My coworkers for the most part are pretty ignorant of photography and think that just because I actually study it I must be good at it - especially the couple of guys with expensive dslrs who don't know what an f-top is. The guy whose wife is a newspaper photographer at least knows better - he's seen good stuff. My boss's husband is pretty good, too.
Group Portraiture is my specialty and I've been doing it for more than forty years and I have found that with adults it's is best to tell every one to focus on the lens of the camera where the audience is and relax and on the count of three I will expose the shot. I count to three very slowly and when I see everyone is ready, usually on the count of two, I take the picture. My success rate is about 90 percent. The scene you describe for your shot might be better posed if you were at the top of the steps with the group at the bottom step and below, with the grassy area for the background and the sun behind them and using full, fill flash for the exposure. If the sun is lighting the hair and shoulders, the contrast might be a little high so you may want to consider a developer like Thornton's two bath and give a little more exposure in the taking.
P.S. I always tell the group that if they can't see the whole camera, it can't see them and that seems help them find an appropriate spot without too much direction from me.
Archer, thanks for the good tips.
When I want a higher viewpoint with my 6 x 6 camera I just flip it on it's side. This not only allows me to see the finder but also lets me out from behind the camera.
Just be sure that the camera is over one leg of the tripod so that it won't fall over.
Works for me.
I'd use the lens that will give you a working distance that invokes the feeling you want in the photo. Generally, for myself, I'd default to the longest lens I could get away with given what is behind me. I agree with you that the 135 might be the best choice. However, I myself would probably show up intending to use the 180 if I had plenty of room behind me. When filling a frame with 12 people, there will likely be people near the edges of the frame. The less stretching the lens does at the edges, the better. The longer the lens, the less stretching, and the "flatter" and slimmer your subjects look.
That said, the normal lens is the most versatile and all around best lens in the system, IMHO, and would perform the job just fine. And you also get the feeling of being closer to your subject, even though it may be harder to compose to make it look "good." I find composition with long lenses to be very easy. Wides are hard for me.
Consider your vantage point. Do you want to be lower than your subject, half way up, or higher than it? It makes a big difference in the image.
Are you familiar with mixing ambient light and flash? It's an incredibly valuable skill for outdoor portraiture I would consider using fill flash on a stand. Diffusion is harsher. Remember that larger light sources in relation to the subject = softer light. A tiny flash on a stand way back will provide a harsh fill. You want a broad source as close to your subjects as possible in order to get the softest possible light. Bounce umbrellas are great. My favorite fill flash is when it is shot into a big bonce umbrella or a large piece of foam core.
Bring an incident meter to meter the ambient light and the fill flash. Don't use a digital camera for a light meter.
I would use T-Max 100 or 400, depending on the light. You will probably be fine with 100, but in medium format you can really afford to use 400 if you prefer a bit more D of F. Personally, I would try to not have blisteringly sharp surroundings, but I know you said you want wide D of F.
I would use a tripod.
I would tell everyone to wear somewhat uniform-looking clothing, i.e. not a uniform, per se, but have everyone wear a mostly dark or mostly light outfit.
Have people make eye contact with the lens, not with you.
Don't make a habit of always doing a count before shooting. It is almost a necessity with groups, but be sure to just grab some shots as well.
Contrast will depend on the light more than anything else, not on the film.
Ideally, you do a practice run a few days earlier with some friends, and see what you can do with some of the suggestions you have got here. Then proof your results and see if there is anything that needs changing.
I realize that I have stated this as commands. I don't mean them that way. More like a list of suggestions and things to think about. There is more than one way to melt an iceberg.
Rob, thank you. I will most likely have the tripod in a pickup backed up to the curb with the people just across the sidewalk, in the shade on a sunny day. The stairs will be in the direct sun, so they will be on a rather steep grassy slope, with the camera about even or a little above. I only have one flash and might be able to attach a small bounce umbrella.
How about that 2nd period last night! My wife and I went off to do some chores at the first break and missed all 5 goals. Aaaargh
Unfortunately, I missed it, and the Kings game, due to work. (That one turned out horribly. *$^@ing jokers blew it big.) Good for the pride that the Hawks got at least one, although it is too late. I would not have been surprised by a sweep. Vancouver is a steamroller this season; the Hawks are not the same team this year, and have not been for the entire season. I knew it would be this way as soon as I heard about all the important people they dumped. Byfuglien, Ladd, Eager, Sopel, Versteeg, Fraser, Burish, etc., and worst of all, Niemi. They foolishly let him walk after a $2.75 million salary arbitration, and signed Marty "Mediocre" Turco and his skanky red pads for nearly as much money...then he gets replaced as #1 by a rookie. Of course. Very aggravating. OK, enough OT ranting....
All, with this post I know I'm really overthinking, but it's become a real educational experience in how the different variables work together.
I metered the location at about the same time the portrait will be done. At 400 ISO it comes to f(22) at 1/60. At 100 ISO it is f(11) at 1/60 or f(16) at 1/30. I believe that a heavy C33 on a tripod, with cable release and flash should be able to go at 1/30.
Using the angle of view of my 3 lenses, the 80, 105 and 135, I calculated that a subject width of 12 ft would require camera-to-subject distances of about 13, 16 and 20 feet respectively. According to specs, all 3 lenses will provide plenty of DoF even at f(11) at those distances.
I am not yet fully understanding the charts that came with my Minolta 360PX automatic flash, but it might have trouble giving full illumination for the ISO 100 at 20 feet.
This being the case what combinations of lens, ISO, f-stop and shutter would you recommend?