December 4, 1987, the Big Shot debuted at Highland Hospital in Rochester, N.Y. Since that time it has traveled the world from Dubrovnik, Croatia, to Stockholm, Sweden, and this past September the 25th Big Shot was captured at the Smithsonian's National Museum of the American Indian in Washington, D.C.
"The Big Shot provides a way to teach students how to correctly use and balance electronic flash through this extraordinary community event," says Dawn Tower DuBois, professor at RIT's National Technical Institute for the Deaf.
What makes the Big Shot so powerful are the participants. Students and anyone in the community who wants to participate can help light up the scene. Everyone uses his or her own lighting source—anything from a handheld flashlight to electronic flash equipment. "When students approach the magnitude of the subject, they are able to realize the power in numbers. If you put 10 flash units together, you get 10 times the light. It sounds simple, but to have students step into the role of a flash photographer allows them to experience and think through the challenge," explains Bill DuBois, professor in the School of Photographic Arts and Sciences.
Prior to the event, students and organizers choreograph the shot, considering the different characteristics of the subject, such as glass, concrete, stone, rain, weather, and the surroundings. However, there are many variables that can't be planned for—perhaps most importantly, how many people will show up.
The Big Shot at the Smithsonian's National Museum of the American Indian drew over 800 volunteers. The crowd was divided into 11 teams, placing flashes in one area for neutral color, and flashlights in other areas for warmer effects. "It becomes sort of an organized chaos," says Michael Peres, professor in the School of Photographic Arts and Sciences.
A celebration of the 25 Big Shots has been compiled into a book entitled The RIT Big Shot, published through RIT's Open Publishing Lab.