How to Make your Virtual Special Event a Success - My Experience Photographing a Zoom Bar Mitzvah

July 15, 2020  •  1 Comment

To Zoom or Not to Zoom Your Special Event?

Zoom-Bar-Mitzvah-Family-CelebrationZoom-Bar-Mitzvah-Family-CelebrationA family interacting with their virtual guests while live-streaming their zoom bar mitzvah. Captured candid moment by San Francisco Bay Area photographer Cheryl Bigman.

If you have a Bar or Bat Mitzvah, Wedding, or other special event scheduled this year, you may be asking yourself,

"Should I pivot to a virtual event or postpone?"

While at first it may seem disappointing to "settle" for a virtual event, the idea of postponing until next year brings a whole other set of questions:

  • Will family and friends feel comfortable coming to our big celebration with 100+ guests by next year?
  • How do we even know how far out to postpone?
  • Will we still be able to use our same venue, photographer, DJ, and other vendors on our new date? And what happens if we have to postpone again?
  • How important is it to us to have a big party?

For Bar & Bat Mitzvahs:

  • Will my child still be excited to have their Mitzvah next year after all the months of preparation?
  • Will they feel like they are "too old" by next year?


As a San Francisco Bay Area Event Photographer, I've had numerous conversations about this with my own Bar/Bat Mitzvah and Wedding clients. To be honest, at first I had mixed feelings about pivoting to virtual events. But it wasn't until I actually got to photograph my first Zoom Mitzvah that I realized what a great choice virtual events can be!


Max's Zoom Bar Mitzvah!

I photographed Max's Zoom Bar Mitzvah in June 2020 - and it was AMAZING!

In fact, it was intimate, emotional, and every bit as meaningful as the 100's of traditional Mitzvahs I've photographed.

Virtual-Zoom-Bar-Mitzvah-ServiceVirtual-Zoom-Bar-Mitzvah-ServiceProud family watches their son become a Bar Mitzvah during his virtual zoom Bar Mitzvah.

I documented his special day in my usual storytelling style. The story may have been different than originally planned, but the feelings were exactly the same.

Happy-Tears-for-the-Bar-Mitzvah-BoyHappy-Tears-for-the-Bar-Mitzvah-BoyMom gets emotional with tears of joy during a proud moment at her son's virtual zoom Bar Mitzvah. By Cheryl Bigman Photography.

Zoom-Bar-Mitzvah-Family-MomentZoom-Bar-Mitzvah-Family-MomentA Bar Mitzvah boy is surrounded by his loving family as they interact with their virtual guests during his zoom Bat Mitzvah.

And now I get to share my experience and helpful tips with all of you! Here's how our day went:

Photography Timeline for the Day:

Before the Service - Zoom Test with Clergy, Lighting/Sound Check, Photograph Decor/Details, Candid Getting Ready Shots

The Service - Very much like a synagogue service with all the same candid moments of Max and his family

After the Service - Zoom guests "unmuted" to say Mazel Tov, candids, great reaction shots!

Family Portraits - In a shaded area of the front yard! (Could also be done before the service for better light.)

Themed Photo Shoot - Max's theme was basketball, so of course, we had to create some cool street photography of him doing his thing in his favorite hoodie and Jordans! Made his day even more special!

Luncheon Candids


Tips for a Successful Zoom Event

Creating "All the Feels"


Create a paper or electronic invitation announcing the change to a virtual event with date, time, and instructions on how to join. Send reminder the day before. Here are some great examples:



Use decor inside and outside your home with a theme just like you would for a traditional event. If you don't have time, an event planner can help you.

Bar-Mitzvah-Decor-Basketball-ThemeBar-Mitzvah-Decor-Basketball-ThemeBasketball themed Bar Mitzvah decor for a virtual zoom event held inside the family home. Photographed by Cheryl Bigman Photography.


Basketball-Theme-Table-Decor-Bar-MitzvahBasketball-Theme-Table-Decor-Bar-MitzvahTable decorations for a basketball themed Bar Mitzvah using childhood photos. Photographed at a virtual stay at home zoom event by Cheryl Bigman Photography.

Bar-Mitzvah-Boy-after-his-Virtual-Zoom-ServiceBar-Mitzvah-Boy-after-his-Virtual-Zoom-ServiceCOVID-19 didn't stop this Bar Mitzvah boy from celebrating his big day with a virtual zoom Bar Mitzvah at his home. Balloon letter decor added to the celebration.


A Few Live Guests

Invite just a few close family members to be there live - SAFELY- if you're comfortable. Personal choice.


Special Touches

  • Gift Bags - Send to family & friends with mini-challahs, custom/themed kippahs, candy to throw, & signs to hold up.
  • Mazel Tov/Congrats Signs - Send guests a Google or Word doc with Signs they can print out themselves to hold up at the end of the Mitzvah.
  • Candy Throw - Tell guests to throw candy at their screens when prompted.
  • Micro-Hora - Whoever's there lifts the chair! Prep some traditional Hora music to play.
  • Video Montage - Play it for your virtual guests by screen sharing in Zoom.
  • Special Calls - Arrange private video or voice calls with special family and friends to "socialize".
  • Themed Photo Shoot - A talent, hobby, sport, favorite outfit change, or anything your Bar/Bat Mitzvah is into!

*** Prep your virtual guests in the invite with anything special you'd like them to do.


The Candy Throw and Mazel Tov Signs

Virtual-Bar-Mitzvah-Candy-ThrowVirtual-Bar-Mitzvah-Candy-ThrowA boy is surprised when all of his virtual guests throw candy to say congrats at the end of his zoom Bar Mitzvah. Zoom-Bar-Mitzvah-Congrats-SignsZoom-Bar-Mitzvah-Congrats-SignsA family holds up congrats signs at the end of a zoom virtual Bar Mitzvah along with all the virtual guests.


Zoom Guest Congrats

At the end of the service, unmute virtual guests so everyone can say congrats!

Zoom-Bar-Mitzvah-FamilyZoom-Bar-Mitzvah-FamilyA boy and his family interacting with all of his virtual guests during his zoom Bar Mitzvah. By Cheryl Bigman Photography.

Virtual-Bar-Mitzvah-Family-HelloVirtual-Bar-Mitzvah-Family-HelloA family says hello to all of their virtual guests while celebrating their son's zoom Bar Mitzvah.


Themed Photo Shoot

Max's favorite part of the day was changing into his hoodie and Jordans, and doing a basketball-themed photo shoot!

Basketball-Boy-Street-PhotoBasketball-Boy-Street-PhotoStreet photography of a boy playing basketball in his hoodie and Jordans. By Cheryl Bigman Photography.

Dribble-that-Basketball-Street-PhotoDribble-that-Basketball-Street-PhotoStreet photography of a boy dribbling a basketball in his hoodie and Jordans. By Cheryl Bigman Photography.


Lunch or Dinner

Order your favorite Take-Out, make a favorite homemade dessert, and do NOT forget this... It's my favorite challah in the San Francisco Bay Area from Woodside Bakery and Cafe in Menlo Park.

Giant-Frosted-Challah-with-Rainbow-SprinklesGiant-Frosted-Challah-with-Rainbow-SprinklesGiant frosted challah bread prepared for a stay-at-home Bar Mitzvah from Woodside Bakery and Cafe in Menlo Park, CA. Photo taken during a virtual zoom Bar Mitzvah by Cheryl Bigman Photography.


For Fun

Movie Night, Game Night, Dessert-Making Contest, and if you're comfortable, outdoor Socially Distanced Get-Together with a small group of family or friends.



The Techie Side


Stay-at-Home-Zoom-Bar-MitzvahStay-at-Home-Zoom-Bar-MitzvahA zoom bar mitzvah service at home with a small group of close family. Photographed by San Francisco Bay Area photographer Cheryl Bigman.

Designate a Zoom Manager

The last thing you want is to accidentally hear a Zoom guest's private conversation, or worse yet, see them doing something inappropriate! Appoint a friend or family member to manage your Zoom experience from their own laptop. Your synagogue, church, or DJ may do this for you. The Zoom Manager should:

  • Set up your Zoom event with security controls to prevent "Zoom-bombing" - just Google it for details, it's not hard :)
  • Explain Zoom rules to guests before the service starts.
  • Mute and unmute Zoom guests as appropriate - Ex. If a Zoom guest is participating in the service.


The Setup

This is a two-light setup with extra fill from a window. I recommend turning OFF overhead lighting.

Virtual-Bar-Mitzvah-SetupVirtual-Bar-Mitzvah-SetupA virtual zoom Bar Mitzvah with a few close family members in person and the rest on zoom. Ring light, desk lamp, and usb microphone help to make everyone look and sound their best. Custom kippahs go with the basketball theme.


Position your laptop so the camera is at eye level or higher for the most flattering angle. You can see in the above photo how the laptop is on a few upside-down baskets.


Lighting... is EVERYTHING

Adequate lighting is the key to looking good on the other end of a Zoom event.

Here are some great light sources:

  • Natural Window Light - Face a large window with open-shaded light, not direct sunlight. North-facing is ideal. If it's too bright, consider hanging a light sheer drapery or bed sheet over the window to soften the light.
  • Desk Lamp or Table Lamp with shade off - These can work great, but I tend to use as a 2nd light source.
  • LED Ring Lights - Great option for even lighting and come in a wide range of prices. 

Key Features to Look for in LED Ring Lights:

  • Adjustable Brightness - dimmable lights give you more control
  • Adjustable Temperature (or filters) -  warm, natural, and cool skin tones
  • AC Power (vs. USB) - gives you more power
  • Tall adjustable light stand - most come with a stand, but make sure it's tall enough to light your face when you're standing
  • Swivel/Tilt head - gives you more options to creatively light yourselves, not just straight on.


Here are some Ring Light options with great reviews:

Good Quality

Neewer 18-inch SMD LED Ring Light Dimmable Lighting Kit with 78.7-inch Light Stand, Filter and Hot Shoe Adapter for Camera Photo Studio LED Lighting Portrait YouTube Video Shooting - Neewer is a well-known reliable brand and offers a whole line of ring lights.


Less Expensive, but Still Great Features

EICAUS 10” Ring Light with Stand and Phone Holder, Cell Phone Tripod with Ring light for Live Streaming/Makeup/Photography, Compatible with Phones and Cameras(Black)



Lighting Setups

The goal is to make sure everyone in front of the Zoom camera is evenly lit. Experiment with different setups to see what works best in your environment at the exact same time of day as your event. Here are some examples of One-Light and Two-Light Setups.

One-Light Setups:

  1. BIG window facing you with even soft light. Diffuse with a sheer panel if needed.
  2. One large LED Ring Light (14" or larger) either just to the side of your laptop at eye level OR above your laptop and pointed down slightly (works great if you need to reduce eyeglass reflections too).


Two-Light Setups:

Set up one light ~45° to the left and the other ~45° to the right of where you will be standing.

  1. Two LED Ring Lights
  2. One LED Ring Light, One Desk lamp or Table lamp with shade off
  3. One LED Ring Light, One big window


Pro Lighting Tips:

  • Do NOT have your back to a window! You will turn into a shadow.
  • Avoid direct overhead lighting. It's unflattering and can create wacky skin tones. THIS is the one thing I would have changed in Max's setup.
  • Match temperature - When using Two-Light Setups, try to match the temperature if possible. Many ring lights have a few temp settings. Ex. If you're using a tungsten table lamp, it will give you warm skin tones so adjust your ring light to a warmer setting to match the temp.
  • Stand back a bit from your laptop camera. The light emitted from your laptop is usually much cooler than your other light sources, and will cause whoever is right in front of it to have a cooler skin tone than everyone else.
  • Bounce! - Another light source - If you have a light colored wall facing you, either white or grey, use it as a reflector by pointing a light source such as a desk lamp directly at the wall. Soft light will "bounce" back onto your faces!



Laptop Built-in Microphone vs. External Microphone

While your laptop has a built-in microphone, and Zoom does a decent job adjusting that sound, the quality is not nearly as good as an external microphone. Zoom gives you the option to use an external mic.

The easiest to use are USB microphones that connect directly to your laptop. You can attach what's called a "Microphone Windscreen" or "Pop Filter" to eliminate or reduce that annoying noise "P' sounds make in the microphone (called "plosives").

Popular USB External Microphones:

Blue Yeti USB Mic


Foam Microphone Windscreen for Blue Yeti - Aedor Quality Sponge Mic Cover as a pop filter for Blue Yeti


Audio-Technica ATR2100x-USB Cardioid Dynamic Microphone (ATR Series) - I use this one for my own Zoom meetings, currently less expensive than the Blue Yeti


Studio Microphone Mic Wind Screen Pop Filter/ Swivel Mount,360° Flexible Gooseneck Holder


Do a Test Run!

  • Well in advance of your big day, do a test run with Zoom and all of your equipment. Make adjustments as needed.
  • Mark the exact spot(s) for placing lights and microphone with blue painter's tape.


Family Portraits

Just like a traditional Mitzvah, it's important to take time either before or after the service for professional family portraits, even if it's just your immediate family. We kept it simple by finding the best spot in the front yard for all of Max's portraits.


Bar-Mitzvah-Boy-in-BlueBar-Mitzvah-Boy-in-BluePortrait of a Bar Mitzvah boy after his virtual zoom bar mitzvah by Cheryl Bigman Photography.

Bar-Mitzvah-Family-PortraitBar-Mitzvah-Family-PortraitFamily portrait taken after a virtual zoom Bar Mitzvah service at the family home by Cheryl Bigman Photography. Bar-Mitzvah-Boy-and-GrandparentsBar-Mitzvah-Boy-and-GrandparentsProud grandparents hug for a family portrait after their grandson's virtual zoom Bar Mitzvah. By Cheryl Bigman Photography. Family-Portrait-after-Zoom-Bar-MitzvahFamily-Portrait-after-Zoom-Bar-MitzvahA Bar Mitzvah boy surrounded by his extended family celebrating after his virtual zoom Bar Mitzvah. Family portrait by Cheryl Bigman Photography. Bar-Mitzvah-Boy-and-his-CousinsBar-Mitzvah-Boy-and-his-CousinsFamily portrait of a Bar Mitzvah boy and his adorable cousins. Taken after his virtual zoom Bar Mitzvah by Cheryl Bigman Photography. Bar-Mitzvah-Boy-and-his-MomBar-Mitzvah-Boy-and-his-MomMom giving her boy a big hug after his virtual zoom Bar Mitzvah. By San Francisco Bay Area Bar Mitzvah photographer Cheryl Bigman.


Is a Virtual Event Right for You?

If you decide a Virtual Event is for you, I hope you now feel reassured that your event will still be just as special, and you find this Blog helpful as you plan all the details. If you know anyone who's planning a virtual event, please feel free to share this Blog with them.

If you have any questions, please don't hesitate to reach out in the comments. And if you have any experience planning or attending a virtual event, please share with the rest of us!


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Lynn Osband(non-registered)
Great tips Cheryl! Thank you for all the hard work you did to create this amazing list of tips!
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