Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Welcome to the show

It’s not every job that one day your shooting broken tree branches blocking a street and the next day your photographing the Republican candidate for president of the United States. No pressure, just grab your camera and head to the show.

So you might ask yourself what kind of show is he talking about? I am talking about none other than the honest to goodness, genuine, photo op. That carefully crafted moment designed to entice the eyes and excite the viewer is just begging for my camera.

To be honest, I get used at these events. It is like when president Bush visited Stockton with then Congressman Richard Pombo aboard Air Force One. That moment when he appeared at the door to wave at the crowd was created to make an appearance on the front pages of newspaper and television sets throughout area. I, like everyone else was manipulated for one picture and driving to the AG. Spanos Jet for the arrival of Sen. John McCain I knew I was heading for a similar picture.

So with two Canon 1D Mk II bodies, a handful of batteries and every lens I could use I pulled into the Stockton Metropolitan Airport with a reporter and headed for the hanger where the senator was scheduled to arrive. Technically this was going to be a rally, a brief appearance by Sen. McCain to rally his troops before heading to a private fundraiser. I would have to work quickly, the speech would last about 20 minutes, half an hour tops.

First thing on the agenda was passing through security. There is the usual frisking by Secret Service agents and getting a metal detector passed over me to make sure I am not carrying a bazooka. I then had to turn on the cameras and take a photo to show them on the LCD screen so they would know it really was just a camera.
With the fun of security over I arrive at the hanger and what a show it is going to be. This rally was designed for some real nice photo ops. A stage has been built in the middle of the hanger complete with stage lighting. Behind where McCain is to speak a banner welcoming him to Stockton is hung and a group of special guests wait underneath. To the right of the stage a huge American flag has been draped that cover nearly from ceiling to floor.

The special guests on the stage and the crowd forming all have a variety of McCain signs, small American flags to wave and some homemade signs. It all has the feel of some high school pep rally. The only difference is the police, sheriff deputies and secret Service milling about the hanger as we all await the arrival of Sen. McCain’s airplane.

My shooting position is going to be from a set of risers, one of two allocated for photographers. It is set far back from the stage and crowd and will force me to use my long lenses. A lower tier is reserved for the national media traveling with the center so quarters will be cramped as I share space with other newspapers and television crews.

I arrived at 2:30 plenty of time to get in position before the 3:45 scheduler arrival of the senator and the start of the rally. So what do I do for over an hour? I ended up checking my lighting a lot, test frames for color balance and exposure. Then I grabbed crowd shots, some wide-angle views of the overall scene and then I had to suffer through the parade of speakers trying to whip the partisan crowd into a frenzy. What else could dull my senses more than that you ask? Bring on the mariachis! A local mariachi band serenaded us and I felt my need for two Tylenol suddenly grow larger.

So after a little over an hour of bad political jokes, bad mariachi music and just general boredom we are finally told that Sen. McCain’s plane has landed. This is the fun part. The boredom is replaced with a stark sense of desperation as we train our cameras on the entrance and wait to hold down the motor drive at first sight. Not knowing how much time we will have to shoot I need to get a lot quickly.

His arrival is less than spectacular, he walks, takes the stage and promptly turns is back to the crowd and media to talk to the special guests gathered behind him. So there are few moments of panic until he turns and takes the microphone to begin his speech. You can hear the staccato bursts of cameras all around as the gaggle of photographers fire away.

All in all it is very unimpressive. Honestly it was nothing like the arrival of then newly elected Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger to West Valley Mall. He knew how to work a crowd. McCain just seemed to wander around the stage aimlessly. I had a few hundred pics and needed to change my shooting position. I wanted to frame the senator against the giant flag but need to move more to my left.

The crowd had only filled about two thirds of the hanger so there was plenty of room to move around. I switched between my 70-200mm zoom and the 300 mm telephoto to get the right amount of flag in the photo. Some I shot pretty wide, some I cropped in very tight. They looked like every other shot I have seen from a political rally. Carefully crafted and controlled to maximize their candidate’s personality. What could possibly go wrong with this scene?

I didn’t really notice what it was at first, I just heard someone shouting, and I thought it was a very vocal supporter in the crowd. Wrong. It was a very vocal demonstrator that somehow had reached the stage area. There was a rush of security a flash of her pink shirt calling out against the war and then she was whisked away. Damn, too fast since I was expecting it. Lucky there were two more protestors seconds later near the mariachi band. I managed to get some descent art as they wrestled one of them to the ground.

So with the brief burst of excitement over I went back to getting a few shots of the overall crowd. Finally the senator said his goodbyes and worked the crowd line shaking hands. I got my last shots as he reached out to sign autographs before heading for his private fundraiser.

Driving away from the airport I was surprised by the amount of people who blindly walked in front of my moving cars. They were either so enthralled by the rally or so bored to death they wanted me to put them out of their misery. Anyhow I made it back to office in time to put a nice package on the web of his brief visit and the next day put a small slideshow of the rally online. It was an interesting show overall, now I have to wait for Sen. Obama’s visit sometime soon.

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