I am working on a big project with the Phoenix Children’s Choir, and need to get some new shots of the kids and the choirs and the performances. So when last weekend’s final concert came along, I knew I had to get some shots.

The venue was amazing, and I checked it out for lighting. There was so much wonderful natural light in the church main room, that lights were not needed. I was pretty pleased with that, as trying to light 300+ chorus members in a 5 minute window with strobes was going to be a bit of a challenge.

The test shots looked good and the huge pipe organ pipes made a very cool background.

We were set… camera at the ready, tests made, images double checked and ISO/aperture/shutter speed nailed down.

“Hey, I have an idea…”, I heard from behind me.

“All the choirs have shots taken in these kinds of halls, let’s do ours in the courtyard.”


At 3:30 in the afternoon?

“Sure, let’s see if it can work…”

Outside in the mid-day sun.

No strobes, no scrims, very little shade.

Did I mention it was outside – in the crappy part of the day?

Off the choruses went to get into a very loosely contrived group. They were not interested in doing something ‘boring’, and wanted to instead be kind of all over the place in more ‘comfortable’ positions.

Good thing too…

Cause there are no risers out there in the courtyard… just some big trees with dappled sunlight and some different layers of big ‘shelf like’ architecture.

And I had 5 minutes to do it.

Did I mention it was 2:30 PM in Phoenix in May and pushing 104?

Did I mention that the choir members wear heavy, black gowns and tuxedos?

I knew there was no time for anything but complete control, so with a shout and a wave of the hand, I commanded their attention.

I quickly moved the people around with the admonition – “if you cannot see me, I cannot see you… MOVE.”

These are experienced and quite theatrical kids and within about a minute, I had my composition. (Cats. Herded.)

No strobes meant no fill, so I had to let the sky blow out and expose for the faces. The resulting image was pretty good and I knew I could adjust a little in Camera RAW and bring them all in pretty close.

I took a meter reading from the middle area of the group, the back row, and the front row. Difference was an amazing 2/3 stop… that’s it. What was interesting was that I could simply not see any faces in the middle to back row… they were totally black to my eyes.

Quick test shot… check and shoot.

Immediately after I got my 20 or so shots, they broke into two different choirs and I repeated that process two more times.

In the end we ran over about 3 minutes – an 8 minute, three choirs shoot.

No pressure there… s’all good.

The point was that I got the shot. By applying simple methods and not going into a hyper-panic. Yes, it would have been awesome to have my Profotos there. And two hours to set up, and a couple of assistants to help me wrangle the six or more heads I would have needed.

But I didn’t have that much time… I had 5 minutes.

We do what we do because we have practiced and faced these different lighting situations in the past. And we have made them work.

I love that I can make it happen, whether I have a truckload of strobes or no strobes in terrible light at 3PM in the desert heat… and 5 minutes.

Practice and more practice is the best advice I can ever give to any starting out shooter.


I have been asked back to creativeLIVE to do a workshop on Table Top Product Photography. You can see more at their site. Dates are June 21, 22, 23, 24, 2012. Register for free and watch all weekend!

I was recently on creativeLIVE and have received some rave reviews of the workshop. If you are interested in taking a look at the workshop, you can find it on creativeLIVE’s web site here. I think it is a tremendous value and if you are unable to attend any of my workshops, this may give you a ton of information you will want to have to push your photography to the next level.

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