99% of the time that’s the mantra of photojournalism. Want shots with impact? Get close, often closer than you feel comfortable. But sometimes you just can’t get close. Sometimes the scenario doesn’t let you get “there” at all. Especially when “there” is in front of 900 people, where you could hear a pin drop as the speaker relates his story of being one of the only surviving children from Auschwitz. Sunday night I was photographing just that event in Atlanta as the speaker, Thomas Buergenthal, replayed a history few in the room could begin to comprehend. Even before I had seen the venue I knew I wanted to express the significance of his remembrance, portraying a sold out attendance that said, “We have not forgotten.” The shot I saw in my mind could only be made from the stage, but no way could I envision (no matter the stealth) inserting myself in the position required to make the photograph you see. Fortunately, technology has put the tool needed within the reach of any photographer: a radio frequency remote trigger.
I arrived well before the doors to the event opened and sought out the event director, explaining my desire to place a remote camera on the stage behind the podium. I detailed how my tripod would be discreetly covered with a drape of black velvet, disappearing into the velvet backdrop for the stage itself. With her blessing I set up, putting a Nikon D810 atop a ballhead coupled with a Nikon 14-24 f/2.8 lens. While no small chunk of glass, this lens renders amazing, well corrected perspective in a setting such as this where it can be used on a true horizontal. After dialing in my settings (ISO 4500, 1/60th, f/4, 14mm) I wrapped the body in a Cordura wrap intended for travel packing. This provided sound dampening which made the shutter and motor sounds disappear. I checked function from remote points in the room to ensure all was well and then went to work shooting the rest of the event. During his presentation I would take breaks from traditional shots I was making, imagining what he looked like from behind and off to his left, timing presses of the remote with moments when he turned to speak to the audience left of stage. Fortunately, 14mm at f/4 provided good depth of field from the focal point I’d chosen on the podium where I’d expected his facial plane to be as he spoke.
It’s an odd feeling, shooting remotely without eyes in a viewfinder, hoping that your precautions and planning are working as the no-second-take moments fly by.
But it was more rewarding than I’d imagined as I pulled up the images later that night. The test shots of an empty auditorium morphed into a shoulder-to-shoulder crowd, faces in rapt attention as emotions play across the room. There was a serindipitous starburst from the spotlights, accentuated in the darkened room, creating an almost tangible quality to the air and interesting gradient of light across the rows of people: washed out to crisp colors to black and white. It all came together, synergistically building impact that told not just the story of the night but conveyed the solemn reverence of the occasion.
All it takes is forethought and redundant equipment. The Nikon 14-24mm isn’t mandatory but it’s rectilinear design really delivers wide perspective that adds a lot. Don’t have the second body to commit? Rent or borrow one from a buddy. The wireless remote I use can be had here (B&H PhotoVideo) for $72.50 and then you’ll have it for all sorts of other creative applications. Oh and don’t neglect it as a routine substitute for a traditional cable release. It’s total pleasure being free of a tethered connection to the camera as you shoot and the one I’m recommending has no secondary cables dangling around the camera.
The best part is that even a shy photojournalist can stand at the back of the room and make an amazing first person shot from a perspective better than front row center. This time it doesn’t take guts to get the glory, just homework.
Mark Alberhasky is a Nikon Mentor for the Mentor Series Worldwide Photo Treks,
and leads destination photo tours for PhotoZoneTours.com.
Join him as he travels and share his enthusiasm for photography and learning.