How to Take a Portrait of 350 Sailors in Under 3 Hours

Written by M. Gertz on . Posted in Commercial Photography

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© Elena Zhukova

© Elena Zhukova

In the Profoto blog tradition of massive shoots executed flawlessly in almost no time at all (I’m looking at you, Art Streiber!), we bring you Elena Zhukova’s Fleet Week portrait. 

Elena Zhukova is a San Francisco based commercial photographer who aims to create conceptual, thought-provoking work, whether it be for advertising or for art. She’s currently finishing up the MFA program in commercial photography at the Academy of Art University in San Francisco. The following is her breakdown of the shoot in her own words.

The nature of commercial photography often entails being able to work at an incredibly high speed with the highest possible precision. When I was asked to take a group shot of ~350 US Marines, sailors and Coast Guardsmen at the San Francisco City Hall for the annual Fleet Week event, I knew I had to move fast.

The shoot was facilitated by Academy of Art University, which meant I had easy access to a large inventory of the necessary equipment. Scouting revealed the need for artificial lighting. We rounded up, with the help of four assistants, eleven Profoto 7b packs paired with PocketWizard radio triggers and modifiers.

I don’t recall another time I had to move the shoot at such a pace. In under three hours we were able to clear security check, set and test the lighting in all points of the giant hall, line up all the people, complete the shot and break down the setup. Thankfully, ease of use and reliability of the equipment in the hands of the skilled assistants allowed us to complete the task with time to spare for coffee and bagels. I gain invaluable experience from such shoots. They teach me to think on my feet and having the quality equipment needed at my disposal helps tremendously.


Part of the challenge of preparing for this shoot was to avoid the hazard of the milling crowd colliding with the equipment or tripping on cords. To avoid disaster, we placed all the packs on the balcony of the second floor, which meant the team had limited access to them. All the packs worked consistently and were easy to control — a key reason to use Profoto for all my location shoots. It’s transparent and it allows me to concentrate on the creative work and not have to worry about the technical aspects of the shoot.


See more of Elena’s work on her site. Connect with her on Flickr and Facebook.


All images and quotes in this post are used with permission and ©Elena Zhukova, all rights reserved; story is ©Profoto. Please respect and support photographers’ rights. Feel free to link to this blog post, but please do not replicate or repost elsewhere without written permission.

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Comments (6)

  • Lapas


    Very interesting project! I wonder what aperture was used to create this main photo?


  • Jens


    Very well done!


  • erik berry


    camera, lens, and settings?


  • Miamor


    Isn’t it ironic to prepare something of this enormous scale and to shoot it only with 20 megapixels Canon. Can’t they afford a medium format for one day?


  • Elena


    Hi Lapas, it was shot using 50 mm lens, f11, 1/50 sec. The final shot is a composite of 15 images.


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