Big Shot team makes final preparations to light up icy High Falls Sunday night

Organizers secure CSX train, working with RG&E to control flow of falls for nighttime photo

Follow Rich Kiley on Twitter
Follow RITNEWS on Twitter

RIT Big Shot Team

Organizers of RIT’s 29th Big Shot are making final arrangements to take a nighttime photo of High Falls in Rochester at 7 p.m. Sunday night, Feb. 9.

Organizers of RIT’s 29th Big Shot are putting the finishing touches on preparations to point their lenses at High Falls for the first nighttime winter photo the team has taken since 2000.

Hundreds of volunteers dressed in dark clothes will be needed to come to participate at High Falls Sunday, Feb. 9, joining RIT students, faculty, staff and alumni as the photo is taken—regardless of weather conditions—around 7 p.m. Volunteers are asked to arrive by 6:45 p.m. and will be positioned on the Pont De Rennes Bridge, a pedestrian bridge that spans the Genesee River a few hundred feet from the base of the falls.

There will be free parking in the High Falls parking garage, 240 Street St., located right next to WXXI. The High Falls Visitor Center will be open for access to public restrooms.

The technical hurdles that stem from producing this winter photo at the rim of High Falls are daunting, but “we’ve received help from the city and a number of businesses that will help us create an epic, once-in-a-life time photograph of Rochester N.Y,” said RIT professor Michael Peres, one of the Big Shot organizers.

“Like all of the Big Shots over the years, this will be a community art project,” said Peres, associate chair of the School of Photographic Arts and Sciences. “This year we are particularly fortunate to have great partners in the City of Rochester, CSX Transportation, RG&E, Nikon, and Profoto. The response has been wonderful and now we need hundreds of volunteers to come out and help us to light the falls as we take the picture.”

The RIT team of Peres, Dawn Tower DuBois, Mike Dear, Christye Sisson, and Willie Osterman has visited the High Falls site several times in recent days to discuss strategy to illuminate and photograph one of Rochester’s natural and iconic spectacles.

CSX Transportation, Inc. has agreed to provide two new locomotives and a string of intermodal cars to fill out the length of the bridge for staging at the event. The train will be positioned during the daylight hours. The Jacksonville, Fla.-based corporation also has agreed to hold all rail traffic “so there won’t be anything moving in the background of the photo,” according to Peres.

RG&E also is playing a key role for the photo. The company’s hydroelectric operations team is planning to augment the flow of water over the falls for the photograph and will turn off all dam lights in the river. RG&E uses the water to produce hydroelectric power.

In addition, the City of Rochester will darken the Genesee River from the falls to the Broad Street aqueduct by turning off all street and sidewalk lighting along the Genesee River. The city also will turn off lights on Cataract Street and the Pont De Rennes bridge—the pedestrian bridge and viewing platform of High Falls and surrounding gorge where most volunteers will gather—and take down two light poles in the foreground of the photograph that interrupts the field of view from the cameras.

Nikon is once again supporting the project, loaning high-end photographic equipment and sponsoring memento prints for all who attend.

In addition to supplying six powerful battery-operated electronic flash systems, Profoto provided a grant to pay costs associated with the city’s work to turn off lighting around the falls.

The High Falls area was the site of much of Rochester’s early industrial development, when industry was powered with falling water. Brown’s Race diverts water from above the falls and was used to feed various flour mills and industries.

The Big Shot relies on hundreds of volunteers to provide the primary light source for the image while RIT photographers shoot an extended exposure. Typical exposures last 30 seconds and four attempts will be made to illuminate the falls, gorge and the surrounding structures. It’s a signature event for RIT and is led by the School of Photographic Arts and Sciences, which is nationally recognized for its degree programs.

The Big Shot often is described as “painting with light” because participants are asked to “paint” or shine their light source onto a particular area of the landmark while the photograph is taken. The light sources are primarily either handheld flashlights or camera flash units.

The Big Shot project has traveled to several national landmarks and twice crossed the Atlantic Ocean. Through their viewfinders, Big Shot photographers have captured such landmarks as AT&T Stadium (formerly Cowboys Stadium) in Arlington, Texas; The Alamo, San Antonio, Texas; the U.S.S. Intrepid, New York City; Pile Gate, Dubrovnik, Croatia; the Royal Palace, Stockholm, Sweden; and the Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian, Washington, D.C.

RIT’s Office of Alumni Relations and School of Photographic Arts and Sciences will host a private alumni reception from 5 to 7 p.m. at the Genesee Brew House, 25 Cataract St. Call the Office of Alumni Relations at 866-748-2586 for information.

To learn more about the project and view photographs of past Big Shot photos, go to RIT also has a Facebook page (“like” RIT the Big Shot) and a Twitter handle (@RITBigShot) for the event.

The weather forecast Sunday is calling for snow showers and a high temperature of 25 degrees, with a low of 15. There’s a 40 percent chance of snow. The Big Shot team plans to use a canopy to protect against the predicted snow and occasional wind gusts.

For Dawn DuBois, whose husband Bill—professor emeritus in the School of Photographic Arts and Sciences who took every Big Shot photo with Peres since 1987 before retiring after the Cowboys Stadium shoot last year—this year will mark her final Big Shot.

It also marks a return to High Falls for the Big Shot Team. Big Shot No. 12 was taken at Brown’s Race at High Falls in December 1997.

WHAT: RIT Big Shot No. 29

WHERE: High Falls, Rochester, N.Y.

WHEN: Arrive at 6:45 p.m., photograph takes place at about 7 p.m.

WHO: RIT’s School of Photographic Arts and Sciences along with hundreds of participants

MEDIA PARKING: Genesee Brew House, 25 Cataract Street

GENERAL PUBLIC PARKING: High Falls parking garage, 240 State St., located right next to WXXI. (Participants attending the alumni event also can use the Genesee Brew House lot).