A big group photo, or, a photograph of a big group
When asked to take a group picture of between 300 and 500 people, the first thing to do is to drop and pray the numbers are at the lower end of the estimate when it comes to the actual day.
The rugby club asked if I could do such a thing so, after a slight hesitation and the crossing of fingers behind my back, I said yes. Actually, first I asked if they had considered getting someone with one of those panoramic cameras used in old school photographs, but we couldn’t find one locally. In retrospect I think it would have been far too formal anyway, and it would have been impossible to organise everyone without the old-school threat of corporal punishment in any case.
So having said yes, the planning could start. It seemed to me that the only way we would be able to see everyone’s face in such a picture was to photograph them from an elevated position. Handily, Medway Rugby Club has a viewing platform outside the clubhouse which is about 15 feet above the pitch. With everyone on the pitch they would be able to look up into the camera.
Two weeks before, and planning for the worst case scenario of all members, players, parents and Uncle Tom Cobley turning up on the designated day, I stood up on the platform while my son Tom gradually moved from the far side of the pitch to the near side, artlessly getting in the way of the First XV pre-match warm-up. We needed to see how visible someone at the far side would be at a focal length of around 40mm. The answer: not very, but we didn’t have much choice.
The other purpose of the test was to ensure that our hyperfocal distance calculator was coming up with the right answer, and that we were getting depth of field from 10 feet to infinity at f/11. On our test day we had hazy sunshine, and I was getting 1/125 of a second at f/11 and ISO 100. If the actual conditions turned out to be dull, we’d have to increase ISO, but with the 5D2 I don’t worry about that till it goes past 800 anyway.
As it happened, the day was bright and sunny and the final exposure was 1/200 at f/11, ISO 100, with the camera on a tripod and the shutter on a cable release.
However, before that we had to organise everyone. Tom and Gerald (the club’s groundsman) laid out cones on the pitch that roughly mirrored my lens’ field of view (I had decided to widen the shot to 32mm focal length), starting with a narrow front and widening as they went back across the pitch. The cones, we hoped somewhat forlornly, would keep people from spilling out of the sides of the picture, and give me space at the edges for cropping to the most appropriate size. It didn't entirely work, but they did keep some control of the mass of humanity out front.
I had drawn a schematic, which showed where people should sit and stand in the picture, starting with the youngsters sitting in front, and going back through youth players, to the First XV, other senior players and the club executive, and then everyone else. There were plenty of helpers to get people into position, and Mark Marriott, the club vice-chairman, helped by bawling orders from the balcony straight into my eardrum. My balance hasn’t been the same since.
We estimate about 350 people are in the photograph. It took only 15 minutes to get everyone out of the bar, or off the training paddock, and into position for the shot. This was pleasing, since I had been earnestly advised by a certain coach-type person not to let it go past 1 o’clock since he “had a f***ing rugby match to f***ing prepare for f***’s sake” or something similar.
Post-processing amounted to cloning out the cones, and a cyclist on the horizon, and in the end I cropped the picture to a 4x3 aspect ratio and printed it at 40” x 30” with a semi-transparent caption block over the top. Everyone is visible and recognisable from front to back, and the finished thing, framed, should appear in the clubhouse shortly.
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