Thursday, August 06, 2009

Photo Diary: VP Joe Biden Announces Advanced Battery Grants For Michigan

I absolutely love doing this. "Chasing history" as I call it, my photojournalism can be the thing that outlives me. I know, you like the writing, but 100 years from now, no one will care about my opinions on this stuff, but they might care about the photos of the event that changed Michigan forever. These are shots of the leaders of our time, and, although some have been on the public stage for many years, they won't be here forever. Capturing that one moment, that one expression, during an announcement that may change history, becomes a magical thing. And I am truly blessed to be able to do it.

They came together for the stimulus announcement on advanced battery grants, Michigan raking in the bulk of funding for research. No one knows what these battery grants will bring, but with this infusion on investment, we could be the state that makes the breakthrough on research for powerful, long-lasting batteries that can run your car as well as the other essentials of life. We can lead the country in manufacturing these batteries, providing thousands of jobs and most important, a stable energy source where we aren't relying on foreign imports for our needs.

It could very well be the piece in the puzzle that grants this country energy independence. It is that important.

But back to the day. I've had to endure a bit of jealously at times that I am able to do these things, but I don't think people realize the work that is involved, the time and money that I have put in over the past few years to get to this place. Sure, anyone can take pictures, and with the cameras today, chances are you can get some great ones just on luck. But most people aren't thinking of lighting, background, expression, composition, color balance, and all the time required to not only do those things in processing, but the time it takes to do an entire shoot like this in the first place.

I was up at 4AM yesterday to shower and pound down the coffee and pack up all the equipment. I had to leave by 7AM to get to Detroit by the 10AM media check-in. So, by the time these guys hit the stage after noon, my day is already into hour 8. It would be easier if I could just throw on my standard uniform of cargo shorts and a baseball cap, but it's the Vice President of the United States for chrissake, and I just feel funny about dressing as my usual bum self. So I dress up (sorta), only to get down there and find out that the event is outside, and I'm going to be crawling around on my knees on a cement parking lot in the blazing sun. Never fails.

S'ok though. Yesterday was photographer heaven for me. There was nothing sweeter than hearing, "still shots only" as they led us into the pit, the area between the stage and the audience that is usually reserved for the traveling press. Got to be right up front, which is both good and bad. You get your close-ups there, but sometimes it's better to be farther back for a more level shot, and not looking directly up at the speaker. If they are short, the microphone blocks their face. I stayed there until about halfway through Biden's speech though, not knowing whether or not I could get back in if I left, and I wanted the closer shots.

At one event recently, President Obama asked the press why they needed so many pictures. Well, I'll tell you why. It's because y'all do funny things with your faces, just like every other human being on the planet. You squint, you yawn, you blink your eyes, you wipe your nose, you stick your finger in your ear, you look directly at the camera, any number of things can screw it up. Freezing a face can be a tricky proposition. So, we shoot and shoot and shoot, hoping to get a good expression, with just the right lighting.

For an example of this - the governor, as photogenic as she is, can be a real pain to capture because she is so animated. She's waving her hands, she's moving around, she's very expressive and when you freeze her, more often than not it makes for a funny face. So you keep going and hope for the best. Senator Levin, on the other hand, is pretty stoic, and you don't need to take as many shots. "If you have one picture of Carl Levin, you have all the pictures of Carl Levin" is one of my favorite sayings.

Now get a bunch of them together, and it's inevitable that someone will have their eyes closed, or will be making a face, or whatever unflattering thing they might be doing at that second. Or the shot is blurry, or the light is bad, or someone jumps up in front of you, on and on... point being, it's not always as easy as it looks.

But I love it, and wouldn't trade it for the world. It gets me out of the house, which is always a good thing. And I like the "media", most of whom are always very nice, it's great to meet some of the pros whose names I've seen in the bylines as I read the news. Yesterday, I met the fabulous John Greilick from the Detroit News, and I couldn't be more thrilled. Very talented guy, offered to go on a shoot at the Michigan Central Depot with me, and I'm going to have to take him up on that. I've learned how they do this, too - the photog will choose the shots to send to the paper, and a photo editor will get them to the web. That is how they beat me on getting them up so quickly. And since the last three events I've attended have been in the sun and I simply can't see my screen for the glare, I'm sunk until I get home or to a place where I can process. So, I drive home, download and go through nearly a thousand pictures (counting the RAW duplicates) and stay up until nearly 11PM working on the choices and processing. Makes for a very long day.

Checking out yesterday's stuff, I find we did get about the same shots, meaning, I hold my own with the pros. Not only did I achieve quality, I smoked 'em in quantity, 48 to 20 at the Freep and 10 at the News. (Granted, 48 is a very high number, even for me).

Very cool. I'm very lucky to be able to do this, and I'm so grateful for the opportunity. Now if I only had a pet reporter to take with me... because there is simply no way I can write about events at the same time. Given my choice though, I choose to take my shot at immortality. These pictures are something that are taken for granted at this moment, but who knows how important they will be to the future.

Kind of like the battery grants.

My thanks go out once again to the Obama administration. You guys are the best.