Camaraderie and community are difficult to quantify … until you need them. When you do, the power of a strong, supportive professional network becomes invaluable.
That’s what Betty Huth, M.Photog.Cr., CPP, API, and Edward Booth, M.Photog.Cr, CPP, API, owners of Huth & Booth Photography in Riverview, Florida, found out last year when they were exploring ways to make a dream project real for one of their clients.
The episode began when Huth was talking to a client who had purchased a portrait gift certificate several years prior but had never used it. The client wanted to present her father with a portrait of his entire extended family. The challenge: There were 10 family groups scattered all over the East Coast who were rarely, if ever, in one place at the same time.
Huth empathized, saying that her last family portrait had to be done minus her son, who she digitally clipped from a previous portrait and placed into the more recent image just so she’d have a picture of the whole family. That sparked an idea.
Huth had seen an Imaging USA program by Utah photographer Drake Busath, M.Photog.Cr., about how he composites multiple groups from different photo sessions into a single portrait. With the right photo techniques and digital post-production skills, the portraits could appear as a seamless image, as if the entire group was present at the same sitting. “This got us to thinking about how we could do something similar for our client,” explains Huth.
The client wanted to give her father the family portrait for Christmas, and it was already approaching Halloween when she talked with Huth. To get the project done in time, they needed to act quickly and photograph the family members where they live.
Huth realized the best way to do this would be to find photographers living near each family group, and ask them to create the portraits of the groups for her. Huth and Booth would photograph the family members in their area. If the other photographers could produce the individual portrait images with consistent results, Huth could stitch everything together in Photoshop, creating one grand family portrait. She would need to coordinate session bookings and scheduling, then define the image style and capture settings. And she’d need to find photographers she could trust to get the job done well and quickly.
Huth and Booth are both lifetime members of PPA who have been active in the association for more than 25 years. As a result, they have relationships with talented photographers all over the country. They felt confident they could tap their PPA network to help carry out the project. “We got the names of the cities where the family members lived and looked on ppa.com to see who we knew in those areas,” says Huth. “We wanted photographers who could produce work that resembled ours and who could produce very high-quality work. In three of the four areas, we found personal contacts, all PPA master photographers who do excellent work. All the years of attending conventions, serving on councils, and being part of committees had paid off.”
Huth contacted Jerry Costanzo, M.Photog.Cr., CPP, from White Oak, Pennsylvania; Helene Glassman, M.Photog.Cr., CPP, and Jim DiVitale, M.Photog.MEI.Cr., API, F-ASP, in Atlanta; and Kevin Jiminez, M.Photog.Cr, CPP, from Martinez, Georgia. All signed on for the project.
There was only one area where Huth and Booth didn’t have a personal acquaintance: State College, Pennsylvania. For that area, Huth looked for PPA member photographers and then checked their websites for portrait samples. “I was looking for somebody who could do a good studio portrait, who understood lighting and backgrounds, someone who I thought could produce something that was consistent with our work and that of the other photographers,” she says. That photographer turned out to be Beth Irvin from nearby Port Matilda, Pennsylvania, who was eager to join the project as well.
Huth and Booth distributed guidelines to the photographers about clothing, posing, lighting, and backgrounds. They asked photographers to capture the images on a gray background, full length, lit from the right. Files had to be big enough to enlarge to 16x20 inches at high resolution. And the images had to be in her hands by Thanksgiving.
“The most challenging part was getting all the appointments scheduled,” says Huth. “There were 10 total sessions by five studios in three states. That’s a lot of moving parts and a lot of schedules to accommodate. And the parents, who would be receiving the final image, needed to be in the dark about the whole process since this was a surprise gift for them. We told them they were just coming in for their individual portrait.”
The photographers got to work. The original client covered the session fees for each shoot, and each photographer could sell individual portraits to the smaller groups they photographed if they wished. After the images were made, Huth and Booth began putting together the overall composite.
“We did full-length photos because we had dogs at the people’s feet in some of the pictures,” says Huth. “The photographers gave me both seated and standing poses so we’d have options. Kevin Jiminez even took individual portraits and sent those as well as the group. All the photographers captured their portraits on nice, clean backgrounds, so extracting everything in Photoshop was no big deal. For the background of the main image, I used a picture of a 20x30-foot wall in our studio that I often use for a portrait background. And then I just made everything fit!”
Huth output the final portrait as a 15x40-inch print on canvas with a custom frame. When she composited the images, she created a floor and a drop shadow. She then produced an alternate, “stacked” version that could be printed as a 5x10-inch print, which some of the families later purchased.
The whole project took six weeks. The final portrait was ready in time for the holidays without the parents having any idea of the scope of the project. They thought they were just getting their portrait taken as a gift from their kids. The client gave it to her father Christmas morning. “When they saw it, both parents cried. They had no idea that their family went through the trouble of having this done. It was really appreciated, and they realized that not many people are fortunate enough to have a portrait like this.”
Huth and Booth produced a version of the project for their studio, which they display along with the 10 individual family photos to demonstrate how the composite was made. The display prompts frequent comments from studio visitors and has helped garner interest from other clients in doing similar projects for their families.
A local newspaper published a story about the project, detailing how Huth and Booth helped close the gap for this dispersed family and bring everyone together in one heirloom print.
“It was really gratifying to be part of this experience and to produce something so special for our clients,” says Huth. “We need to give so much credit to our fellow photographers and PPA. Without the help of these talented and dedicated professionals, we would not have been able to accomplish our task. And without the contacts we made over the years through our membership in PPA, we would not have even had a chance of putting something like this together. This is really a great example of the power of the PPA community coming together.”
Jeff Kent is the editor-at-large of Professional Photographer.