26 VIPs and an Elevator

I have had the pleasure of working with Walmart eCommerce on a few occasions. Their photo production team is great, and they have a fantastic facility. In July, I was asked to photograph an event at the headquarters building. A Chinese diplomatic delegation was to visit and meet with the CEO and other executives at Walmart. There would be a meeting, an office tour, and a portrait.

The brief for the shoot was pretty straightforward: Shoot a two-person portrait of the CEO and Chinese Vice-Minister together and exchanging a ceremonial gift. Then photograph the Walmart team and Chinese delegation together in a single group shot.

Plans got a little complicated, however, when it was decided that the portraits would be framed against a wall opposite an elevator bank in a corridor near the headquarters building’s entryway. I recalled that space being tight for a big group photo, so I took a scouting trip over to the location to take a look.

As expected, the space didn’t allow me to back up very far from the wall I was shooting against. In fact, the width of the group (two rows of approximately 13 people) was almost twice the distance available to back up. And of course there was no room to place lighting behind camera. To make things even more dicey, I was told that I would only have 45 minutes between when I bring my lighting gear into the building and when the VIPs would arrive for the shoot. And when they arrived, I would have only 5 minutes with them.

Thankfully, I had a stellar producer from Walmart’s in-house photo studio working with me, as well as an executive staffer from the corporate office and support from facilities folks. With their help, all the pre-production was handled quickly and the shoot went smoothly.

I arrived early for the shoot with my assistant, and we loaded all our gear onto a cart for quick entry once the all-clear signal was given to start setting up. The elevators were turned off and locked in the open position so I could back up as much as possible for the group shot. I actually ended up backing my tripod and ladder up into the center elevator when it came time to shoot the full group.

We assembled lighting, powered up and did a few test shots with just minutes to spare before the Walmart executives and Chinese delegates arrived.

First up, Walmart eCommerce President & CEO Neil Ashe and Chinese Vice-Minister of Commerce Wang Chau exchange a ceremonial gift:

Then a handshake and some smiles:

Then the group. The plan called for hosts and visitors to stand on opposite sides. But the mood was relaxed and casual, so everyone decided to mix together:

In the end, all photography did happen within about a 5 minute window (with half that time spent just on arranging the big group).

This shoot is an example of a project that was 90% planning and 10% photography. Lots of limitations, including set-up time, shooting time, location options, etc. However, planning and a capable team made it easy.