So, Buttercup, you want to be an event photographer?
So, you want to be a professional event photographer. You think you’ve got what it takes, Buttercup? You’ve got the gear, you’ve got the style, you’ve got the technology — you’ve got the IT. Well, here’s a few things I’ve learned on the road.
Have you ever seen the episode of Deadliest Catch where the green horn is puking over the side of the ship, arctic wind blowing snow directly in his face, as the boat lists in 30 foot seas? And, as he’s puking, hurling up the morning’s hotcakes and bacon, the skipper walks by and punches him in the stomach.
“Suck it up, Buttercup!” He says, and then walks towards the bow of the boat.
An event can be like that. You, a little spot of a photographer being buffeted about like a ping pong ball, with technology demanding one thing, a client demanding something else, and participants pointing to yet other needs.
And here’s the thing: if you even look like you are going to puke, Buttercup, you are toast.
No matter what, no matter how high the waves are crashing over your bow, no matter if the bile is rising in your throat, you better slap that smile on your face and say,
“Hola! Welcome! What have you decided to do today?” (This to the participant.) And when the client says, “How are things going?” You better reply:
“OMG! OMG! Things are perfect!”
Let’s review a few times when things weren’t perfect. When, say, things were going poorly. Like in Indiana Jones The Last Crusade when the knight says, “He has chosen poorly” and the Natzi guy grows old, dies, and evaporates in 8 seconds.
First, let me say two things. One, these incidents were a long time ago. And, two, somehow the situation came out ok. But not without hurling in the bathroom afterwards.
It was my first White House Briefing. Yes, that White House. W was President, but he wasn’t the one doing the briefing. No. That task fell to some Undersecretary of the Undersecretary of the Undersecretary of Dinky Government Office.
And, this Undersecretary seemed to blink her eyes constantly. As in, machine gun, rapid fire, blink blink blink blink blink blink blink. On top of the blinking? Water. Fluid pouring from the oculus in a geyser that would put Old Faithful to shame.
I was threatened by my client to only take THREE shots.
“We don’t want you disturbing the briefing,” said the client.
Never mind it was a press briefing, and cameras were firing all around. That fact seemed totally unimportant to the client. What was far more important was I only took three shots.
I took three. In all three, rapid fire blinking lady had her eyes shut. I glanced back at my client, who was positioned in the back of the room.
She took her index and middle finger, made a “v” and poked towards her eyes. Then she poked the fingers towards me. She was watching me.
I shook my head. Drew a line across my throat with my index finger, indicating I had bupkis. She glared. Pointed a “1” with her finger, indicating “one more shot.”
Blink. Blink. Blink. Blink. Blink.
I thought I had the rhythm down.
Blink. Pause. Blink. Blink. Blink. Pause. Blink.
I looked at the back of my camera.
It was good.
I melted towards the floor. Tell me: would a fifth shot in a 30 minute speech really have made a difference?
Senator Arlen Specter may have been a great Senator (or may not have been, you pick), but he was not an easy man to photograph.
Thankfully, in this story, I was hiding in the photo pit of the US Senate, and was immune to his wrath.
“WHAT THE DEVIL IS THAT LIGHT!”
Arlen (I feel I can call him by his first name) glared out into the Senate briefing room. He did not use the word “Devil”.
“TURN THAT DAMNED LIGHT OFF!”
Actually there were two lights, both in the back of the room, in either corner. Both were video lights, and both provided pretty much the only light in the gallery.
Videographer: “I can’t turn the light off and get any video.”
Ooops. Wrong thing to say. I melted into the floor.
“I DON’T GIVE A CRAP IF YOU GET ANY VIDEO TURN OFF THAT F***IN’ LIGHT. IT’S IN MY F***ING EYES. EITHER TURN IT OFF OR GET THE HELL OUT OF THIS F***ING ROOM.”
Now, one thing you don’t want to happen in front of a client is to be cussed out by a US Senator. It’s just not going to be a good day when this happens. And, if you turn off the f***ing video light, exactly how are you to perform your f***ing job?
In fairness to the Late Arlen Specter, he died a short time after this incident. And, there was some problem with his eyes, which was probably aggravated by the harsh video lights. But, when I think of the late Senator, this is how I think of him.
My very first Breakfast Briefing featured Newt Gingrich, former speaker of the House. Now, love him or hate him, Gingrich is not a little man. I mean physically. He’s got a stomach, despite constant work out with that electric ab belt thingy.
“Whatever you do,” said the Secret Service Minion (they protect the Speaker of the House, third in line to the President), “Do not get the Speaker eating.”
In front of the Speaker was the biggest plate of scrambled eggs you have ever seen. It went from the table up past his chin, spilling off the plate, only held up by a few pounds of bacon. I went to the right, then to the left. There was no avoiding the Everest of Eggs.
“No problem!” I said cheerily, “I have no interest in getting Mr. Speaker with a mouth full of Tweety.”
The Secret Service Minion glared at me. Twitched. Not sure what to reply. For a moment I thought he was going to taser me.
He settled for a sneer. “See that you don’t.”
“I might as well go home,” I thought, but, of course, I did not. In fact, by standing on a chair and shooting down, I was able to avoid the Everest of Eggs. But to this day, when I see Gingrich, I always wonder if that’s bacon stuck in his teeth.
So, Buttercup. Think long and hard about your desire to be an event photographer. While, I admit, it is a life of glamour and style, there are days when I think roofing houses in Florida in July might be easier. You have to balance client, participant, environment, and technology. You have to make sure everything you take is flattering. You have to stay happy, and cheerful, sometimes like you’ve eaten too much Xanax with your morning coffee.
And most of all, when the boat is rolling and the seas are churning, remember:
Don’t let the skipper punch you in the stomach.