Why You Want News Photographers to Roam Free at Political Events

Posted April 14, 2015 at 12:26pm

One of the most important assets a news photographer has is the ability to move. Even a few inches can make the difference in having a clean background for your shot. You want to be able to look at as many angles as possible and determine where you need to be to make the best picture. Most of the time you can make a good guess, but it is always a good idea to take a spin around the venue to rule out other vantage points.

When covering news events where there is a lot of media interest, photographers are at the mercy of organizers giving them access to roam around and get good art. Two of my recent assignments — one in Boston and one in Virginia — demonstrated how some event officials have very different views on how to handle photographers.

I was the only news photographer in attendance at the March 29 dinner before the dedication of the Edward M. Kennedy Institute for the U.S. Senate in Boston. There were maybe four event photographers and a handful of reporters. I was relegated to a roped-off area where VIPs were having their photos taken in front of a “step and repeat” (a backdrop with the event’s branding).

Patrick Kennedy Elizabeth Warren
From left, Kennedy, Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., and Sen. Edward J. Markey, D-Mass., talk during a March 29 gala that was part of the dedication ceremony for the Edward M. Kennedy Institute for the U.S. Senate. Patrick is the son of the late senator. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

I was happy to get those pictures, but it would have been nice to photograph people naturally chatting with each other and incorporate what the space actually looked like. At one point, I was standing in the designated area and told not to shoot into the crowd — but to turn my attention toward the groups that were being organized in front of the backdrop. After about 400 pictures of former Rep. Patrick J. Kennedy, D-R.I., in front of the step and repeat, I began hovering outside the pen — just to test the waters to see how far I could move. I wasn’t told to go back in, so I took that as a good sign. However, I was close enough to catch Kennedy and Christopher J. Dodd talking.

Patrick Kennedy Chris Dodd
Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call

Earlier in the day, we took a tour of the life-size replica of the Senate floor. I thought if I was on the floor when the senators were mingling, that would probably best picture I was going to get. I asked if it was possible to take pictures on the floor and was told that wasn’t an option.

From my penned position, I could see VIPs coming and going from the door of the replica Senate chamber. As all the public relations folks around me were occupied, I casually strolled out of the area and onto the Senate floor. Luckily, I saw Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I., hanging out on a table and was able to quickly grab a few frames.

Sheldon Whitehouse Carl Levin
Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call

I wanted to spend several minutes to get a shot that showed more of the room, but I didn’t want to be discovered. According to the time stamps on the images, I was only shooting for about 30 seconds. I was happy with the outcome considering that time frame. The picture ran on Roll Call’s front page to accompany Niels Lesniewski’s story.

A week earlier, I was in Lynchburg, Va., for Sen. Ted Cruz’s presidential announcement at Liberty University. It was held at an arena on campus and a Christian rock band warmed up the student crowd.

Ted Cruz announcement
Damaris Braz Perez, 20, sings on March 23 during a convocation at Liberty University’s Vines Center before Cruz announced his candidacy for president of the United States. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

Shortly before the event, Cruz’s people gathered about a dozen still photographers together and said, “We want you to get good pictures.” They told us we could go wherever we wanted and reminded us to be mindful of the guests and TV cameras. That was a good directive to hear. We were free to move around the floor of the arena and in the crowd. From what I saw, there were no problems among the photographers and Cruz’s people. It did get a little bunched up in front of Cruz at times, but luckily he was on a 360-degree stage and moved around frequently.

Ted and Heidi Cruz with kids
Cruz hugs his daughter Caroline, 6, as his other daughter Catherine, 4, and wife Heidi look on. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)
Ted Cruz
(Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)
Ted Cruz
(Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)
Ted Cruz
Heidi Cruz and daughters Caroline, 6, right, and Catherine, 4, greet guests during a convocation at Liberty University. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

It did get a little chaotic when he walked off stage as he greeted and took pictures with guests. Many people were standing on chairs and reporters who were seated — trying to write their stories — were displaced by the moving scrum.

Ted Cruz
(Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

I didn’t have the best angles on that part of the day, but that was my fault and I’m glad I had the freedom to make that mistake.

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