As a longtime newspaper photojournalist, I’ve covered my fair share of visiting dignitaries, from President George Bush (’44) to U.S. Senators and others. But, as I learned the hard way on assignment for the Arizona State University school paper, the State Press, showing up late means the Secret Service won’t let you in, even if you ask really nicely.
So, when I was recently assigned to cover First Lady Jill Biden’s brief visit to Southern Maine Community College for the Maine Community College System, I made sure to arrive early. These events are highly scripted, with an advance team marking out where the media will stand, cordoned off well away from the First Lady. Each photo opportunity has been planned, with impactful visuals virtually guaranteed — as long as you show up on time — from the positions of the people to the carefully-placed American flags.
But, just because the stage is set doesn’t mean there isn’t room for spontaneity. As a photographer, my job was to capture the story and mood of the event, even within the constraints in place. I positioned myself strategically, changed compositions, and varied my lens choice to anticipate and capture those unscripted moments.
The result was a set of images that told a genuine story, full of spontaneous moments that spoke to the human emotions and connections present at the event. As a former newspaper photographer, I’m grateful for the laboratory that experience provided me that still allows me to capture moments even in highly-controlled settings.