Honoring Access with Restraint

Ms. Gloria Steinem, speaking at the Orfalea Foundation Downtown Center on February 13, 2014

Ms. Gloria Steinem, radiating optimism and radicalism in equal measure at the Orfalea Foundation Downtown Center on February 13, 2014

In the eyes of the IRS, I’m a professional photographer because I get paid to make photographs. In the eyes of certain friends and coworkers, I’m a professional photographer because I’m “good enough” and the right price. In my own eyes, I am an eager-to-learn amateur who lacks certain qualities I associate with professionals, including the presence of mind and resourcefulness to walk into any situation and find a way to accomplish the mission.

That sort of professionalism comes from experience, and nothing in my photographic past prepared me for two hours as the sole photographer at a reception for Journalism and Feminism icon Gloria Steinem.

Strong backlighting was a challenge throughout. Here, Ms. Steinem chats with Sage Publishing founder Sara Miller McCune.

Strong backlighting was a challenge throughout. Here, Ms. Steinem chats with Sage Publishing founder Sara Miller McCune.

I had shot in the room before – unsuccessfully – so I came into the situation nervous but with a plan. There is no ceiling to speak of, and the eastern and southern exposures are picture windows. Ms. Steinem would be backlit for the entire event, but I would have no ceiling on which to bounce flash. I chose to shoot the entire event with on-camera flash units and diffuser domes.

I've shot receptions before, but never for an intellectual rock star. The energy level was very high, and I found it hard to keep my attention or my cameras focused.

I’ve shot receptions before, but never for a rock star. The energy level was very high, and I found it hard to keep my attention or my cameras focused.

I had liberty to roam the room and shoot at will, but I had a responsibility to Ms. Steinem and the attendees too, didn’t I? I couldn’t just keep clicking and firing flashes during their discussion, as much as I wanted to. Ms. Steinem is one of the most photographed people in the world – I wanted my chance to make a special image of a special person, but it was a reception for her, not me.

Here is Ms. Steinem with several of my coworkers, celebrating the conclusion of a very uplifting event.

Ms. Steinem with several of my coworkers, celebrating the conclusion of a very uplifting event. I still plan to retouch the flash hotspots, which of course appear in every picture of the day.

I made one photo that I like (at the top of the post) and several that will serve the purposes of my employer and possibly help some of the other community members who participated in the event.  I got to spend several hours listening to a fascinating person. And I got experience, which is sometimes defined as what you get when you didn’t get what you wanted.

Regular readers will recall my post about "the fourth light." I may use one or two or three flashes in my portrait work, but it's the light radiating from the subject that makes the picture. Ms. Steinem absolutely glows with passion, empathy, and intellect. Quite fun to be near, frankly.

Regular readers will recall my post about “the fourth light.” I may use one or two or three flashes in my portrait work, but it’s the light radiating from the subject that makes the picture. Ms. Steinem absolutely glows with passion, empathy, and intellect. Quite fun to be near, frankly.

1 Comment

Filed under Lighting, Portraiture, Professional vs. Amateur

One response to “Honoring Access with Restraint

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