Chris Crisman Photography

The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen

Whenever our shoot location for the day has a strict “jacket and collared shirt” dress code, you know it’s going to be an interesting day. Back in December, Philadelphia Magazine asked Chris to shoot a group portrait at the Union League of Philadelphia, our city’s most exclusive members-only club. We were tasked with shooting a handful of Philly’s most influential gay men, known as the A-gays of the Union League.

An 8-person group portrait in one of the swankiest locations in the city – How did it go? Keep reading for behind the scenes photos and the details behind this shot…

The final shot as it ran in Philadelphia Magazinemake sure to read the full story over at Philly mag’s website

Working with groups always adds an extra level of composition and planning to a photoshoot. By now I think I’ve assisted Chris on dozens of shots with groups and I’m still shocked at his ability to not only cut through the chaos of a busy set to arrange our subjects, but also how he can remember the names of everyone he’s photographing. It’s crazy (kinda feels like I’m on set with rain man).

If you’re looking for the nitty-gritty details, here they are.

We went into the shoot knowing that it would be a challenged to light eight people, but also a challenge to balance the lighting effectively in such a dark and moody space. We also had to deal with a series of not-so-awesome reflections from the reflective wood paneling throughout the scene.

That being said, we started with a base coat of light coming from two large octabanks, each putting out 1000 w/s. We positioned these octabanks on the opposite side of the space we were shooting in, and set them up about twelve feet high. By positioning them up so high, we sucessfully eliminated a ton of glare and reflections that would have plagued the shot. Even at a distance of ten to fifteen feet, the octabanks provided a nice base coat of light.

To add to this and create shape on our eight subjects, it was a matter of carefully positioning both the models and our key light. We used a slightly smaller 4′ octabank for the key, positioned to the left of frame, slightly ahead of our group. That source was cut at such an angle as to light all 8 of out subjects. Even though we chose a smaller source, it was still plenty wide enough to create the shape and mood we were looking for.

And of course, no behind the scenes post would be complete without some kind of ridiculous photo of myself or another assistant – or in this case a few ridiculous photos of myself. You all can thank Photoshop for that one. Also, make sure the Union League doesn’t see this photo – I may have been breaking their dress code by taking off my jacket.

Any questions? Thoughts? Let us know in the comments, @crismanphoto, or on Facebook!

6 comments
  1. dq says: January 9, 20131:45 pm

    Thanks for the post, as always… in the “polaroid” of you, the one where you are in the far corner is pretty dark… i assume that the final was retouched a-plenty, desaturated in the copyrighted CC way… is the final from one shot, or a few for best expressions? Great pose — nice to have that huge couch yet only need to sit one person on it.

  2. Robert Luessen says: January 9, 20132:09 pm

    Hey Dave, thanks for the question. As for the shot of me – I’m actually standing a few feet farther back than our actual subject for that spot in the frame… hence the darkness. The final image may have had one or two heads swapped out, but otherwise it was just one shot!

  3. Joe says: January 9, 20135:10 pm

    Thanks for the informative post! I really like this image…nice work! Few questions about the lighting

    1. How did you compensate for even exposure with the subjects (camera right) that are closer to the small Octabank in comparison to the subjects in the corner (camera left)?

    2. Was the shot taken with all the subjects in place or did you shoot them separately and then composite all together?

    again…great work and thanks in advance for the time!

  4. Robert Luessen says: January 10, 20139:16 am

    Hey Joe, thanks for the kind words. To answer your questions… We shot all of the subjects at once (although we may have swapped out a head if someone blinked) and to balance the exposure, we made sure to position the key light (small octabank to the right of frame) high enough and angled slightly down and across the group so that the subjects closest would be lit mainly by the spill light of the source and not the full force of the light. Hope this helps!

  5. Rick Lewis says: January 11, 201310:33 pm

    As usual, great post and info. I see a great deal of reflection off the wood panel, camera right in your set up shot, Robert. Did that light get repositioned or did your retoucher handle that in post? Thanks Robert!…and Chris:-)

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