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A Team of One: A Family Portrait

I was recently hired to photograph a family portrait for some close friends. For the sake of this article, I will refer to the parents as "Dave" and "Erica".......since those are their names. They were looking for a photograph to hang in the living room (and perhaps, also as a holiday card), and wanted something unique. Acknowledging their son's energy, independece and enthusiasm, "Dave" and "Erica" asked me to capture their "son's" attributes in a sui generis manner. The concept was theirs, and I think it was brilliant.

We had intially planned to shoot in the living room, and I was going to black out the windows behind the couch, and cover them later in Photoshop. Once I saw the playroom, we immediately moved downstairs. I wanted to keep the background very simple, as I didn't desire anything distracting from our subjects. We centered the couch with the curtains, and I brought along the lamps for a little added symetry.

I kept the lighting very simply, as I knew I would have to cover a lot of action, and did not want any double shadows. So, I had a 6-foot Octa (a huge umbrella/lightbox) almost directly above camera. The camera was only 5 or 6 feet from the couch, so I knew the one light would cover the whole scene. In an effort to keep the lighting, lens selection and height consistent throughout, I locked the camera down on a tripod, and never touched it, aside for the sake of checking focus. Because I had no chance of controlling our youngest subject, all I could do was warn him that if the camera or light were moved at all......we would have to reshoot the entire thing.

Once the camera was locked down, I took a few images of the lamps, knowing that the strobe would overpower them during the actual shoot. For those curious, because I would be shooting between 1/125th and 1/160th of a second, the lamps would never have enough power to "burn" into the exposure. Had a I strobed the lit lamps, they would appear to be off. Therefore, I had to expose them separately at around 1 second at an f/16 or f/22, and composite them into the image at the end.

With that out of the way, I brought in our lovely couple. We shot several different poses, but eventually went with the slightly exhausted look.

For the last part of the shoot, we had our young soccer player display all his acrobatical moves. I placed a white sheet over the couch, as this would make extracting him from the background a little easier, and allowed me to extract his shadow along with him. Despite his complaints of back problems, we were even able to get him to squeeze into the bedside shelf for 5 frames. I think it was worth it.

Once we finished photographing our whirling dervish, it was off to the computer for compositing.

With the selected image of our couple as the main plate, I then started inserting our young Pele throughout the image. After extracting the favorite poses, I then had to place them in some sort of logical positions throughout the frame. If a player had to switch sides of the frame, that is when I had to recreate the shadows. As one can see from the frame above, because of the large light source, the shadow is very soft. This made creating the shadows a bit easier, and less intrusive in the image.

In the end, I was rather happy with the completed image. I hope to see a large canvas of the photograph, hanging in the family's living room....or maybe over their bed.

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