I don't know about you but there are times when I'm faced with the prospect of either shooting famous people or people I feel very privileged to shoot (two very different categories) and the pressure to do everything right, and quickly, gives me a large dose of anxiety. If I am shooting a captain of industry like Michael Dell I know I'll need to work fast, deal with a layer or two of handlers, and that I might not get more than five minutes with him to do all I need to do to make what I'd like to be an interesting and print-worthy image. When you add something more to the mix, like the political head of a province of China the pressure mounts.
Corporate "meet and greets" like this are highly staged and precisely timed. While Mr. Dell and his guests met I set up lights in the lobby area of Dell's executive suite. I would need to have a flexible lighting design that could accomodate a group of up to 20 executives and dignitaries, the lighting would also have to work well when I moved all the other participants out to get a few tighter shots of the two V.I.P.'s. I defaulted to two lights on stands with medium size umbrellas. I raised the stands up as high as I could as a precaution against getting a glare in the glasses of one of the participants. I metered the lights to blend with the ambient light in the large room. I don't like to test much on site in this venue because there are glass panels on the conference room doors where the meetings are taking place, adjacent to where I set up for photography and I feel like the repeated flashes are intrusive...
Just before the appointed hour and minute my anxiety rises up. There's litany of "what if???!!!!" scenarios that start playing in my head. What if the radio triggers don't work? (answer: I have a two hard sync cables standing by.) What if one or both flashes fail? (answer: I have four extras plugged in and ready to go). What if the camera fails? What if they don't like the set up? What if someone trips on a cable? What if they blink in every shot? The list goes on and on. I start to get hot under the collar of my Haspel suite. What if I desperately need to hit the bathroom just as they arrive? The feeling of panic settles in. I double check everything I can possibly double-check. From the camera settings (WB, ISO, file format, f-stop, shutter speed, sync) to the radio trigger channels.
I've already marked the spot on the floor for the two most important subjects, calculated the EXACT exposure and written that exposure on the white tape I use just for that purpose on the bottom of my camera. At the last minute I slip another camera over one shoulder, just in case (even though I've never had a digital camera fail.....). By now my mouth is cotton-ball-at-the-dentist-dry and I feel just a bit queasy. I can feel my blood pressure rise and I can hear the pulse in my carotid artery.
Then the doors open and the performance has to start. I'm moving people into place with as much deference and grace as I can. Always mindful that the clock is ticking and whether or not I get what I need doesn't even enter into the scheduling equation. Execs come out from their offices to say hello and show face. This slows us down. I want everyone to move faster. But there's no way to push.
Finally, I'm getting them into position and my hands on the camera are getting sweaty and my breathing shallow. I shoot and over shoot to make sure I've got what I need. We do a group of 25 and a group of 10 and a 2 person shot, and then shots of a gift exchange. In seven minutes I've shot 125 raw frames. The batteries in the flashes are holding up well. Then, with a nod from the PR executive I acknowledge that my part of the event is irrevocably over. The Chinese delegation will move off to waiting cars, the executives will move on to their next meetings. I'm finally calm and as the last person leaves the lobby area I review what I've gotten on the camera's rear screen and a sense of relief and exhaustion washes over me. Now I know I have what I need. I didn't fail this time.
And it's all so silly. I've done this kind of work for decades. And for many of those years we used unruly and tough to wrangle cameras that would never think of focusing themselves. Flashes that had one or two wacky automatic settings that were.....eccentric... and batteries that were weaker than a mother-in-law's coffee. We shot on unforgiving film with no time to take Polaroid tests. And everything worked.
I think the pressure now comes from my assumption that my clients assume that modern technology is foolproof and that, given my years of experience, I'll be foolproof. They are playing a dangerous game...
Have I ever messed up an event shot? Not yet, but my psyche is always on guard against the first time.