm attaching my most recent informal "portrait" of a young man who has embarked opening an incredible restaurant in a 150+ year old building in a small town nearby.

Geoff Baylis (GBaylis) on November 17, 2015

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Thanks Mike. Lots of useful tips there.

John Giglio (jkg0806) on November 16, 2015

 Donor Ribbon awarded for his generous support to the Fundraising Campaign 2015 Fellow Ribbon awarded for his frequent posting with an always positive comment, sharing his knowledge, contributing to the spirit of the community.

Great information Mike and very helpful hints thanks for sharing.

Ernesto Santos (esantos) on November 16, 2015

Nikonians Resources Writer. Recognized for his outstanding reviews on printers and printing articles. Awarded for his high level of expertise in various areas, including Landscape Photography Awarded for his extraordinary accomplishments in Landscape Photography. His work has been exhibited at the Smithsonian. Winner of the Best of Nikonians Images 2018 Annual Photo Contest

Great tips here Mike. I've taken a few portraits myself and you are exactly on point.

G