23 May 2010

"Big - Dogs..." West Point Graduation Day. 22•May•10

President Barack Obama pauses onstage as he watches cadets approach the dais in Michie Stadium at the United States Military Academy for their 2010 Graduation and Commissioning Ceremony in West Point, NY on Saturday, May 22, 2010. President Obama delivered the commencement address as 1,002 cadets received their diplomas and were commissioned as 2nd. Lieutenants in the U.S. Army. Times Herald-Record/CHET GORDON

7:15AM. Checking my remote Canon 1D camera with a 300mm f/2.8 + 1.4 tele-extender on the center TV platform prior to the United States Military Academy's 2010 Graduation and Commissioning Ceremony at Michie Stadium in West Point, NY on Saturday, May 22, 2010. President Barack Obama delivered the commencement address as 1,002 cadets received their diplomas and were commissioned as 2nd. Lieutenants in the U.S. Army. (Photograph by Danny Wild/USMA)

Yesterday was the fourth Army graduation I've covered here during my four years at this newspaper. "Four-for-Four..." I guess you could say. Even though President Obama was to deliver the commencement address for this year's graduating class (which topped 1,000 cadets) there was so much preparation I'd gone through in the last month or so, I was ready to step up to any unforeseen challenges that might present themselves. The last two weeks or so got to be a little nerve racking for members of the working press, particularly for still photographers and video guys, as the White House press people and "the Service" were going to be handling all logistics in assigning locations, field access during the ceremony, the whole bit. Up until Thursday and even Friday, the latest word from my colleagues in the West Point pubic affairs office was that we'd be "locked down" in position and there'd be no "roaming" for photographers. That nearly concrete rumor could've easily dampened my enthusiasm in wanting to cover this year's ceremony. But from the first day back in mid - April or so when the WH announced that POTUS (Obama) would be delivering the commencement address, I began the planning stages of covering this assignment in my mind & just as important - in my mind's eye, regardless of any restrictions that might be imposed, and of course my enthusiasm quietly grew. The first hurdle to overcome would be long glass. I began a series of email correspondence with the good folks in the Bay Area at BorrowLenses.com
Earlier post on corresponding with BorrowLenses two weeks ago here. I initially set out to rent a 400mm f/2.8AF for the assignment, as I knew I could easily add the 1.4x tele-extender or the 2x if needed, especially if I was going to be stuck on the risers for mostly podium and stage area images. I knew instinctively that this day would call for something longer than our pool 300mm in the office. It's a great lens and regular readers of this blog already know how comfortable I am with that lens; but for this day, I'd be running with the "big - dogs" and I certainly didn't want to get 'left on the porch', so to speak. Earlier in my career, I'd regularly worked with a 400mm in the NYC pro sports beat, and even used a colleague's 400mm on this very field to cover an Army football game 2 seasons ago. I am fully aware of the physical demands alone of just maneuvering a monster piece of glass like that around for an extended assignment. Due to scheduling and availability of their 400mm, I made the decision to have a monstrous 600mm f/4 (at left) shipped here. Going with this rental lens served additional options for me professionally. Obviously it's an incredible piece of equipment to have available for such an assignment, but also once I'd placed the order and began tracking it's delivery via the Fed-Ex site, I was reminded again that I'd become a valuable customer with a reliable & reputable vendor, mostly catering to professionals. Throughout my career, I've realized that it's all part of the process of anticipating & recognizing certain obstacles, and doing whatever it takes on various levels to put yourself in the right position, both mentally & of course physically for making good images. It certainly isn't everyday that you'd need to employ such equipment to cover the day to day assignments we shoot, but when an event like this demands doing things the right way, I'm all over it. It was such a rewarding feeling knowing that I'd made the right decision for this rental. With all the expected challenges looming and my experience in covering the three previous USMA graduations, as well as POTUS at West Point only six months ago, I knew I had to step it up a notch or two and add this super telephoto. Anytime you're presented with the opportunity to photograph a sitting President, I still believe you should have the professional wherewithal to step it up another level, packing your best "A-game" for the day. These are images that will have "legs" (meaning reuse in print & the web) for a long time in our archive, and of course out here in the blog-o-sphere / portfolio / lecture circuit / classroom, etc. for me.
Looking back & playing it all forward if you will, one realizes again that this is a business and it's also about building personal relationships at a lot of different levels, as the people you work with will go out of their way to help you achieve the kind of imagery you're trying to accomplish - if you're a true professional - that's extremely important in completing an assignment on this level. I made sure to bring all the appropriate remote gear to install two remote cameras, regardless of what the rumor mill was quoted all week - just in case I got permission down on the field at 7AM, just as I had for two previous graduations where I'd installed remotes. As one public affairs administrator quietly told me, "See if you can work your magic to set up your remotes..." And this while I was being escorted to the press risers on the field by his military boss, an Army Lt. Colonel no less. Bringing printouts from last year's low-angle remote rig & sample images to illustrate my intentions didn't hurt either. Thanks again guys.
Oh yea, here's a tightly edited take of graduation day. "Woof!" ~cg.
*Use the arrow at the bottom left of the player or click the image to start the slideshow. Enable full screen viewing by clicking the 4-way arrow icon above the credits button at lower right of the player. Pause the portfolio slideshow in the right column by clicking the "II" pause button. There is no audio track with this presentation.)


  1. Chet,
    Nice work. Preparation pays off.

  2. Way to go Chet!

  3. Chet you are always on point!

  4. I always enjoy seeing your photos Chet, they tell such an interesting storey! I can't wait for the coffee table book!