A few weeks ago, I was asked if I’d be interested in taking a photo of a large group of IBMers forming the number 100 as part of the Centennial celebration for IBM. Sure! It sounded like fun, although the logistics would be, let’s say, interesting.

First we needed to decide where to take the shot and what we’d use to get the camera high enough. We thought it would be cool to shoot it toward one of the buildings. The two-shades-of-blue buildings are distinctive. The buildings were designed by Eero Saarinen, the architect who designed the St. Louis arch.

We’d need a lift to get the camera up high. Okay – this is IBM after all – one doesn’t just go up in a lift. One needs training. That was going to complicate things. However, this is 2011 and we have solutions for minor issues like this!

Enter tethered shooting. Tethered shooting is supported by many modern cameras. You connect your camera to a computer over USB, and a dedicated program allows you to control many of the camera’s functions right from the computer. My 5D MkII provides the ability to basically control everything that doesn’t require physical adjustments. I thus could not adjust the zoom and I couldn’t physically move the camera on its tripod.

Live view works, so I could turn that on and call up to my helpers in the lift to move the camera up or down, right of left, or rotate it clockwise or counterclockwise. I also had them adjust the zoom for me. I could select a focus point and have the camera focus there for me. And, of course, I had complete control over exposure – ISO, shutter speed, f-stop. It was pretty slick.

I actually had not used the Canon EOS utility to do this very much. When I’ve shot tethered before, it was in a studio-type setting, and I used Lightroom’s tethering features. Unfortunately, it doesn’t support things like live view that I wanted to use. So, I stuck with the Canon program, and it worked splendedly.

I also was able to setup timed shooting, having it shoot once every 10 seconds for three frames. That allowed me to also be in the photo. I’m at the bottom left of the right-most zero.

Of course, I had backups of everything including computers and cameras. Had I needed to use my older 5D, I’d have lost the live view function. But, as they say, I would still be a photographer (i.e. I would have a camera to shoot!). Fortunately, that need never arose.

Logistics. The folks coordinating this were super. I can’t say enough about how well organized this was. One guess is we had 1700 people. We had everyone lined up and ready to go in about 15 minutes. The planning involved several meetings, a dry run with the camera setup, another shoot to help line up the numbers. There were notes and PA announcements. All I had to do was shoot some photos!

A comment about distance, if you want to attempt something like this: The USB standard says it can drive 5 meters, or about 16 feet. There are repeater cables, though. These essentially include a one-port USB hub at the end of the cable. They listen on one side and retransmit on the other, so you then get another 5 m. I used two of these plus a 5 m cable connected to the camera. We probably had the camera up between 30 and 40 feet.

Last night when I was awakened by the storms rolling by, I wondered if the shoot would happen. The rain date was tomorrow, but we really wanted to have the photo today. When I left home, the rain had stopped, it was still very cloudy, but roads and sidewalks were beginning to dry. Whew! As I packed up my gear after the shoot, it began to sprinkle. When Mother Nature gives you a gift, take it and say, “thanks!”

Here’s a short video time-lapse of folks arriving and forming the numbers.