Caught with Obama in a downpour
By Jason Reed
It happens about once a year. If he had waited two more minutes the pictures would not have happened but Mother Nature had other ideas. It was time for a good old soaking at an event featuring President Barack Obama.
The forecast had called for hot and humid conditions on the second day of a two-day campaign swing through Virginia, where the first ominous signs were the crash of thunder in the distance as Obama stopped at a roadside vegetable stand to pick up a crate of tomatoes for the family. On the way to the outdoor campaign rally in Glen Allen, lightning flashed in front of the motorcade. We arrived at the venue with heavy, ominous clouds and some light sprinkles that we all hoped would quickly subside. No one except the Secret Service were carrying rain jackets (they must have all been boy scouts – “Be prepared”). Not even the President was prepared to deal with the next half hour.
With the press gathered in front of the stage in our cotton short sleeve shirts, the light sprinkle, which had been just a small nuisance, quickly turned into a full deluge that would be familiar to anyone who has ever lived in monsoon-prone regions of southeast Asia. (Stand under a bathroom shower fully clothed and turn the water pressure to maximum. You get the drift.) Now grab about $20,000 worth of camera gear and start taking pictures.
Any speculation about the event being cancelled was quashed in a matter of seconds when President Obama surprised all by going on early, appearing without his jacket and tie, among hundreds of soaked-to-the-bone supporters who had waited hours for a glimpse of the President. In the 30-foot (ten meter) walk from his entrance to the main stage, Obama’s thin sky-blue cotton shirt was already transparent from the rain and he was already wiping water off his face every few seconds. He seemed to enjoy the experience by telling a few jokes to the crowd and laughing at the whole preposterous scene.
I had shielded my computer bag in the damp grass under the stage and tried to make the most of a situation which, while challenging and uncomfortable, I knew was going to yield some pretty interesting pictures.
Dragging the shutter speed down to about 1/20th of a second to elongate the rain drops, I went to the side of the stage that was almost back-lit from a large HMI outdoor light and with the dark background of some nearby trees, you could make out the raindrops pretty easily.
An added bonus was that the rain on the front of the 70-200mm lens, which I had been hopelessly trying to wipe dry with my soaked shirt, created these octagonal highlights when pointed towards the artificial lights as a function of the eight-bladed aperture ring. It was a nice effect which made the Reuters picture wire along with a selection of other frames from the event.
The real fear was that any of my three cameras were eventually going to stop functioning. There is only so much moisture that an expensive hand-held electronic box can take – most professional photographers could tell you a story or two of a piece of gear that paid the ultimate price.
A lot of people wonder why professional Digital SLR cameras are so expensive, typically double that of consumer-grade equipment, but at least in the case of the EOS-1 D Mk IV cameras and a 5D Mk III that I use, it’s the rubber gaskets and weather seals built into their magnesium alloy bodies that are the saving grace. Although not fully waterproof, in this awful weather they kept on ticking and I was happy to end the assignment with everything still functioning perfectly. Our clothes, however, would take the rest of the day to dry out. Next time I’ll bring a rain coat, I swear…