Well, it took a bit of being pushy, being in the right place at the right time, and some assertive bravery (read “bold BS”). But I was handed an official AMGEN race press pass and a ‘press exclusive’ photographer’s vest at the AMGEN Tour Of California Bicycle Race Prologue yesterday in Sacramento, California. Parking was bad so I decided to rough it and walk 9 blocks or so from home. :-D
The deal that got me into the press box was thru an online publisher who runs a 1-man website but knows the ways to get the press access. He’d already had his way into getting the press pass but gave up on the shooting because of a better gig in the mountains with the fresh snowfall. I ran into him – on his bicycle – trying to find the darn press location; not one event official we could find knew. Together we searched the entire course and only found it when we were standing behind it and asked the volunteer where we were. LOL! Then he hunted for his credentials and again got bad information for another hour. When he finally tracked them down and got them to me, he was already late for departing to the other shoot so I asked what he wanted and I was hired.
Nobody ever came to the press tent to organize or give out press packets and even I could figure out nobody was coming and we were on our own. The “we” was one local TV station and I at that point so I started scoping out shooting angles and found that it was virtually impossible from the press tent. Eavesdropping got me the tip on getting over the wall and onto the course while being pushy got me a vest after I was challenged repeatedly by the guy who just didn’t trust me, unfortunately the same ‘stage manager’. He even personally threatened he’d hunt me down if I didn’t give him back the vest.
I bravely joined about 30 other highly privileged people with cameras ranging in value from $1000 (mine) to, including lenses, well over $30,000 (everybody else’s). Where no other local TV channel or radio station was able to go save one, I was allowed to jockey for a cherished position on the race course asphalt! If not for a ‘stage manager’ who knew I was a rookie and a completely silent but hard-nosed guy with A1 quality gear, I would have been the very first photographer of those 30 or so. I had to settle for a very poor second because the guy in front of me was HUGE, his lens was HUGE, and he was sitting away from the wall on a tiny chair and allowed to do it. I was pinned behind him by a cone the manager put almost directly behind Mr. Rude Wide Obstacle but I used a bit of guile to lean around him for a clear shot at the cyclists. Of course, this made it a nightmare for the pros behind me who were allowed to angle only slightly to get any view beyond Mr. RWO or to stand up blocking the view of the Honoured Guests, who had to stay behind the wall we were in front of. But I see it now as a cutthroat situation and I was just a hair too nice this time.
The event was completely disorganized from the press perspective and unless one got there early enough to weed thru all the confusion, bad information, and obvious ‘insider deals’, you were reduced to standing on the wrong side of the track facing the sun, further from the finish line, and unable to even see the cyclists before they were upon you. You were leaning over/around/under other leaning people and trying to get shots where even the best cameras couldn’t focus fast enough. I saw one radio station reporter make a deal with a guy carrying a tiny automatic to get copies of his shots taken blindly from reaching out over the way and guessing the aim. That stung a bit because it could have been me if I’d been in another wrong place at the right time. LOL!
Turns out I was the first to turn a vest in because it started to rain just before the critical time when the best riders were passing and I had absolutely nada for covering the Nikon D80. Arrgh! Fortunately I’d scoped out the fall back position: on the 6th floor of the parking lot overlooking the race. As I was getting there, I was confronted with dozens of cops and none of them looked like AMGEN guards but I finessed my way past them looking like the bumbling old man with an AMGEN badge getting to my car. The elevator let me in and didn’t move. I was about to ring the 911 on the emergency phone when it started moving after about 3 minutes. If I hadn’t been on the flippin’ ground level, I would have been freaked! But it took me to the 6th floor and the overlook of the race. The shots aren’t as good (in fact, they are bad) but I got the top three riders in the world, including Lance Armstrong, crossing the finish line before I was confronted by the police again. They had obviously been watching me scramble for the parking lot but had allowed me to get the last shots before politely asking ‘if I was packing up’. I politely said ‘yes’ and politely got me happy ass down to the ground again.
There, being the ‘early bird’ in the morning really helped because the guards all knew me and trusted me so when I asked to get back into the press booth, they smiled while shaking their heads and said “good luck”. Huh? The crowd in that area had swelled to about 200 skin-tight people and I was about to leave when a TV camera was being brought in and I followed in its wake. LOL! Got me just far enough to see the stage with the winners and “The Governator”, who got a couple rousing boos and then polite applause. I never would have gotten within 100 yards if not for following the camera with my press pass because I walked thru Secret Service, police, CHP, Sheriffs’, FBI, and who knows how many plain-clothed law enforcement. The guard who let me in was sure I wasn’t going to make it. Nevertheless, I was closely watched by at least 5 people who never looked away from me, one of them the bodyguard for the Governor. Hell, I was running around with a BACKPACK they didn’t know was full of photographic stuff and my lunch and not a freakin’ BOMB! LOL!
There it is. The story of my first REALLY, REALLY Big Photography Gig and I’m now waiting for the call from the publisher who hired me but I couldn’t care less about that part. It was a ‘photography credits only’ gig but I learned a mountain of cool stuff about being a pro and running with the professional Big Dogs. If I get published, I’ll send links but for well over 700 shots nobody but I could get, being published: gravy. The experience: priceless.
Nikkor 70 – 200 lens (my newest baby from another failing company in Sacramento)
Focal Length: 200mm
Metering mode: Pattern
Exposure program: action/sports
Exposure offset: none
Editing program: PhotoShopElement 3 for RB enlargement, contrast correction
February 14th, 2009 at 2:29pm, L Street
A big thank you for the featuring in ImageWriting group!