Big Group Head Shot Shoot


Surprises come in two general flavors: the kind best avoided and the kind that bring a smile and a fond memory. This was that: a smile and a fond memory.

Going in, the clock was driving expectations. 17 head shots in 60 minutes can be done, but the heads need to be lined up and ready to go. Tick. Tock. Based upon the pattern of attention to detail from the event organizer, it seemed likley that 17 in an hour was gonna be in the bag. Oh, but the group shot. That was the source of anxiety.

After watching a recent post on Chris Crisman’s blog where his studio did a shoot with lighting pre-configured to swap the key from one side to the other, I wanted to do the same so that there would be some variation across the group’s individual head shots.  The base setup is something that has become standard where the “head shot” is more like a 3/4 body shot.

The light setup looks like this.  The key is a medium PCB Soft Silver PLM.  For this shoot, two are set up and configured, but only one is used at a time.  Fill is a large, diffused Soft Silver PLM directly behind the camera.  PLMs are really handy in a situation where space is limited because the modifiers are relatively thin — much thinner than a softbox of the equivalent surface area — and can provide a large light surface area.  Separation light comes from a pair of small PhotoFlex LiteDomes with DIY, 20 degree grids.  Light on the seamless was a single PhotoFlex Medium HalfDome boomed out over the middle.


The twofer key light setup was managed in the PCB Cyber Commander, which is able to store up to 50 configurations.  Because the head shots will have backgrounds that will have an obvious key light source, the separation lights have differing power settings.  The separation light on the side of the key was set two stops brighter than the separation light on the opposite side.   After setting the first configuration, with the key from the left, the setup was saved on the card in the Cyber Commander as SD1.  It was easy to then turn off the left key, turn on the right key, and swap the power settings of the two separation lights.  This setup was saved as SD2 on the card in the Cyber Commander.  Flipping from left to right key was as simple as opening SD1 for the left key setup and SD2 as the right key setup.

One of the challenges in shooting large groups on seamless is the width of the seamless.  It is very difficult to keep a group of more than four on a 107″ background.  Savage offers super white rolls in 140″, but unless you live in the Phoenix area, which makes it possible to buy from B&H with postage-free, will call pickup right at the Savage warehouse in Chandler, the 140″ seamless can be prohibitively expensive.  Even at 140″, that wide roll can still be limiting with a group of more than 8 or so.

The large group in front of a large background.

While on a road trip last year, we were able to pay a visit to The Rag Place in North Hollywood.  When it comes to diffusion and background fabrics, The Rag Place is…. well…..  the place.  Or at least A place.  The Rage Place provides diffusion, background, and other light management material to the motion picture industry and has some really cool stuff, including 112″ wide, white spandex on rolls.  We left with a piece 18 feet long.

This was the first time using the spandex and it was pretty sweet to have something two hundred and sixteen inches wide.  The spandex is much easier to move around than a long roll of paper (which can be heavy if it is a 140″ roll) because it folds up into a tidy package about the size of a folded blanket.  It is very easy to hang from a pair of well weighted Autopoles with legs.   Spandex is a nice white that doesn’t show fold marks once lite.  A background six yards wide is big enough to handle a group of 17!  But, just.  [Note to self, 8 yards wide would be better next time.]

17 in front of the seamless

While 17 fit in front of an 18 foot piece of spandex, a single medium HalfDome is not enough to light a background that wide.  Next time, the separation lights, which are problematic on a group this wide any way, will be turned around to light the ends of the background.

This shoot still makes me smile!  The head shot session was a kick, the twofer setup turned out to be really convenient, and the big background was able to handle a really awesome sick group of 17.

The shoot in 123 seconds.


The Details

ISO 160, 1/200 sec, f/10, 85mm

PCB Soft Silver PLM

PCB E640 Einsteins with CSXCV Receivers

PCB Cyber Commander

PhotoFlex Small LiteDome

PhotoFlex Medium HalfDome