Twenty two years ago, the congregation of Central Baptist Church in Johnson City, Tennessee rowed up almost four hundred members in front of their building for a group picture. Considering that much has changed since 1992, Central Baptist staff decided to update their picture. A new picture would reflect that Central Baptist has expanded their original building, that more than a generation has passed (the children in the photo now have their own children), and that the congregation has grown.
A few weeks ago, this church commissioned me to take their new picture. After reviewing the original photo, studying the church grounds, and learning that they desired a repeat of the original composition, I set some goals for the 2014 picture.
Now that our imaging technology out resolves the film used for the original, we would strive for a much higher resolution picture that would capture recognizable details of each person. I believed that some elevation would provide a better perspective. Being higher up would improve the ability of the camera to “see” people standing in back rows. Conveniently, the church already owned a mobile hydraulic lift, which would be much safer than the balancing act standing on a tall ladder on a sloping sidewalk would be. Last, I would shoot two significant sets of images; the first would be wide angle shots encompassing the entire group using a 25 megapixel camera. The second set would be a digital panorama, created by shooting a mosaic of zoomed in, overlapping, detailed images. These images would later be assembled using stitching software on a computer into one larger image.
So many logistical details came together, making this shoot possible. Most important and a definite answered prayer was the weather. Our picture day was fantastic, with a perfect, cloudy-bright cloud cover that had our group almost sunlit, but not blindingly so. A wireless mike with a portable PA system enabled us to move about to direct the placement of hundreds of people in a short amount of time. Everyone was so friendly and spirited; this shoot was so much fun! Just organizing the people in the fifteen minutes allotted made me restless for at least two nights leading up to the event, but in the end, it all came together.
The actual shooting time was only seven minutes; I took multiple shots, knowing that in a group this large, many distractions happen in real time. These came in handy as I assembled the final product.
The product pictured above is the resulting digital panoramic composite, composed of five vertical, 25 megapixel shots with dozens of edits to replace faces and small groups of people who looked better in other shots taken during the interval. Admittedly, that is not the original sky but an entirely different pretty blue one shot a couple days later. The photojournalists can shoot me for this; to me, this is art.
The real power of shooting a group picture this way pays off when printing a display print. With over 138 megapixels to enlarge, the 42 by 24 inch print Central Baptist plans to frame and display will show very detailed faces.
I see so much human interest in this picture. I was particularly touched by the little girl, holding the picture of someone who, I presume, was a relative now with Jesus in Heaven (see her above in the middle of the upper left quadrant). I was blessed to be there, being used by the Lord to create a big picture of a special day, a day that many will recall over the years whenever they see this picture hanging in their commons.