The mayoral campaign season is coming to a close in New York City, but there are still ample opportunities to photograph Bill de Blasio and Joe Lhota. On Tuesday, October 22, I had the good fortune of having press access to the debate at the CUNY Graduate Center. My status as a non-AP photographer, however, precluded from gaining access to the pool, the group of folks who can photograph inside the debate. Along with other media organizations, I sat in a “media room” for the duration of the debate. Shortly following the closing remarks, each candidate made an appearance. That’s when it started.
The media room in this case was a room with tables, outlets, Wi-Fi and a flat screen television. Black curtains lined the walls, and the room was abuzz with the clicking of keys as folks around me wrote their stories and tweeted one-liners. The debate lasted an hour without commercial breaks, and as soon as it was over, everyone in the media room swarmed to one corner. Radio, print and television outlets had their mics and cameras pointed at one location that was soon occupied first by Bill de Blasio.
Once you find your location, you need to stick to it, lest it should be snatched by somebody else. I had my Sony a580 and Minolta AF 70-210mm f4 lens with me, and I kept my lens at 70mm and almost always wide open. This didn’t allow for great flexibility in terms of the types of shots you can take, but given that you’re only afforded roughly 5-7 minutes with each candidate, you have to work with what you have.
If you have the benefit of height, you’ll find you’ll have an easier time than most. Equipment can get in the way if you’re towards the back, but there are ways to move around that. Namely, pull up a chair and stand on it. I didn’t do that because I didn’t want a bird’s eye view of the candidates, but it can offer a different perspective of the candidate and the huddle around him.
Fortunately, there was decent lighting thanks to both the media room and some of the video folks who were there. I relied on my a580’s autofocus, and it worked well. Lhota and de Blasio adjusted their position depending on who was asking the question, but autofocusing worked better in a pinch than having to adjust manually. De Blasio tended have a greater variety of facial expressions, and maybe that’s due to his lead in the polls. Regardless, the post-debate Q&A session in the media room provides ample opportunity to get portraits you wouldn’t be able to otherwise. Granted, you’ll need press access, but if political portraits are something you want you to take on, find a way to freelance for a publication. These timely portraits are much sought-after, and you stand a chance to make some money.
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