I’ve covered all of the big Los Angeles based award shows and multiple Grammy Award shows, but I’ve never seen something like this. Was Babylon 5 making a comeback? Nope – just Gaga being Gaga.
I started to set up my equipment at my assigned spot on the 53rd annual Grammy Awards red carpet around 10:15am. My assignment was to cover red carpet arrivals with Lucy Nicholson photographing the show and Mario Anzuoni backstage photographing winners with their awards. Arrivals began at 12pm and lasted until 5pm. At about 10:45am we had a visit from an organizer saying that 1pm would be a bad time for a bathroom break. We started to ask questions and the answers were vague such as variations of “believe me you will want to be here, trust me.” We began to deduct through cryptic messages that it was regarding Lady Gaga’s arrival as that was everyone’s best guess and it made sense after covering her in the past.
As more photographers started to show up, the word circulated about the 1pm slot and we were told that the red carpet would be cleared for “something”. Words with question marks floating around included a vessel, a cocoon, a carriage, an enclosure. Eventually the cryptic Lady Gaga talk ceased and all of us photographers were told that her enclosure would stop in the center of the backdrop, she would be inside and she would not come out of it to pose for photos. Would we even be able to see her? What is it? How large is it? We weren’t sure. Photographers were trying to come up with ideas of what was possible. Would she walk with a transparent cage around her? Would she be encased in a glass dome? Was it something attached to her? People were asking everyone to try to gather a clue on what to expect. For some reason I started to envision her inside a huge hamster ball or some sort of plastic balloon like how some gift basket companies package stuffed animal gifts.
My main concern was not really what it would be, but how big it would be so that I could be prepared with the correct lens. The enclosure would be about 10 feet from us and if it was large I had to be ready with a wide angle lens. I was asking if it was vertical, was it horizontal, was she standing, was it about her height, was it larger than the backdrop, etc, but I couldn’t get a concrete answer. We weren’t allowed to walk around to get different angles, which is standard at award shows and other red carpet events. Only those with red carpet roaming access can move around on the carpet, which is usually reserved for the event’s official photographers. I had to shoot from my fixed position and I needed to be as creative as I could be from that position – as prepared as I could be to adapt to wherever something happened on the red carpet. What I could see from my position was all the opportunity I would get to capture a strong image.
I was using three cameras. Two Canon Mark IV bodies one with a 24-105mm f/4 and another with a 70-200mm f/2.8. The third body was a Canon 5d Mark II with a 17-35mm f/2.8 which I mounted on a magic arm clamped right in front of me. With a pocket wizard that camera could be triggered wirelessly when I used another one of my cameras to get two shots from two different lenses at the same time. Since I was unsure about what would happen with Lady Gaga, I made sure my remote camera lens was set very wide in case this cocoon/enclosure was bigger than expected and since the 5d Mark II is a full frame camera (The Mark IV has a 1.3x crop factor) it utilized the full wide ability of the lens.