Since the late 1980s, Rochester Institute of Technology has been “painting with light,” as photographer Eric Kunsman calls it, with the “Big Shot” event.
“When you have long exposure times on cameras, if someone is walking around with a flashlight, they’re essentially erasing themselves out of the photograph. It can feel magical when you’re doing it,” says Kunsman, who is an assistant professor of visual communications studies in the National Technical Institute for the Deaf and a Big Shot co-coordinator. “It requires a lot of people with flashlights to pull off well.”
The photography event requires forethought, a community volunteer effort, and on-the-job adapting to capture large unique, at-night images. In the past, locations have included Old Fort Niagara, the Kodak Tower, the Kentucky Churchill Downs, and many others.
This tradition had been annual until the COVID-19 pandemic forced a cancellation in 2020 and an internal RIT event in 2021. This year, the No. 35 Big Shot will be open to the public as a free, family friendly event. Its subject is based on what was originally planned for the canceled year and will highlight the Susan B. Anthony museum and neighborhood park.
“Susan B. Anthony and Frederick Douglass are two of the most important figures when it comes to the right to vote. Regardless of which side of the political spectrum you are on, we want to send a message before the elections of how important that right is,” Kunsman says.
“The Big Shot is an education event for photography students, but it’s also just as importantly a way for us to engage with the community,” says Dan Hughes, a lecturer at the School of Photographic Arts and Sciences and Big Shot co-coordinator.
Hughes adds that some participants have become “Big Shot groupies,” helping the event years in a row and even traveling out of state to attend. The Big Shot team says the more participants, the better the image will appear, and estimates that as many as 300 to 400 volunteers could be ideal for the neighborhood square.
The entire process is four exposures at the location, which gives the photography team some ability to adjust, but the margin for error is thin.
“It’s only ever four attempts, that’s what the Big Shot is. So, it’s all this planning for multiple months, taking scouting trips, setup shots, but it only takes about 20 minutes total,” says Kunsman. “It’s fun, but it’s a lot of thinking on your feet, so there’s also a blast of adrenaline.”
The Big Shot will take place Sunday night, rain or shine, and those who want to take part are encouraged to arrive at 5 p.m. with dark clothing. Volunteers can bring their own flashlights or can receive a free one provided by Nikon or the Susan B. Anthony House & Museum.