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That's true; very hard light. Similar to a sunlit shoot on a clear day. Using big strobes in big modifiers would give softer light, and so renting some pro-caliber lighting gear would be a good option if one is able.
I would still advise that route. It is a chance for you to learn.
Plan it and light it like you are going to do a magazine shoot. Then try to execute that way. In the future if called on again you will know what you are capable of. When people see your work, it represents you. Your Work = Your Brand.
We spend a ton of money buying equipmenmt, but never on models or shoots to develop skills.
I just did a group shoot 2 days ago. I can't share pioctures here because they are all minors, but I will describe the shoot. All of my own equipment.
I used 3, 1600 Ws power packs to shoot a group of 25 on Sunday. I had 4 packs, but we had a bad power cord for 1 pack. Too bad, I really could have used it.
Each pack had 2 outlets, so I used a total of 6 heads with 3x1600 Ws. I was dialed in at 8.7 to 9.0 on each pack, 1 stop down from full power (10.0) for faster recycle (Broncolor Topas packs, with a mix of Broncolor heads. Heads are fully "asynchronous, which means you can set each at any value independent of the other on the pack.)
I metered at 8.0 for main, 5.6 for fill. Shot at 8.0 +1/3 for a little "hot" look to on the skin tones. Always better to pull back expoosure in post, but I used them straight out of the camera as shot.
Main: I used 2 Photoflex Large soft box side by side horizontally, with about 3 feet between them, at a fairly shallow angle (maybe 25 degrees left from camera?) I metered along the subject line and balanced until I had all spots within .5 stop along the line.
Fill: I used a 6' Photoflex Octodome without the face (inner diffuser) behind camera position. Metered at 5.6, again tuned to be within .5 stop at line.
Hair/Rim: I used 2 Photoflex Medium softbox, one at 8' on a boom, one just below on a lightstand. The lower pointed toward the further end of the group, the higher to the nearer portion.
Background: I had a 20' tall white screen on a school stage. I used 1, 70 degree reflector in the middle, aimed upward to give a spreading light. I actually planned to do some shots with the background blown to white for knockouts, but the power cord for the 4trh pack had a UK plug, not US. (Don't ask - no idea howw. We tested all packs before we left.)
I used a 24-70 2.8 L on my T4i. Unfortunately I was not able to use my 5D3 that day. I shot at just over 24 mm, I could have used the extra range of the full frame to get out of the wide angle (left some room, used lens correction in Lightroom.)
I used 5 large, air cushioned stands and 1 medium sized boom. At least 5 extension cords. I also brought a portable background stand & 4 colors of paper (for the individual shopts.) Grey, white, light blue, light creme. A small step ladder, which I used part of the time for the group shots. An extra softbox or two, and a couple of extra heads.
Also a laptop to check the results in progress. I was going to shoot the head shots tethered, with the assistant to watch each shot come up, but didn't have enough time.
This was a high school music group. We also did headshots for all 25 players after the group shot.
I had an assistant. Setup and testing took about 2.5 hours. Group shots took about 1/2 hour (also with smaller groups.)
Individual with 3 poses each, 2 shots in each pose took about 1.5 hours total, though I wanted 2+. We were running almost 1 hour late by the time the group was able to get everyone there and ready.
Total time was about 7.5 hours from setup to packed and gone. I paid the assistant $125 out of my pocket - this was also "volunteer" work for my sons music group.
I used to have a studio, now I am partially retired. I also have portable battery power packs which I used for a different group this summer (Broncolor Mobil), but I only have 2 of those and wanted more power.
I was looking at some of the historical sports team shots at the school. Some are pretty big. You might go look and judge for yourself, and see what kind of work you want to show.
I say: Think aspirational. The last group shot I did this summer for a music group, I had 5 parentsd ask if I did Senior Portraits (I don't right now.)
If I did, EACH of those contracts could mean between $600 and $2,500 of income, depending on the student. And if you do a good job, perhaps 20 more jobs the next year ... Take cards to hand out. Give people a link to your web site, and promise to post pics.