By Jim Young
Remote cameras can produce great pictures, but they are not always easy to set up. To put a camera in a position that would be impossible for a person to shoot from can produce interesting images, but it takes creativity and a lot of technical planning.
In March I went for a walk-through with organizers and news media for the upcoming NATO Summit to be held in Chicago in May. For years now we have set up remotes on the ceiling looking down on the meeting table for political summits and we wanted to set one up for this summit as well. We took a look at what would be the summit room, which at the time was completely empty and as bland as any other empty convention center room. In the week before the summit it would be transformed into a polished meeting room for world leaders and we hoped that we would be allowed to mount a remote camera as well. The idea was to shoot an overall photo of all the leaders sitting at the table for their meeting surrounding the giant NATO seal on the floor. The only way this could be done was with a remote camera because with the height we would need to be at to achieve the image, the camera could only be mounted up in the ceiling among the overhead lights.
We had never actually done this at a NATO summit before. The previous overhead cameras had been at G8, G20 and Nuclear Summits run by different organizers. In the final week before the summit we asked again. At first the answer seemed to be no, but then the officials suddenly came back with a “Yes, you can put up the camera, but you have to put it up immediately.” The other stipulation was that we could not use radio transmitters to trigger the shutter of the camera during the meeting; it would have to be hardwired with long cables.
Due to our previous experience doing this at the other summits, we had learned how to control the camera and trigger it live with a laptop at a remote location, with the photos downloading back instantly so that we could push them straight out to our clients. Our Washington pictures editor Jim Bourg had sent me some of the special equipment and software needed in advance. Here in Chicago the technical challenges of controlling the camera from afar were done in consultation with our Reuters staff technician Michael Berrigan, who has found all kinds of creative ways to overcome obstacles with our remote cameras over the years. Despite having to set up the camera immediately after the approval, we would still be setting it up well in advance of the actual meeting and would not be able to touch the camera for days before it shot the pictures. The advantage of this setup was that we would also not have to wait for hours after the event to collect the card with the images once the pictures were taken. They would be on our laptop and ready for transmission within seconds.
At the last minute we were finally given a window of a couple of hours to run the cabling, mount the camera and test it. Unfortunately, because the room was now sealed off by constructed walls, scissor lifts could no longer get access to the room. All the work would have to be done atop a tall ladder, reaching about 25 feet up to the bottom of the light rigging.