Photographing large groups and make the photos look good is always a hard task. Any group of over 7-10 people can look awkward and the photos are usually not very appealing. But what if the group is not of 7 people, but of 1,500-2,000 people. If any of us will get the task of shooting 2,000 people we'll probably think it's a prank. But for photographer Chaim Perl it is part of his daily routine. Check out the in-depth BTS video and images of how he creates these huge group shots.
Chaim Perl is a Large Group photographer based in Brooklyn and is shooting big groups for the past 3 years. Chaim's definition of a big group is a little different than most people's definition for that term - he shoots groups of 200-2,000 people and is one of the only people in the world who specializes in that niche.
Once a year Chabad Lubavitch Rabbis and Rebbetzins from around the world come to New York for the annual 'Kinus HaShluchim' and 'Kinus HaShluchos' conventions. During each convention a huge group shot is scheduled in order to capture and document that year's attendees. For the past 3 years Chaim was in charge of the whole project - from setting up, to posing, shooting and editing (of course with the help of his trusted team).
The goal was to create 3 different images: Panorama shot of the Rabbis, 360° spherical panorama shot of the Rabbis, and a panorama shot of the Rebbetzins. In order to capture such big groups, Chaim had to shoot the groups in 20+ separate images and stitch them together into panorama images.
The equipment used for creating these huge group shots are the Nodal Ninja NN4 Tripod Head with RD16 II Rotator and a Zeiss 55mm f/1.4 Otus Distagon T* Lens. For some of the shots Chaim also used AlienBees and Dynalite strobes to lit the people.
In order to determine what will be the optimal time to shoot, Chaim used a Sun Position app that shows exactly where the sun is going to be located in the sky every hour of the day. This way he was able to schedule the whole day so when the right natural light is available - the only thing he had to do is start snapping the images. Setting up and posing so many people can take a while, so it's good to know what is the time-goal for completing the task.
Unlike the first shot, when the Rebbetzins came to the city it was freezing outside, so the photo was taken indoors and later photoshopped into the same backdrop as the Rabbi's group shot. Chaim used 6 lights to mimic the outdoor natural light to make it seem as real as possible.
Below is a gif animation showing the editing process of the Rebbetzins group shot (refresh page if gif not playing).
OK, so you think photographing ~2K people in a well-organized posed photo while making sure they are all in the right pose and looking at you is the hard part? Just wait until you hear the time frames for these shoots. Each one of these shoots is pre-planned 2 months ahead of time - with such big groups everything should be well planned and organized and nothing can be left for the last minute.
The real action starts the midnight before the shoot when the set up of the bleachers begins. The police arrives and blocks the whole street to make sure enough space is available. After a long night of setting up, the attendees arrive at 9am and shooting begins shortly after.
But wait, that's not all. Instead of packing up and going home to relax after a long night/day of shooting, Chaim and his brother Avrohom quickly import all the files and start editing. The reason: the photos need to be ready by 4pm of the same day. Then the photos are sent to be printed, and delivered by 7pm. Everything needs to be done in one single day. Setting up, shooting, editing, printing and delivering. That's crazy.
Below are 2 interactive images from both shoots where you can play around and see behind the scenes of each shoot and understand how it was all set up:
Aaron Calvo – Printer
Mush Klein – Graphic Design
You can follow Chaim Perl on Facebook to see updates on his work and see more of his great big group photos.
Have questions about the process, tools and methods Chaim used? Feel free to ask anything in the comments below and he will do his best to respond.