I’d be lying if I said I don’t get nervous before photo shoots, but after years of photographing rock stars, famous artists, and business big wigs I tend to put on a happy face and just do my job as best as I can no matter how prestigious the subject is. That was until two weeks ago, when I got contracted to photograph former-US President William Clinton for the International Crisis Group. To say I was nervous was an understatement.
I got a call a few months back from Erin Halley, a great client who puts on amazing parties, celebrations, and fundraisers. It’s hard to turn her down because her galas are remarkable, and she rocks events with the same tenacity that I shoot photos. She said she had a fundraiser for me with some pretty big speakers. Would I be up for the job? I said “sure,” and two weeks later I’m being asked by Secret Service for my legal name, date of birth, and social security number.
Originally, the coverage called for me to simply shoot room photos and podium shots of the speakers. The night before I get the call to bring in big strobes for a step-and-repeat and grin-and-greet with the President. For those not in the know, a step-and-repeat is a term for those red carpet pens where VIPs stand and have their photos taken by the paparazzi for a few minutes. A grin-and-greet is a not so fancy term for “line up the important guests and photograph them shaking a celebrity’s hand.” Cake, right? Typically, yes, but not so much when a fleet of secret service guys are giving you hard looks and you are about to photograph a President of the USA.
After switching the location of the grin-and-greet twice, I finally settled on a spot to set up my Alien Bees, umbrellas, and wireless do-dads. The big trouble was that I wasn’t allowed to bring an assistant and I was specifically told by Clinton’s people that I was to be the only photographer anywhere near the President. Then I got the news that the President was running late.
So there I stood, staring at a wall and counting all the ways my gear was going to fail. I had a vivid day dream of one of my Alien Bees catching on fire and landing on my cameras, setting everything up in a blaze of glory. I was even humming the Bon Jovi tune of the same name from the movie of the same name. Seriously, my nerves were shot.
Fifteen minutes later, President Clinton just walks through the door, comes right up to us, says hi and just starts talking and posing with the guests that were lined up for photographs. I picked up my camera (preset to f/11 for zero chance of soft photos) and started chimping away.
“One photo per guest,” a beefy guy with a fancy pin told me. “But what if someone blinks?,” I replied in fear. “I don’t care,” he stared and I shuddered.
Twelve shots later and I was done with the tough part of the evening. The rest of the night I did my thing and documented the guests, the awards, and Clinton’s amazing speech about the difficult decision one faces when choosing to go to war.
My nervousness soon turned to excitement and joy at the realization that I just photographed one of the most important men in the world. After the meet-and-greet, I watched as Clinton walked over and shook the hand of all the important people around me (as well as the hotel staff). He passed by me. Stopped. Turned around and shook my hand while thanking me for photographing him. I just stood there, in complete awe, praying to God that he didn’t trip over the Alien Bee with the faulty cable.