I was fortunate enough to be one of the photographers from the San Mateo Daily Journal to cover President Obama's visit to Face Book headquarters in Palo Alto.This was special because this was by invitation, and all photographers were required to register in advance before clearance was granted.
Press Access was at 11:30, so at 11:15 I was standing in line with the other photographers and reporters. We had our photo ID checked, got "wanded" with a hand-held metal detector, had our equipment checked by sniffer dogs, and were finally ushered into a large warehouse, where we stayed until the event was over. By 11:45 I was in position, ready to go.
The President would not speak until 2:00 pm so I just stood around, reserving my spot on the raised press platform positioned stage right. I was standing slightly above and behind the FaceBook video camera, so I figured this was a good spot since it was selected by the "home team". I had a clear view of the area where the President would be speaking, so I started taking and chimping photos of people as they walked by. Since I could not get a custom white balance from my vantage point on the side, I went with a Incandescent preset, which turned out just fine.
Shoot First, Ask Questions Later
People started to fill the makeshift auditorium and the bleacher seating at about 12:00 noon. You could feel the excitement in the air. By then, the local VIPs and Democratic Movers and Shakers made their way to their assigned seats. To my untrained eye, they looked important, but I couldn't place them. But many in the audience recognized them. and groups would get to their feet to have their pictures taken with this person or that. As I watched the scene unfold, I heard one photographer ask rhetorically, "Is that someone important?". My silent response? "Shoot first, ask questions later". I was able to recognize, and photograph, both Gavin Newsom and Nancy Pelosi as they posed for pictures and talked with reporters. This went on for nearly 30 minutes.
At 2:00 the President appeared, right on schedule. The crowd roared. Cell phones and cameras were all on the President as he greeted the audience seated behind him.
Location, Location, Location
According to my editor, context is the key. A successful photo must give the viewer some sense of the location since it is usually integral to the story. "A face and a place", as Joe McNally describes it. I made several shots during the speech, trying to capture something of the President's stage presence when addressing a live audience. I knew the President himself would be relatively small, since the Facebook Banner, the flags, and the audience were all essential in the story. In the final shot his hands are clearly delineated against his white shirt, and his eyes are obviously engaging Mark Zuckerberg, seated camera right. Click here to see the final shot, as accepted. It was shot with a 17-50 2.8 zoom at 50mm, cropped slightly.
Ready For The Close Up
This was my personal favorite of whole assignment. I sent it first, quite pleased with the shot, but it failed to make the front page because there were no context clues except for the flags. It was subsequently printed on the Facebook page of the Daily Journal.
This was definitely an e-ticket ride. The orange and white White House Press Pool pass was my great trophy of the day.
*President Of The United States.