Wednesday, January 14, 2009

30 seconds, and counting...

The above photo, captured just over four years ago on a very very cold day in 2004, has served me well. It was a better image than the one I made in the rain in 2000, and I had a better angle than I did in either 1992 or 1996. Next week will be my fifth inaugural, and arguably the most historic. This post is not, however, about politics, it's about preparation.

Today, we spent the day in pre-production. Between phone calls from prospective clients, and the estimates rolling out for February (many people not booking for the 20th are holding off booking much else until after the 20th, it seems), we were organizing gear. My life ceases to be my own at about 8pm on Friday, and it will be mercifully returned to me at about 1am next Wednesday morning.

Today's pre-production was the determination of the gear we will be using for the inauguration. We laid it all out, set it up, and tweaked it, and then tweaked it some more. Six cameras, all connected to one, triggering and pre-focused at the precise point needed at a variety of focal lengths.

Why so many cameras?

(Continued after the Jump)

Because we have approximately 30 seconds to make this historic photo. No chance for a redo on this. So we tested.

Which CF card to use? Which speed? Which speed makes a difference?

How many raw files can we generate in 30 seconds on the chosen card? What if we utilized the two slots in the D3? RAW to one, JPEG to another, how would that impact our performance?

We ran this video over a dozen times: (note - that's not my photo)

We maybe ran it two dozen times, and practiced. (In case you're curious - Bush 41's 32 seconds where his hand is/would be raised is here, and Clinton's approximately 29 seconds from 1996 can be heard here.) We learned that with our fastest UDMA CF card, in 30 seconds, we could produce 38 images on the D3. Yet, if you listen to the swearing in on that audio, the President doesn't speak for that entire time. He's reciting. So, many of those 38 images would be with his mouth closed (as the one I have above shows). I am of the opinion that the image is best when the President is actually speaking - mouth open/moving. So we tested some more. What if we only engaged the camera when the President was speaking? How would that impact the image count?

The answer is - we could capture 26 images made just during the recitation of the oath of office. I concluded that 26 images with words being spoken is better than 38 images overall. Filling the buffer and then waiting for the card to write the images produces these quantities. They are more than enough to select from - I am confident of that.

Tomorrow, we debate which camera gets what lens? The D2x - with its' crop factor can have a 300mm cum 420mm, and the D3 can have the 70-200 with the doubler? The D700 can have the wide? Lots of things to think about. Then we parse out the CF cards to the right cameras.

Yes, we will arrive at the Capitol at 5am. Yes, we will wait there for six hours before the ceremony begins. Yes, it will be freezing cold. Yes, I hope it doesn't rain. Yes, I have good gloves. No, there will be no food stands to feed us. Yes, we will be cramped. So, do I really want to be making all these decisions when I am in those conditions, or in the comfort of my office, when I realize I am short two of the Bogen 145BKT camera mounts, and two inserts for my super clamps, and have to order them from New York, instead of not having them?

We will do all of the above for 30 seconds of photographic opportunity. We have done this planning before (I can shoot an entire roll of 36 exposure film, change it out, and shoot another roll of film all the way through in 30 seconds, I learned in 1996, for example), and we will do it again on our sixth inaugural assignment. Yes, of course we will cover everyone else and everything else, but it will be those 30 seconds that matter most.

Thus, when the clock is ticking, it pays to be prepared.

Please post your comments by clicking the link below. If you've got questions, please pose them in our Photo Business Forum Flickr Group Discussion Threads.


Anonymous said...

I'd say - that's a nice essay on the things. A perfect way to show how to keep organised professionally. thnx.

Anonymous said...

Wow I really would like to know your choiche.
I usually have with me a D3 and a D700.
This year I'm leaving my studio and I will spend 1 month in Etiopia.
Weight for me will be te issue...

2 or 3 lenses?

Anonymous said...


This is truly an amazingly exciting article. As someone who works a normal "job type job", takes pictures on the weekend and dreams of one day catching the shot that is relevant for years to come, it's incredible to hear about this process.

Best of luck.

Anonymous said...

Too bad about Laura's blown highlights, though. Didn't the first lady get the memo about how to pick photogenic garments?

Keith Emmerich said...


As if you don't have enough to think and prepare about if would love it if you happened to grab a sound recorder and let it record during the brief seconds of intense shooting to hear all those cameras going off.


Anonymous said...

I would like to listen to all the shutters in that 30 seconds...

Anonymous said...

How many images did you get from Grover Cleveland's inaugural?

Anonymous said...

I'm curious why you can only get 38 images in 30 seconds? The D3 shoots 11 frames per second... Am I missing something? Why so few? Thanks.

Anonymous said...

You are a brave soul my friend. I was driving home on 340 yesterday and was thinking to myself, after having read this post, just exactly how much money would it take for me to shoot anything associated with the event about to happpen in DC?
There is just no way I could do it for less than 20k. DC is crazy in the mean time, let alone during that debacle waiting to happen. Hope you brought a pickle jar. Apparently the NPS has lowered the required number of port-o-johns from 12k to 3k obviuosly waaaaay short of what they normally need for a crowd of that size. Let's see what else, average temp, 25 degrees, massive crowd, the most dense traffic in the country, 495 already has that title WITHOUT THE EVENT,yep, 20k is about right.
Hope it's worth it for you....
Have a great day John and may all of your sensors bring home the golden love for you. Stay warm!

Anonymous said...

I wish you warm batteries and lots of socks on the South Stand my friend. Good article for everyone thanking their lucky stars they are home with a log fire. They just won't have the shot. Can I have frame # 38 - it'll do.

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