My First Photojournalist Experience with the Governor of New Jersey
Yesterday I saw a little blurb on Facebook. I’m not even sure who posted it. But evidently, today (1/9/13) was to be the ground breaking on the new boardwalk in Belmar, NJ after Superstorm Sandy destroyed the last one. On top of that, Gov. Chris Christie was to be on hand at 11 AM to “throw the switch” to install the first piling for the new boardwalk. My last blog post showed what happened to the previous boardwalk.
I’ve always wanted to try my hand at photojournalism. What the heck! Let’s see what it’s like to photograph a newsworthy event. Is it really as hard as some people make it sound? Can a photographer who just walks in get good pictures? I drove down to Belmar and parked a block or two away. Most of the streets near the ocean are still blocked off. I threw the camera over my shoulder and walked in, doing my best to look like a journalist (I don’t have a cool photo vest, though. I hope that isn’t a dead giveaway.). I was wearing jeans and a “Restore the Shore” sweatshirt.
The Governor’s podium set up prior to the press conference
So I get to 4th Ave. at the ocean. There’s chairs and a podium set up in the street with some heavy equipment on the edge of the sand. A few people are milling around and there’s a heavy police presence. Yup. Right place. There’s a restaurant on the corner, which is open. A police officer walks past and nods, saying, “Good morning sir, glad to see you.” Ummmmmmm, OK. Evidently I must be looking like a photojournalist. I return the pleasantries and move on. Time to take a few test shots and make sure the camera is set right…. all looks good. The press begin showing up. Eyewitness news and NBC4 have their satellite trucks set up. The audio and video guys are setting up their cameras and tripods (on a side note, I really feel for videographers. Damn, they’ve got big cameras and big, heavy tripods. My camera is heavy, but jeesh! OK, OK, no stupid jokes about that.). The State Police have now arrived, some undercover, trying to do their best Secret Service impression. Cool. It’s getting crowded now. Start to jocky for position. The first row of chairs is reserved for the Governor’s staff. I’ll hang out right next to the front row until someone asks me to move. A waiter from the restaurant walks up with food. “Would you like a sandwich?”
Mayor Doherty of Belmar gives the media an interview prior to the Governor’s press conference
Seats reserved for the Governor’s staff during the press conference
These political events are great! Music on the PA, food, great view of the event….
The construction crew starts to set up the first piling that will become part of the foundation of the new boardwalk. One of the construction crew goes over to the pile and writes “1st 1/9/13.”
“1st” – The symbolic first piling to be driven into the sand for the new boardwalk is marked by an employee of Epic Construction
The public are now arriving. The police are keeping them back on the sidewalk. Cool- I’m not the public! This seems to be a fairly open environment. The fact that I’m walking around with a Nikon D800, extra battery grip, a 70-200 f/2.8 lens and a backpack full of camera gear doesn’t hurt either! I am surprised at the cameras that many of the journalists are using. It just goes to show, these guys travel light and don’t have much sophisticated equipment. That’s fine- most of the places their pictures get published (like the newspaper) really kill the quality of the image anyway. They don’t need a lot of camera and lens. That works to my advantage as I’m looking more like a photojournalist than some of the guys working for the paper! I’m sure the only way to survive as a photojournalist is to carry what you need and not much more.
We’re getting close to 11AM and I’m standing about 15 feet from the podium, as close as is allowed. There’s that waiter again… do I want another sandwich? What happened next absolutely shocked me. The Governor’s Press Secretary comes out, does an audio test at the podium, and announces that “cameras only” can follow him into the restaurant where the governor and Mayor of Belmar will meet the owner. Cool! My first photo opp! I duck in line behind the other photographers and walk into the restaurant. I grab a position on the floor in front, being careful not to block anyone’s view. These guys all need to return with good shots and the last thing I ever want to do is be the reason they didn’t. I loved when the Press Secretary held up a white card for the photographers to get a white balance setting on their cameras. Cool!
A few minutes later, in walks Gov. Christie and Mayor Doherty. Everyone is smiles and the Governor is talking directly to the restaurant’s owner. He seems genuinely interested in what he has to say. Snap away! After about ten minutes, they all walk outside. The Governor’s staff has made a lane for us through the crowd so we can get back to our positions. I find myself back where I was, next to the front row of chairs, with about a thousand people behind me!
Governor Christie and Mayor Doherty greet the restaurant owners
Mayor Doherty was first at the podium. Start shooting! I’m about 10 feet from the podium (yes, I was able to get closer then before!). This is gonna be great! The pictues on the camera are coming out great! The light is overcast and perfect for photography. I was in the exact spot I wanted to be in… until my knees started hurting (I was kneeling down on the pavement). Hey, no one is sitting in the front row, grab a seat…. I’m now sitting in the front row as Congressmen Pallone and Smith are brought to the podium to make their remarks. This is unreal.
Mayor Doherty addresses the audience
Congressman Pallone addresses the audience
Congressman Smith addresses the audience
Finally, Mayor Doherty introduces the Governor. Right spot, right light, right lens…. ISO 100, f8 @ 1/160 at 135mm. I’m sitting in the front row for the next 45 minutes at the Gov’s press conference. Neat!
Governor Chris Christie addresses the audience
After the press conference, the Governor and Mayor are ushered over to the pile driver to throw the switch that will start the machine and drive the first telephone pole sized pile into the sand at the Belmar beach. After about 10 minutes of the machine running and driving the pile to its final depth, Gov. Christie walks over with a grease pencil and signs the top. Cool.
Gov. Chris Christie throws the switch that starts the pile driver
The pile is driven into the sand
The first pile is in! We’re on our way to a new boardwalk!
So my first experience as a “photojournalist” has taught me a few things. First, looking the part is important, as is being polite and doing what you’re told when in the vacinity of dignitaries. Never challenge security, even if you’re in the right- just walk away and find a less intrusive way to get what you need. Second, arrive early. Third, photojournalists travel light. In line with this, don’t do anything to bring attention to yourself. I have no illusions that I would have had the access I had if this had been the President of the United States. I’m pretty sure those guys all need to display press credentials and freelancers like me need to be shooting for someone, not just writing for my blog. But I guess with state officials, things are a bit more open, especially at outdoor events. Of course, many in the press act exactly the opposite of all this, but I choose not to be part of the story. The ones who act dignified and respectful seem to be on a first name basis with those they are covering… it’s easier to catch a fly with honey than with vinegar.
It’s fantastic to see the Belmar boardwalk make a comeback. I’m so happy that construction has begun. They claim it will be completed in time for Memorial Day. And supposedly, it will be improved, and longer, than the last boardwalk. We’ll see…. I certainly hope so! Gov. Christie promises to be back for the opening, and hopefully, I will be too.
Besides, I can’t wait to go back and get some more of those sandwiches…
(If you would like to see the rest of the pictures from today’s photoshoot, check out my Facebook page…