The call from my client asked if I could help photograph a large group of people from a high angle. It wasn’t until a deeper conversation that I understood the high angle was to be from directly overhead and the group was to be 30 people!
As you can see from the resulting image here, when all was said and done we wound up with 26 people and we did indeed photograph them from directly overhead. Considering my stomach generally turns back-flips when faced with heights it turned out to be a project with interesting challenges to overcome.
The first hurdle in pulling off this shoot was to find a location where we could make it happen. We needed a spot where I could get high above what would be a large circle of people. In our area the best solution was the Events Center at Binghamton University, a facility built to host Division I college athletics and the shows of visiting major musical artists. My client made the calls and secured the location.
My perch for this shoot was in the catwalks at the ceiling of the Events Center, roughly 50 feet above the main floor. To get there I would be escorted outside across the roof of the building to an access door for the catwalks and rigging. I wasn’t allowed on the catwalks alone and was required to empty pockets and secure every piece of equipment to assure nothing could drop to the floor below. All safety precautions not only for myself but also the people who would be positioned below me during the shoot.
To get our subjects into place I first staked out a spot on the catwalk and positioned the camera outside the catwalk looking straight down. Two people working together helped to position our subjects in a circle. Holding a rope-line between them, one stood at the circle’s center while the other walked the perimeter guiding each person to their location on the circle.
Even though the setting was indoors, the Binghamton University Events Center has ample daylight coming in from large windows along the side of the facility. That combined with typically off-color stadium lighting made for a mix of light sources to deal with. I chose to surround the group with Speedotron Black Line studio strobe lighting triggered wirelessly with a set of Pocket Wizards. Setup on stands outside the circle of people, the lights were positioned high and aimed across the circle effectively “feathering” the light for a relatively even result. My lighting was mostly preset in the hour prior to our subjects arriving at the location.
With everything in place the shooting began. I shot a number of variations with larger and smaller circles, groups and differing angles. After the shoot I edited the selected image(s) removing the green Events Center floor covering. Ultimately the client had a very good selection of images to work with from the shoot. Shown here is one example of how the image was used as cover art for a special event invitation.
Looking back there are certainly some things that could have been done a bit differently. For example, I might have covered that green flooring with some neutral seamless to eliminate the risk of color cast (which really wasn’t that bad actually). It might have been less of a “production” to have photographed each of the people individually and then build the circle in Photoshop post-production. But where is the fun in that?
In the end, the client came away with some visually striking images they can use in public advertising and PR as well as for internal communications. And even though there was actually a moment or two on that catwalk that made me arrest my breathing, I had a great time producing the shoot.
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