How to Get the President's (and Don Cheadle's) Picture

Posted June 5, 2010 in Dear Diary, Journalism, Rwanda

If you know the president is coming, there are two ways to get his picture:

  1. Buy an expensive telephoto lens
  2. Run around like crazy

I'm a very nascent photo-journalist, so I can't do either very well. But I worked on the latter at today's gorilla-naming ceremony.

(Or, yes, you can just walk up to Don Cheadle and ask for his picture. Some Japanese guests and all my housemates did that. But those pictures just aren't as interesting to me.)

The key to getting a picture few others will get is to go somewhere few others will go. Therein lies a problem, of course: permission. Your best means of accessing a place you may not have permission to access is confidence. I had an identity card of some sort and an air of self-importance, and that got me far.

After that? The usual photography stuff, such as shooting from different angles, fiddling with camera settings and watching your subject's background.

I feel I got a good mix. What do you think?

The obligatory crowd shot. There was no way to capture it all, so I recklessly cropped it.

President Paul Kagame's signature wave. I hadn't expected to see this one, except that ....

... Kagame, aware of the August election, played to the audience and took an unplanned detour that led to the shot. There were more smiling faces, but by cropping I managed to focus on the best one and tell a joke, though at an imperfect angle.

This band announced Kagame's entrance. I could have taken a picture from the front, but security would have pushed me back and I didn't want to annoy them too early on. (These are the choices we make as journalists: annoy people now, or annoy them later when it may be worth more?)

Today was a gorilla-naming ceremony for the 14 newest endangered creatures in Rwanda. The real gorillas don't come to the ceremony, but fake ones did. The key here is to shoot people close together: the viewer should be able to clearly understand what everybody is doing. Except if he's in a gorilla suit. Oh, okay, and I'll explain: the ranger is just standing there, like the gorillas.

The ceremony had a bunch of world environmental leaders (it was World Environment Day, organized by the United Nations Environment Programme) announce the names of all the gorillas.

Of course, like any proper ceremony, it also had music. Lesson from television here: if you're going to use two similar-looking pictures in a row, make sure people in the second picture aren't facing in the same direction as people from the first.

These dancers were expertly synchronized. And I failed here in shooting their backs: I had fifty shots of dancers but most were too spaced-out to bring the neat line I craved and emphasize their perfect timing.

I ducked out of the spot I used for the last three shots (yes, it was the same spot--bad Adam!) to circle back to where I predicted Don Cheadle, who announced the name of the final gorilla, would arrive. I was right, and we were only about five people with cameras and three with video cameras. I could snap for a while and pick the shot that excludes everybody else.

Think about the perspective for a second: this is a downward shot. You can argue that's artistic; truth is, I was one row back in the media scrum and I was holding the camera over my head. My secret weapon was my SLR's swivel screen and its "live view" mode that makes it act like a point-and-shoot.

The final trick to a photo story is selection. I took about 500 pictures today but set my limit at 10. The ones I gave here seek to tell a story or convey an emotion. You may think I did a lousy job at this, but there was very little news value to the event. To me, the story was, "Adam running around shooting whatever he can see."

If you were hoping for "Adam with Kagame" or "Adam with Cheadle" pictures, I may post them. Somebody else took those shots.