Take Out Kidz 2017
These past few years I've been fortunate enough to practice shooting large groups every time Take Out Kidz gets their picture taken. And every year, these dancing kids always manage to deliver when it comes to carrying out my styling vision. From the sparkling golden hour shoot on a beautiful hillside to a casual fun afternoon on the beach, these shoots have given me so much creative freedom and opportunities to dream.
This year I was finally ready to do a studio Vanity Fair group portrait. I knew the logistics of space, lighting, timing, assembly, and post-processing would be tricky but it was now or never. This image had been brewing in the back of my mind for years and I finally made the effort to gather the furniture and people to actually do it. Yay!
And of course, I always love the challenge of shooting individuals and small groups in a short amount of time. (Posing is everything!) Thank you, TOK, for believing in me all these years and allowing me to make art. It's been such a pleasure creating with you all.
Photography and Creative Direction: Sophia Liu
Assistants: Jennifer Yu, Jason Lu, Jeffrey Lam
Makeup/Hair: Nancy Lam
Behind the Scenes Photography: Jennifer Yu
BEHIND THE SCENES
This was one of those shoots where things in front of the camera looked flawlessly glamorous, but the rest of it was a hot mess. (But completely worth it, of course.)
Let's discuss logistics.
INSPIRATION Annie Leibovitz's Vanity Fair covers and Melly Lee's Buzzfeed group photo.
SUBJECTS Cal Poly CSA's Take Out Kidz dance group. The estimated amount of people who were coming in was anywhere from 30 to 45 people.
STYLING, HAIR, MAKEUP Everyone came dressed up, following a black, white, gold, and dark jewel tone color scheme. I had my friend Nancy help with hair and makeup for those who wanted it.
SPACE The photo studio, as small as it is, could definitely not hold everyone. I used a classroom as a gathering spot, and brought groups in in four batches of around 8 to 9 people according to heights, gender, and clothing colors. I shot the small groups that make up the panorama, and even those images had to be collaged from two photos because my 50mm lens on cropped sensor could not fit everyone into the frame.
TIMING We scheduled the shoot from 1-4pm, and got everything done! The first hour was waiting on people to show up, touching up makeup and hair, setting up lights, and dividing people up into groups. I finished the panorama shots in less than an hour, and spend the rest of the time shooting individuals and small groups.
SET DESIGN The Vanity Fair group photos always use lots of furniture to get people's faces to stagger in the image. I collected everything the photo studio had available: ladders, stools, apple boxes, chairs, and even tiny little wooden blocks for a little boost of height. I created four different arrangements for the four groups, and draped a velvet cloth over everything before putting people into place.
LIGHTING As seen in the behind the scenes photos above, my main light source was a large octabox placed the the left, and a bit of fill from another large softbox placed some distance away on the right. Of course, the group shots had certain people lit brighter than others, so if you look in detail, it's not perfect. But after editing, the overall panorama looked relatively cohesive. For the individual shots I only used the one octabox light source and a fill card.
THE SHOOT Shooting involved lots of tweaking of positions, poses, angles before actually taking the photos. Getting people to smile gently (or smeyes, smirk, whatever you call it) was a bit difficult, but everyone did pretty well at the end. I had assistants hold up small fans for the individual shots to get girls' hair to flow. Towards the end of the shoot, people kept migrating from the classroom into the studio to watch, and space-wise, it became really hard for me to move around in the stuffy room to do my job. I was of course too busy shooting to deal with the problem. (Note to future self: get an assistant whose job is to wrangle nosy people away from my space.)
EDITING The process that always takes at least three times as long as the actual shoot. I spent maybe an entire day post-processing the group photo. Working with eight layers in Photoshop, I had to assemble the four groups to fit well adjacent to each other, and then work on exposure, masking, blending the backgrounds together, color correcting, and retouching faces. On top of that, I edited over 100 individual photos on Lightroom, and Photoshopped out backdrop blemishes, and a GIANT SENSOR DUST SPOT on every. single. photo. (RIP me.)
All in all, despite how ridiculous planning, coordinating, and post-processing a large group shoot can be, I'm happy to say I finally got to make this photo happen with the limitations involved. I remember wanting to shoot a photo like this when I started college five years ago. I guess dreams can come true! Never stop challenging yourself.