Saturday, October 13, 2012

Shooting the Secretary: The Presidency

If I had been too casual in my approach to shooting the health clinic, I was much better prepared for the next stop – although that was as much due to the limitations of the location as it was any planning I might have done: we would be paying a visit to the Senegalese White House.

Her Plan. The Secretary would arrive at the Presidential Palace and be led to a meeting with the President. While their initial meeting – or handshake really – would be open to the press, after a minute or two we would be escorted to the base of a staircase which Secretary Clinton would later descend, give a few brief remarks with the Senegalese Foreign Minister, and then depart to her next location .

My Plan. This would be easy, since there were really only two shots to get. The first would be the photo of her with the President; the second would be her with the Foreign Minister. Both of these would be fairly basic and generic photos of the kind you see every time a meeting like this takes place, but, if they are generic, they are also kind of obligatory. Photographically, I would be swapping out my 100-400mm for the 70-200mm since I wouldn’t need the range but I would need extra f/stops. The biggest challenge is that I would need to use the flashes for this event. I had been practicing with them as much as possible in the week leading up to the visit, but I still wasn’t comfortable with them. To minimize distractions, I would be shooting them fully automatic so as not to worry about manual flash settings.

What Actually Happened. As my boss in Iraq once said: “There are two kinds of plans: those that won’t work, and those that might work.”

This plan didn’t work.

Although it wasn’t my fault.

I spent the trip from the health clinic swapping lenses and memory cards (I used one memory card per even to guard against card failure) and getting my flashes set up. Pulling up at the Presidency, we again pilled out of the van and started to sprint – this time with more urgency. See, while Madame Secretary could go in the front door, pixel stained wretches had to enter through a side door. The race was on to see who could get to the president’s office first and Secretary Clinton had the head start.

Unfortunately, after all that build up, the result was, we didn’t make it. Well, most of us didn’t – myself, the Fox News crew. Somehow the AP Photographer made it in, although I have no idea how. I was quite disappointed to have missed the shot, but our AP friend showed me her shot and mentioned that the light and composition of the room were terrible and that I hadn’t missed much. At any rate, there was nothing more to be done but to wait for shot #2.

We were allowed (required really) to wait in the area where Secretary Clinton would giver her remarks and since the microphones were already set up, I could shoot test shots as much as I wanted. As it happened, I must have shot around ten, and the Senegalese guard who I used as my lighting dummy was sufficiently annoyed after the first one. Still, with an hour or so to kill, I was able to get dialed in and was even able to go with manual flash settings after all. The only pressure is that I would have a few seconds to get this one shot, and since she would be speaking, I’d have to shoot a few frames to make sure that everything would look okay.

Much like at the hotel that morning, you could feel things beginning to tense up before the Secretary actually arrived but presently, she descended the staircase with the Foreign Minister. I waited until she was at the microphones, and started to shoot. I came up with this:

Not much to say about this one really. Yes, it’s a very basic and boring shot, but it’s a necessary one and it came out just fine. I am pretty pleased that I was able to get some catch lights in the Secretary’s eyes (see those little white highlights? That’s my flash’s reflection). So I’ve got that going for me.

After a minute or so of remarks, the Secretary was out the door and we began our sprint. Once in the van, we began to careen across Dakar as I began to again swap cards and lenses and prepare for the next stop.

Till then Sports Fans.

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