Playing “Journalist” on the Red Carpet

Katherine McPhee
Shutter: 1/320, Aperture: f/1.8, Lens: 18-35mm, ISO: 640 (no flash)

I’ve shot several celebrity news events before, like Miss America and various press conferences, but this was my first A List Celebrity Red Carpet job. Hollywood came to DC this past weekend for the annual White House Correspondents Dinner. If you’re not aware, it’s a once a year event where real celebrities come rock out with local “celebrities” and listen to the President riff on himself and others. I got credentialed to shoot the Netflix/Google Pre Party on Friday night. I decided to go for a unique look to my coverage and even had a run-in with “real” journalists! You know, at a red carpet event. Click below for more.

Marika Dominczyk
Shutter: 1/200, Aperture: f/1.8, Lens: 18-35mm, ISO: 250 (flash)

This is Marika Dominczyk. You may remember her from 40 Year Old Virgin, but she is married to Scandal star Scott Foley. Anyway, this photo has exactly the look I set out to get. I wanted a bit more of a portrait look than your standard red carpet snapshot. I hoped to get a shallower depth of field, and capture the star in a moment, rather than up against a wall like a mug shot. Marika is a very striking woman to begin with, but I feel a photo like this does her a bit more justice than the typical tabloid fare. One big question though, if all of my shots look like this, where the corporate logos in the background are pretty fuzzed out, would said logo owners be upset? Would these particular photos then be unusable by media outlets that have ads to sell? The way I treated it this round was to get several “standard” shots, and just a handful of portrait shots when I had the opportunity. Without a strict plan, I guess it was a ratio of 1:4?

Patrick Stewart
Shutter: 1/200, Aperture: f/3.2, Lens:18-35mm, ISO: 320, (no flash)

The other big debate I had was whether or not to use flash. I’m first and foremost a concert photographer, where flash is forbidden. Secondly, I’ve shot events that are being televised, and they’re so well lit a flash is a bit overkill. I’m just not a fan of what on-camera flash does to the face. I’ve done plenty of portrait work with off-camera flash, but with lack of elbow room, there was no way that would be possible. So I started out with no flash, and a higher ISO. The image up above of Katherine McPhee was shot with no flash. Some people have pointed out that the shadows behind her on the wall would be eliminated with my flash, and if that’s the industry standard, then I guess I need it. This image of Patrick Stewart above also had no flash. I really like the lighting here, and wanted most of my images to look like this. After a bit, I relented and did use the flash. I found it helped get the star to look right at my camera if a flash went off first, and the direct eye contact images were the keepers. Also, if I was exposed for no-flash, and I caught someone else’s flash at the same moment, it ruined the shot. Anyway, my favorite image from the whole night (Marika, above) did have a flash, and I think because I was hitting the side of her face, and there was a running lamp from a video camera, I got pleasing light. I admit I’m not a flash expert, but I can adapt quickly. I felt if anything separated me from the pack, it was going to be depth of field, not flash usage.

Micheal Kelly
Shutter: 1/160, Aperture: f/1.8, Lens: 18-35mm, ISO: 250, (flash)

Mistakes were made… one of the biggest risks of shooting at a slim depth of field is missing the primary focus. I got several shots of Micheal Kelly, aka House of Cards‘ Doug Stamper, but this was my favorite. But if you spend more than two seconds viewing it, you can see that most of it is out of focus. Dagnabbit. The flash look isn’t bothering me now, but being out of focus is. I’m aware of the risks of shooting with a slim DOF, but I want you to see where I goof up too. Most of my shots were usable. This was just the favorite of the ones I had to throw away.

This is what red carpet is like
Shutter: 1/200, Aperture: f/1.8, Lens: 18-35mm, ISO: 250 (no flash)

I love Modern Family‘s Jesse Tyler Ferguson, he really was a great and cordial guy. But you have to see this behind-the-scenes example of the red carpet experience. The stars will flash a winning smile long enough to get you your picture, but you can tell it’s “work” and they’ll drop the smile as soon as you put the camera down. I thought it was hilarious that I actually caught it. Also notice, no flash, f/1.8 aperture, and I’m pretty happy with the (first) photo.

Spike Mendelsohn
Shutter: 1/160, Aperture: ƒ/1.8, 18-35mm, ISO: 250 (flash)

My other highlight was when local celebrity chef Spike Mendelsohn came down the red carpet with Sunny Anderson. I have shot several events at Spike’s restaurants, so he knows who I am. He’s also good friends with J Roddy Walston & the Business, who was playing at a festival I was shooting the next day. So here is a dude I know, and I have something very relevant to talk about. He came over and shook my hand and we chatted about the DC101 Kerfuffle a bit and then he posed for a pic and moved on. That was awesome. I felt like a million bucks. For about five minutes. Then the “low point” of my evening.

Lupita Nyong'o
Shutter: 1/200, Aperture: f/1.8, Lens: 18-35mm, ISO: 250 (flash)

Here is Oscar® winning best actress Lupita Nyong’o. Not only did she just win Best Actress for 12 Years a Slave, but People magazine just named her 2014’s Most Beautiful Person. Anyway, I wish I had a better photo of her, but for a good portion of the evening, a very large, well-known papparazzo was edging me out of my spot. His MO is to press his body against you until you voluntarily move out of your spot. It made the evening quite difficult, but he was only in my way for about half of the time. He left for large chunks of time to try and squeeze in somewhere else. Anyway, that’s not the low point of my evening. No, it was after it was announced that the red carpet was closed and the last celebrity had gone by, I voiced aloud that I was disappointed that Modern Family‘s Sofía Vergara had skipped the red carpet and we would not be getting any photos of her. A young lady from the Washington Post got frustrated with my comment and said “Sheesh, are you only here to shoot the pretty girls? Are you even a real journalist?” I responded that I was there on behalf of DC101, and they weren’t interested in photos of 70 year old senators. The irony was, this is a celebrity red carpet event. This is like the Pringles of journalism. My bread and butter is shooting live concerts, so some of my tactics may have been a little raw, but I feel like I did a decent job shooting. I wasn’t acting in a boorish manner like the pap that was mushing everyone around him. I actually found it very humorous. Almost like a badge of courage. I got slammed by someone that held a video camera really still, filming the on-screen talent fight for interviews.

Oh I have been published in the Washington Post, and other national magazines. I considered myself a real journalist when I was invited to one editor’s home for their Staff Writer holiday party.

Scott Foley
Shutter: 1/200, Aperture: f/1.8, Lens: 18-35mm, ISO: 250 (flash)

Here’s one last example of a “different” look I was going for. I got a goofy look, a cock-eyed angle, and that low depth of field. I like the spontaneity and energy in the pose and the angle together, and though the logos are fuzzy, they’re still recognizable.

So what did I learn? I learned that concert photographers are a lot nicer bunch to hang out with. It was great seeing all these big named celebrities up close, and feel like I was a real journalist for a change. I am pleased with the pics I got, but I don’t anticipate coming back to these photos more than a week later. My favorite rock photos still give me fuzzy feelings months, even years later. If I were to compare the two events… you can’t impact what the rock stars are doing, you can’t control the lighting. You have to make art, that accurately tells a story, with what you’re given. I love how you can compare my concert shots to other rock photographers, and they look completely different, even from the same show. Red carpet reporting is like grabbing as many cookies as you can before the other kids do, trying not to break them as you shove em in your pocket. It was kind of cool getting to shout “HEY ERIC STONESTREET” (and getting that freaked out pic below. But this was all very disposable, in every sense of the word.

Eric Stonestreet
ShutterL 1/160, Aperture: f/1.8, Lens: 18-35mm, ISO: 250 (flash)

This is actually really funny. It looked as if Mr. Stonestreet was going to totally bypass our area without stopping for a photo and I was not going to let him go. So I started shouting his name. I hadn’t shouted at anyone the entire night (save for maybe Spike) so I somehow caught him off guard (I wasn’t the only one calling his name) I have to figure I must be a pretty ugly dude to freak out Eric Stonestreet. Anyway, I did get a very lovely smile after this. See?

Eric Stonestreet
Shutter: 1/160, Aperture: f/1.8, Lens: 18-35mm, ISO: 250 (flash)

I did have a fun time, it was definitely a learning experience. I’d do it again, but not on a regular basis. Thanks to @PFredPhotos for getting me in the door. The Sigma 18-35mm did great. I played it safe sometimes by cranking the aperture up to f/2.8, but for the most part I stuck at f/1.8, and I liked what I got. What helped the most was that DC101’s big concert, the Kerfuffle, was on Saturday and they’d be featuring rock n roll photos from that for the next week. Red carpet pics were a “nice-to-have.” So I had the wiggle room to experiment a bit, and I’m glad I did. DC101 asked me to be the primary shooter for Kerfuffle, I’ll post about that experience shortly. Once I learn a bit more about being a real journalist.

Lots of cool pics below, check it out!

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