Photographer Sean Busher was looking for a project to herald the return of The Light Factory—a non-profit gallery and photo education center in Charlotte, North Carolina–when he hit upon an audacious idea: Recruit dozens of volunteers to create two panoramic images of both sides of Charlotte’s historic main drag. With months of preparation and a $10,000 grant, Busher pulled it off November 1. A two-sided, 100-foot exhibition of both panoramas is now pending at the Mint Museum of Art, the city’s main art museum.
Established in 1972, The Light Factory is a gathering place for photographers that hosts exhibits and offers classes. It closed in 2013 because of financial problems, but a group of local volunteers launched a Kickstarter campaign and managed to re-open it this summer at a new location.
Busher, a Light Factory board member, wanted to commemorate the re-opening and bring some publicity to the gallery. His idea was to photograph a single, vibrant moment on a mile-long stretch of Tryon Street in Charlotte. He dubbed the project “Moment Mile, the Ultimate Panorama.”
“I loved the concept, but I figured it would never happen,” he says.
But the more he explored the idea, the more excited he got about making it work. He needed funding, so he called the Charlotte-based Knight Foundation, which supports innovative journalism, media and art projects. Knight Foundation program director Susan Patterson surprised Busher by saying she had already heard of his project and wanted to help.
Knight Foundation provided a $10,000 grant, which Busher will use for marketing, and to cover the cost of printing and mounting the panoramic images. He also used some of the money to cover the costs of parking and a pizza party for the volunteers who showed up to help with the shoot.
Based on some shoot tests, Busher determined that he needed approximately 150 volunteer photographers spaced 36 feet apart to get the best panoramic, a measurement that provided some overlap to guarantee one continuous picture. He put out a call for volunteers, requiring them each to bring their own DSLR with a 50 mm lens.
Prior to the shoot, Busher made 4×6 test shots from each designated position along the street, and asked the volunteers on the shoot day to use his test shots as guides for framing their images. He also instructed volunteers to shoot at 1/125 or faster to ensure sharp capture. He didn’t specify aperture or ISO, but advised everyone to give priority to depth of field, rather than low ISO.
Busher woke up to cold, rainy weather on November 1, the day of the shoot. “We thought we were going to have to cancel the whole thing,” he says. “But about two hours before the shoot, the sun came out and it was beautiful.”
Out of the 150 photographers who volunteered, 138 showed up. Busher had created a website with a countdown for the first picture, scheduled for 6:15 pm, which was just before sunset and around the time the street’s Saturday night bustle begins. The volunteers took their positions along a 15-block stretch of Tryon Street, and monitored the countdown to 6:15 on their smartphones. After the first picture, they all crossed the street to photograph the other side exactly five minutes later. Then they gathered at a pizza restaurant where Busher and his team downloaded everyone’s flash cards onto computers.
“When you get that many people together a lot can go wrong—camera batteries, compact flash drives. It kind of had me freaked out,” Busher says.
He used Photoshop to combine the individual images into a panoramic. Because Photoshop only allows about a 500,000 pixel-wide image, he had to break the document into two different parts. Originally, he planned to stitch the pictures together as one seamless image, but as he was laying it out, he decided to juxtapose the images without stitching them so viewers get a sense of each individual frame.
“To get 138 photographers together at the same time to do something unified like this shows real dedication and support,” Busher says. “This couldn’t have gone better. I’m happy and relieved and thrilled.”
No date has been set for an exhibition at the Mint Museum, but Busher hopes to show the panoramas there this fall. He’s also looking for a corporate buyer for the panoramas. If he succeeds, he says, the proceeds will go to support The Light Factory.
–by Sam Boykin