Working under pressure

1.p1.pdf.r300We all know how diamonds are created.

Lots of pressure.

Sometimes, a large amount of pressure can also create some pretty cool imagery in a compressed timeline.

We were scheduled to photograph Arkansas’ First Lady Susan Hutchinson for the April issue of 501 Life magazine in late winter at the governor’s mansion. We even had the opportunity to have the governor on hand for the photo, which was scheduled for the cover of the magazine.

And it would have been great, had it not snowed. We postponed, since the 30-mile trip between Conway and Little Rock would have likely been littered by lesser drivers paralyzed by the two inches of snow.

So, on the new date, we were scheduled for a 9 a.m. appointment. The governor would be unavailable, we were told, but Mrs. Hutchinson would be free for photos and an interview. We planned her for the cover, with imagery to support a food feature on the governor’s chefs and interior shots of the mansion to go with the lead story.

Traffic between the two cities can be a little daunting, so we made sure to leave with plenty of time should any traffic issues arise. True to form, the 30-minute drive took closer to an hour, but we were still on site in plenty of time to set up lights and scout locations.

Upon our arrival, the governor’s mansion chief of staff Don Bingham told us that Gov. Hutchinson would actually be available for a photo with Mrs. Hutchinson, if we were interested. The fly in the ointment was this: we had to be at the Capitol at 10 a.m. to make it happen.

That tightens up our schedule a little, but still doable.

We wanted to try to feature the banquet hall, an addition that was made during the administration of Gov. Mike Huckabee, so we set about trying to find an angle for Mrs. Hutchinson that might show that in the background. I even took a few shots of the hall to use as supplementary art with the story.

Time passed. I paced, fidgeted with my lights and waited. As I worried that things were beginning to unravel, Don suggested that we go ahead and photograph the chefs, since they were needing to begin preparations for a luncheon that day.

Each of the chefs had prepared dishes for us to feature, which meant a group shot of all three of them, along with their dishes. Again, we needed to be efficient, since one of the dishes featured ice cream as one of its ingredients. Plus, the first lady could arrive at any minute and we needed to be ready.

However, it still meant moving lights and making sure everything looked great at a different spot than where I would be photographing Mrs. Hutchinson.

So, down the stairs with a light, quick shots, and we were done. Back up the stairs and ready.

By the time we finished with the chefs and plates, Mrs. Hutchinson arrived. She was 15 minutes late and apologetic, explaining she was cooking breakfast for her grandchildren which put her behind schedule.

No problem. We had the lights set and I had even acquired a small step stool to elevate me just enough to show the ballroom behind her.

I also had an alternate spot where I wanted to photograph the first lady. The stairs leading to the ballroom featured the names of the governors beginning with then-Gov. Bill Clinton. We moved a light and did a few quick images before letting Mrs. Hutchinson join 501 Life editor and publisher Sonja Keith for an interview.

At this point, we were probably 30 minutes into our appointment, which meant I had about 15 minutes to photograph the three rooms of the governor’s mansion that aren’t private quarters. I quickly moved two lights into position to create the shots, aided by an extremely wide-angle zoom lens on the front of my Nikon.

I was able to nail the exposure pretty quickly, and by the time I had broken down the lights, Don was encouraging me to speed things along. We had a very limited window to get to the Capitol in time to catch the Governor.

We quickly loaded the vehicle in anticipation of leaving. In short order, the interview finished and we hopped in Sonja’s SUV to follow the state detail to the Capitol.

It was the beginning of the spring session, so there was no shortage of bodies to weave through. Unfortunately, there was a definite shortage of parking. We procured a media spot meant for another outlet and prayed there was nothing they would be interested in covering that morning.

Being the guy schlepping big bags, I always know you don’t want to be behind me going through security. So, upon entering the building, I was relieved that there wasn’t a line. The officer was patient, but I did have to go through the metal detector again. There was an elderly couple behind me, so I let them go through, thinking they would clear easily.

They didn’t. Nor did they walk in short order or avoid long conversations others, including the officer who was going to have to do a bag check on both my camera bag and lighting gear.

Tick tock.

It seemed like we were there for a half hour or longer, but we finally cleared the checkpoint and hustled to the Governor’s second-floor office. We were ushered in very quickly to his office, which was adjacent to a conference room where Gov. Hutchinson was involved in several photo opportunities. Once he knew we were ready, he would break away for a few minutes and indulge us.

I had the light set when he stepped in. A few quick photos with Mrs. Hutchinson, and a couple with Sonja joining them, and we were finished.

Even though it was a pretty pressure-packed hour, it resulted in one of my favorite covers for 501 Life. And sometimes, it just takes a little bit of pressure to produce diamonds for your client as well as your portfolio.

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2 thoughts on “Working under pressure

  1. You do well under pressure. There is no doubt you could make an amazing political campaign photographer (that is secretly my dream job though I am too scared to make an attempt to do so).

    1. I think if it’s something that you want to do, you should pursue it! I don’t if I would ever want to do political figures as my primary job, but I’ve always thought being the president’s personal photographer would be an interesting look behind the scenes. I know the governor’s photographer and he is a fascinating guy; maybe I should introduce you?

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