My father told me that whenever there is a group to be photographed, start looking for a staircase.This is still good advise. It allows you to get better separation top and bottom separation in the subject's faces than you'd get by using the standard, "Tall people in back, less tall people in front". These particular stairs allowed passage to a sort of sunken living room, which in this case, was where the real party was happening.
In this extreme closeup (Photo #2), you can see the double shadow from the chandelier created by the side by side mounting arrangement. This is more prominent when the distance from the object to its shadow increases, although I doubt that most viewer would notice. But if you're shooting against the sky, you're golden.
This preliminary shot shows the staircase as seen from my shooting position (Photo #3). One thing that is very obvious: The sun is shining through windows just behind me. It would have been nice if there were blinds I could close, but that was not to be. And another thing: because the sun was setting, the "hot spot" would move higher and higher. I really needed to get the shot done as soon as possible.
I knew that there would be problem with the dappled lighting effect, but this couldn't be helped. I wasn't going to scout out a better location, since to took no small amount of cajoling just to get my subjects to gather in one place. In arranging my subjects, I applied some quick, basic rules:
- Taller subjects in the back, less tall subjects in front.
- Subjects wearing glasses were moved to camera left, the same side as my speedlights. On close examination, I missed one.
- Front row subjects would stand on the first step to make sure that everybody's face was out of the sun.
- Ladies on camera right. This would give them slightly better lighting than their male counterparts, something that was noticed by some of the men.
In the pre-cropped sample (Photo #4), you can see that everybody's face is lit only by the speedlights. By setting both SB-800s to full power and giving each one its own SD-8a battery pack, I got the power I needed without the long re-cycle times. A bit more effort, but when faced with 17 current and former judges, you really don't want to keep them waiting.
The final cropped version (Photo #5) removed the carpet as a reference point. Next time, I'll remember to ask that all of the men button their jackets. I did see the one judge without a coat, and moved him to the second level. But I missed the judge in the front row with the open coat. But the time between the first shot and the last shot was less than four minutes, and the results perfectly acceptable under the circumstances. And I managed to keep everyone's face properly lit, which is really all that matters.