Well it’s been four months since my last post – clearly my photography has gone to hell in a handcart since then. I won’t bore people with the reasons why, but hopefully – or not, depending on your take on this blog – I’ll get it back on track in 2015!
One project I was involved in recently is the 2015 calendar for my kids' school – St Anne’s in Shankill. The school’s new fund raising committee were thinking of photos of the classes . . . so far, so boring! And even I can still remember that 17 classes won’t divide evenly, or any other way, into 12 months. Fortunately someone came up with the idea of dividing the kids into twelve groups by their birth months – and then costuming them according to that month’s big event. The differing numbers of kids could also provide some interesting sociological data on certain parental activities, once a nine month offset was built in – but that’s a different story - more on it later . . . maybe :-)
So total ignoring W.C. Fields advice that he may, or may not have given about working with kids, I was volunteered into trying to get fun shots of nearly 500 of them in twelve groups. I checked out the school hall and some of the past class and confirmation shots – lots of dark and rather dull ones! Shi . . . I mean oops, in case any kids are reading this – two ordinary flashes wouldn't come near doing the job! Fortunately, one of my Offshoot mates let me borrow his Elinchrom lights – impressive yokes that came in a box the size of an old-fashioned trunk. Two of them were run off the mains - and the other two from a just about portable battery pack that looked like it could start a small car! He also had a fine selection of big brollies to soften the light nicely. His advice was to set them to full power and blast the kids from the front – with light that is. No fancy rembrandt or butterfly techniques needed here – just make sure all the mammies and daddies can see their darlings' faces! Plenty of light also meant I could use a small aperture of f11 to make sure everyone was in focus and a low ISO of 100 to keep up the image quality. The shutter speed was 1/125th of a second to avoid motion blur and these settings allowed almost no ambient light, just flash. The focal length was 20mm on my Canon 17-55m EFS lens - I would have like to use a longer focal length for a more natural portrait perspective but I couldn't stand any further back than the brollies because they would have been in the way. The red step ladder was handy for getting a different elevation to give a bit more variety to the series.
The costumes were as follows - thanks to all the parents who helped in kitting their kids out so well.
Then there was the real work of the project – making lists of the kids in each month’s group and getting them to the hall and back to the classrooms again – particularly without permanently losing too many junior and senior infants along the way! Maria from the school’s admin team and school prefects played a blinder with all this. Thanks also to Ogie for setting up the stage and help with the gear. Finally, the guy fancying himself as a photographer tried line them all up each groups along the steps to the stage and get them involved with the shoot – I could never have done it without the assistance of Marianne (below) and Emma.
As you can see, Marianne is holding a grey card so that I could synchronise the white balance and exposure in Lightroom, afterwards. Once I had a group of reasonably well exposed shots for each month, the main task was to ensure that everyone’s face could be seen. Despite the team’s efforts to get them all to look at the camera – and all at the same time - there was always blinking, looking away or hiding behind the peace signs or cheering arms. So I had to layer two or more shots in Photoshop and do a facial transplants and head swaps – but almost no children were harmed during these procedures!
Eventually, it was all done . . . but no . . . there was, of course, a few waifs and strays who hadn’t been called from class or had been out sick for the shoot. For these, I used my normal camera flash to take them individually on the stage steps and then drop them into their month. Hopefully all this "photoshoppery" is not too obvious - and here's a special prize to anyone that correctly spots any of it – you get to make an extra contribution to fund raising committee!
Of course, I can't show the shots here at full size - you'll just have to buy the calendar - maybe in the New Year when it's all sold out. Its only €5 and selling fast - lots of people are buying it for the grandparents!
Oh, and if you've read this far, December and February are the months to be careful now!
Keywords: 2015, calendar, john coveney, john coveney photography, scoil naomh anna, shankill, st annes school, www.johncoveney.ie
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