Photographing Barack Obama

by Christopher Halloran, Shutterstock Submitter

Story Behind the Photo is an ongoing series that highlights a unique story behind a photo or photos created by a Shutterstock submitter. This month’s featured story comes from Christopher Halloran. Mr. Halloran recently participated in Shutterstock’s On The Red Carpet program, which specializes in obtaining media clearance for Shutterstock photographers to access celebrity-themed or newsworthy events — in this case, President Obama’s Speech in Mesa, Arizona. The On The Red Carpet program is a great way for subscribers to source Shutterstock images for editorial usage. You can view Mr. Halloran’s gallery here.

President Barack Obama’s Speech in Mesa, Arizona

On Sunday, February 15, I learned that President Barack Obama would be coming to Arizona on the following Tuesday to give a speech about the nation’s real estate crisis. Having shot a number of On The Red Carpet events over the previous six months, I knew that Shutterstock could be very responsive to last minute requests for access to events like this one. So when I heard that the President would be speaking at a high school less than 20 minutes from where I live, I quickly sent an email to the On The Red Carpet team to see if they could swing a press pass for me.

Given the last minute notice and knowing the level of security that would surround the President, I was not optimistic about my chances for success. I was therefore surprised the next day when I received an email confirming the issuance of my press credential. The email also contained a few additional details, including this gem: while the President would not be speaking until about 10:15a.m. Wednesday morning, the press, in order to clear security, was told to be at the venue by 5:30AM.

Although it was still dark when I arrived that morning, the high school was already busy with security preparations. U.S. Secret Service and local police were out in force. All members of the media were required to leave their equipment in the high school’s auditorium and then vacate the building so the Secret Service could do their security sweeps. Normally, I would have been less than enthusiastic about leaving thousands of dollars of camera equipment unattended, but I felt some measure of reassurance knowing that the equipment was being watched by the same people who guard the President of the United States.

I did make one small mistake with the Secret Service that added to the drama of the morning. After dropping off my equipment at 5:30, I had several hours to kill, so I thought I’d wander back through the security checkpoint and around to the front of the high school to check out the line of people waiting to get into the auditorium. I walked about 200 yards from one edge of the campus to the other and then tried to reenter through the gate I had entered when I had arrived earlier that morning. Awaiting me there was a very polite but very serious member of the Secret Service who wanted to know why I was wandering around the high school at six o’clock in the morning. It was clear from my conversation with him that the Secret Service had been watching me the entire time I was walking around the campus. I explained to the agent who I was and what I was doing, but he nonetheless detained me for about 20 minutes while he chatted by walkie-talkie with other agents around the building about what to do with me. It was a little surreal hearing myself referred to as the “subject” or the “suspect.” Finally, a police squad car arrived and I was escorted back to my car where the police officers ran my license plate and then let me go. Needless to state, I stayed put until it was time to go inside.

The scene in the auditorium was surprisingly calm. No reporters and photographers knocked each other out of the way for the best vantage point. Although the risers at the back of the auditorium had been reserved for members of the regular press, about an hour before the President appeared, I was told I could join them. By then I had already staked out a spot to the side of the dais where there were far fewer photographers and which was much closer to where the President would be than the risers were. Because I was about 100mm short of the focal length that most of the photographers at the back were using, I needed to be as close as possible to the podium.

The lighting in the auditorium was dismal, so most of my images were shot wide open at between 1/125 and 1/200 at ISO 800. I was shooting with an 80-200 f/2.8 on a Nikon D2x. About three weeks before, I had broken my collarbone in a bike accident, which had impaired my ability to lug my camera. As a result, I also had a monopod with me, which turned out to be a lifesaver. In a perfect world, I would have had one of the new high ISO, low noise cameras along with a 300mm f/2.8 lens. I considered using a 2x extender on my zoom, but the loss of two stops of light would have made shooting almost impossible.

It was interesting to see how focused on the photography one gets, despite the excitement of an event like this. I was thrilled to be a participant, and to be that close to the President, but once he started to speak I was so intent on getting the images I wanted that I honestly didn’t hear what he had to say. I had to watch the event later on the DVR to actually hear the speech.

It was a long day, but an exciting and fulfilling one. I was up at about four that morning and didn’t get home until about eight and a half hours later. I then spent much of the afternoon editing, keywording and uploading images. Shutterstock pushed the photographs to the front of the approval queue and by early the next morning, the images were selling.

Learn more about Shutterstock’s On The Red Carpet program here.

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