Sunday, March 23, 2014

Carl Clark, USN (Retired)

It was a privilege to photograph Carl Clark at an NAACP dinner in March of 2014.  In 2012, Seaman Clark received the Navy and Marine Corps Commendation Medal with the Combat Distinguishing Device, more than 60 years after his courage and determination saved the damaged Destroyer USS Aaron Ward during the Battle for Okinawa in May of 1945.

Being a community photographer provides a variety of opportunities to photograph people in the celebration of their accomplishments. And while these awards are usually presented in a reasonable amount of time, it seems to me that a hero like Mr. Clark should have been recognized a long time ago. In spite of the delay and his then Captain's dismissive attitude towards a hero of color, he stayed in the Navy and retired after 22 years of service, achieving the rank of Chief Petty Officer. One could not help but admire his soft spoken dignity, in addition to his ability to fit into the dress uniform he probably wore at his retirement.

Getting Ready: One never knows how an event like this one will unfold.  I arrived 15 minutes before the event would officially start so I had plenty of time to prepare my equipment. Since the ideal shooting position was too small to accommodate both me and my camera bag, I brought everything  I thought I would  need with me on my shoulders, leaving my (essentially) empty camera bag safely by the sidelines. I carried my D300 "close up"  camera with a 24-70 zoom, and my D7000 "long range" camera with a 70-200. Both had SB-800 speedlights, the D7000 with a BFT and the D300 with the Nikon diffusion dome that comes with the speedlight. My reasoning was that if I had to move through the crowd to make my photo, the light dome would give me plenty of light to work with should the shooting get frantic.

I had assumed that the presentation would be made at the podium, so I made some warmup shots. With the flash facing forward and the BFT in place, I was able to turn the ceiling into a large, soft light source. One thing to remember: This works best when your shooting position is slightly below the subject. This will insure that some light will reflect off of the eyes and give you a nice catch light. It also helps to establish some distance between you and your subject. In this case, my working distance was about 12 feet. This is Congresswoman Anna Eschoo (D-Palo Alto), who was instrumental in getting recognition for Mr. Clark's heroism

Normally, the guest of honor would be asked to speak from the podium, but in this case practicality trumped protocol, and the speaker came to where Mr. Clark sat and continued her presentation via wireless microphone. Since I had my "close up" camera already on my shoulder, I just stood up and walked a few steps to a shooting position just across the table from my subjects.

I switched to my D300 with its 24-70 and removed the diffusion dome from the speedlight. After redirecting the flash head to bounce to my left and slightly  behind me, I started shooting. Bouncing the light from the ceiling behind me wastes a lot of light, but brings the apparent light source slightly lower which would give me a bit more fill light in my subject's eyes. These three shots were made in a time span of about 10 seconds, including a slight position change between the first and second shots.

Moments later, Congresswoman Eschoo turned to give him a hug. I was lucky enough to get this shot, which summed up the spirit of the event, clapping hands at the right edge notwithstanding. And while this event wasn't considered hard news, the Editor In Chief thought enough of the photo to publish it on the front page, above the fold.

Afterthoughts: It must be apparent from my posts that I make far more photos than I submit. As I mentioned in an earlier post about Photographic Rules To Live By, knowing what to throw away is as important as knowing what to keep. Here are two cases of photos that  "nearly ran".

Why Not Use The Second Shot? I initially though I would submit the second shot. While there is a little more detail in the Mr. Clark's face, lacks any obvious human connection.

Picket Fence, Anyone? "Picket Fence" is my term for a conventional group photo where everybody is standing like slats in a picket fence. I made sure I had one on my card, just in case the Editor In Chief wanted to play it safe. I sent him both photos, but he chose the more personal shot.If the picket fence had been chosen, I doubt it would have run on Page One.