An article by Jarda Balek
This article is not about shooting a group portrait. This is about participation in organized event, when bunch of photographers gather at one place and at the same time to shoot a bunch of often nude models.
All photos from his series : "In the barn"
Such events of course do not happen every day, but they are quite common both in Europe and US. Maybe elsewhere too. They aren’t workshops too – nobody will give you lessons or only in very limited scale ; these events are meant as a meeting place for photographers with a lot of shooting. Nothing more and nothing less.
Many photographers I know would never participate in such event and many others love it. Most who don’t like the idea of group shoot argue that it is impossible to make a decent photo on such event. I disagree.
However, as everything, these events have their pros and cons and of course they are not meant or suitable for everybody. It really makes no sense to participate for professionals making living from photography. It is also not suitable for those, who are beginners in photography as such ; there is no time to learn the ropes.
It is for experienced photographers, amateurs and hobbyists who want to meet with others and/or to try out something new.
When deciding on participation, there are many cons to take into consideration.
The most important are :
- you have no control over selecting the locations and sets - it is done by organizer,
- you have no control over selecting the models - it is also done by organizer, and you may well find out that many of models you would never choose yourself,
- you have little or no control of light except of your own flash, you have to use what is provided or available,
- you will see the location/set and the actual model there first time just before you are supposed to start shooting ; so you can not prepare ideas in advance,
- time is limited ; you can not work slowly and try out the best poses and angles or adjust the lighting,
- you will have to wrestle with other photographers for place to shoot from and often someone will step in front of you just when you press the shutter,
- when you finally manage to get the attention of the model and make her to pose for you as you want, you can be sure that all the others will shoot her in that pose and the model will look at everyone except you (and very often all the others will have better pictures than you),
- many participants will have very similar photos,
- there is no guaranty you will have any usable photo at all,
- photos usually can not be used for commercial purposes but for personal presentation only.
If you now think participation in such event is a complete nonsense, read further. There is also a number of pros.
Most importantly :
- you can get into a locations and/or use sets which would normally be very difficult or expensive or both to get to,
- you can meet there a model you would normally hardly afford to hire or which would refuse to work with you,
- entry fee is usually low, often lower than would cost to hire one model for few hours not to speak about location,
- it is a good occasion to try out new genre in your photography ; for example if you never shot nudes before it is good place to try it out and of course it helps to create at least the basic portfolio of this genre,
- you can see how your colleagues work, what equipment they use and you can even borrow some lens you dream of,
- and, last but not least, it is fun.
Even some cons listed above can be considered pros in some way for somebody.
For example finding a model may be a painful and long process ; you can be sure model won’t flake – some models will be always available. No control over locations and sets will make you to improvise, invent ideas on the fly and work quickly – and that ability is quite important for any photographer. Need to compete with other photographers to take over the control of the shoot strengthens your personality and turns you into the actual “director” of the shoot.
So, if you wonder whether you can take a good photo in such event my answer is :
YES, YOU CAN.
YES, YOU CAN.
I took the series of photographs presented here at group shoot this summer.
Location was a really old granary still used to store barley for a brewery. Under the roof, with almost no available light the barley provided the set, models were two close friends and lighting was done by 3 sets of hot lights.
My input is posing the models, selection of the lens and angles and of course (I shoot in digital) the necessary post processing, which here is the conversion into BW only.
Some would argue it is too little input to say it is my work but I disagree.
In my opinion group shoot can be best compared to shooting the sport event.
The sport photographers also can not choose the location (often even the spot from which they have to shoot) ; they also have no control over the choice of “models” ; in contrary to group shoot they can not “direct” the “models” at all ; they have to work with light “as is” and there is also a bunch of other photographers shooting the same thing. But still they manage to get number of great, unique, published and sometimes even award winning photographs.
Good photo is all we strive for and if we have it, who cares when, where, how and by what was it taken ?
Jarda Balek ©
A comment by Terrell Neasley, organizer :
Art Model Lessa
" This is an excellent article by Jarda. I am seeing his work more and more often as of late. I got to comment on an experimental photo project he was working on. I've posted him on my own blog and now he writes an article on my own experience hosting group shoots with the group I founded a year ago, The Las Vegas Art Models Group.Several pros and cons were given by Jarda that I liked. I fully identify with each. One aspect I might also add is from the perspective of the organizer.
It can be a highly stressful thing to organize one of these events. I rarely get to shoot in my own events because I am too busy facilitating, directing the model, keeping track of the time, and making sure the area stays free of any uninvited visitors whether that be other people or nearby wildlife. (Got to keep the model safe and everyone else too.)
The preparation alone is probably the biggest challenge in that, personally, I enjoy the "WOW" factor too much. I try to WOW my participants with a great model and a great location. So scouting for the right spot and interviewing for the right model can be both time consuming and highly exhaustive. Scouting here around Las Vegas can be challenging as I was recently banned from a state park. They didn't catch us shooting, but a park ranger was curious about some cars that seemed to stay in one spot too long. Upon further examination, he noticed an email printout lying face-up in one of the vehicles of a new participant which detailed exactly what we were doing in the park. The ranger simply waited for us to return, threatened us with jail, but just kicked us out instead and said we were all banned for life. Oh well.
Can it be a headache : yes. Would I ever stop doing it ? Not on your life. As long as I have a means to continue, The Las Vegas Art Models Group carries on."
A comment by Dave (If he could give me his link !) :
" I am lucky enough to host a group shoot once a year in the Dordogne region of France where I live. It is done in collaboration with pauls-studio.co.uk, and it is something I look forward to enormously.
Group shoots are also the way I got into nude photography. To my mind it offered, and still offers, several enormous advantages :
1) Shared costs - paying for a good model, studio/location etc would have been enough of a barrier to prevent my entry into a form of photography which I now enjoy above all others - and one which now even earns me a little money in return.
2) Shared experience - mixing with other photographers with varying levels of experience you inevitably pick up tips, techniques and approaches to a shot that you might not have considered yourself. I think your development as a photographer can be fast-tracked.
3) Time to think - if you are sharing a model's time with several other photographers you typically control the shoot for a few minutes and then pass the reins to someone else. In that time you get to review your images and regroup mentally; what is working well? what are you going to do next? When starting out on your own with a model that often doesn't happen - you are so keen to take as many pictures within the time you have paid for that you daren't stop shooting! The lighting may not be right or your mind may have gone blank, but you keep on pressing the release...
In short, "Yes" to group shoots."