Sunrises in Hawaii are phenomenal. A blue blanket of darkness warms to an amber glow slowly filling the sky with a brilliant sea of light. Dark ocean waves become bright blue brilliance. Yes, too poetic but nonetheless, its true. Just ask anyone whose been lucky enough to sit on the beach at sunrise. Its great.
However, sitting on the beach stalking someone for a shot is unnerving! Sea spray sticks to your skin and cameras and the windward side breeze blows sand onto everything. Sand starts sticking to your legs, arms, and hands, getting in your ears, pockets, and mouth. Everything you touch gets sandy.
And its just murder on the cameras. Brutal!!!!!!
But this is what I had to endure to get a shot of Barack Obama. Three days of (legally) stalking presidential hopeful is not fun. Obama arrived in Hawaii for a week long vacation to get away from it all before the campaign starts to heat up and the nominations are set.
I got assigned by the Associated Press to sit and wait on the beach where Obama’s vacation rental house is. I had to sit, wait, and hope for an appearance. Its not a fun job. At first I was keen on being on the beach hoping to catch him swimming or just hanging out on the beach. I knew I couldn’t get too close to him as Secret Service and HPD were all over the place and I surely wasn’t going to hide in the bushes to catch a photo of him. The more upfront and honest I was about myself meant no one would stop or bug me as long as I played by the rules. I mean, this isn’t Paris or Brittany…I think they be more dangerous to photograph as celeb bodyguards are mostly hired meatheads. They don’t know or care for rules or laws hence I’d be in a loosing battle with ’em. A presidential candidate with Secret Service is a different animal. One wrong move and I could end up in prison if not worse.
Snapped off my by Blackberry Curve!
Here I am laying on the beach with my 400mm camera lens hidden under a raincoat. Secret Service had already made me and twice came up to me and asked me who I worked for and what I did. I kept my gear out of sight for several reasons, one for a bit of secrecy but mainly to keep all the elements off the electronics.
I don’t want to claim I am or do paparazzi work because I never have nor do I wish to. I don’t care to sit on the beach or stalk around town for some silly celeb of the moment. It just doesn’t appeal to me. Sure the money might be nice but I have to live with myself afterwards.
Obama had already been photographed on the beach once several years back and he wasn’t pleased. I mean it wasn’t a bad photograph. He looked in good shape and gave the appearance of youth. Not some straggly old man struggling in the rough sea. He almost looked Kennedyesque.
So…Obama didn’t want to be caught on the beach. He wants to ensure his image is strong and powerful, not one who vacations and slacks off on the beach. As I sat on the beach waiting for him, I knew I was going to have a struggle and sure enough, a long wait.
But I had to make sure I followed all rules and not do anything to piss off the Secret Service. Polite, respectful, and out of their way is the standard rule. No aiming lenses over bushes, through windows or anything you see on TV. You don’t stand in front of his motorcade surrounding Obama’s car and snap away. That kinda stuff with get you a flight to Guantanamo Bay.
For two days, I arrived at the beach no later than sunrise, set up camp on the beach and waited. Almost immediately, I was spotted by Secret Service and/or HPD. As I’d set up camp, security would slowly saunter up and check me out. Its a bit scary to know Secret Service know has my name, they have my number! SO you don’t mess around with this level of security. You play by the rules.
First day…sat on the beach. Talked to lots of beach walkers and gawkers who think I am some friendly guy and want to talk about photography and tip them off to Obama. If you are one of the gawkers reading this blog, please, don’t talk to photographers when they are working! Its hard enough let alone want to be asked about our camera lenses and compare your point-and-shoot to what I have. We don’t care!
The sun started to rise and get hot. Someone mentioned being on the beach is like sitting in the desert. Water everywhere and not a drop to dip in. Its hot, windy, yet cool. Its nice sitting on the beach but its no fun when you are trying to get a job done. And the most worrisome part of it all is you are never sure if you are gonna get the shot.
So after the first day, I got one Obama sighting. He quickly peaked over the bushes to meet someone coming on the property and was visible for about four seconds. Its not enough time to aim, compose and snap. Besides, Sonny from KITV was chatting my ear off so I lost concentration on the task at hand. I finally got info Obama had left the house and it wasn’t a minute too soon. Being on the beach at 6AM until 1PM isn’t fun. I was tired, sweaty, a bit sunburned and generally worn out. I was dreading my failure and predicament of having to return the next day.
Second day equaled more of the same. I was a bit more prepared by wearing jeans and a long sleeve shirt. The sand became more bearable and I wasn’t covered with grit within three minutes of my arrival. I got to the beach much earlier as I had been tipped Obama had taken a swim on the beach at 5:30 before the sun rose. I got to my spot earlier but found even if he had been on the beach, a shot would have been nearly impossible as it was way too dark.
Nothing happened again. Just security around the house and the same gawkers asking silly questions. Again, Obama peered out of the house for a few seconds but nothing. It was another fruitless day.
The third day proved to be magical. I knew I couldn’t just arrive and sit on the beach for an entire day so I ended up arriving after six, made camp and read a book. It wasn’t much more than a pretty day on the sand. Again long pants and long sleeve shirts, floppy hat, sunglasses, water, sunblock, and a snack of dried mangoes to make the day go smooth. I was getting used to the waiting and in all honesty, sitting on the beach isn’t all that bad. I mean, hell, its Hawaii!
I started to doubt he’d come out and I also realized he and his staff knew I was out there on the beach waiting. I doubt he’d come out anyway so I decided to just leave and come back a bit later in the day.
Sure enough, when I came back, Obama and his daughters were just walking out the house for a nice walk on the beach. I, being a consummate, readied my camera in an unhurried manner, set exposures, and fired away. I kept a respectable distance and also introduced myself to Secret Service who also kept their distance. I shot with my 400mm 2.8 lens and really took control of the situation. Nothing could have been better as everything just lined up perfectly. The slow walk with his daughters in the surf, hand holding and just general coziness with his kids. It was almost planned but I know it wasn’t.
After following him with lots of respect and care, he finally seemed to notice me but I wasn’t sure if he got irritated. He met people, shook hands, and signed autographs. He was cordial and polite to everyone as he is running for president of the United States.
At one point he raised his sandals towards me and muttered something but couldn’t hear if it was at me or at people behind me. I was the only pro on the beach (EXCLUSIVES!) so I knew he was aware I snapped photos. I started to feel funny and realized this is why I don’t do paparazzi work. I knew I had enough and left him in peace.
Besides, I did rattle off a fair share of images.
But after a long three day stake out, all suffering is put to rest when you get a special moment like this. Obama and his kids made great art and I am glad I suffered like I did. I am sure his people will like the images as it portrays him as a caring fatherly figure. I kind gentle man who spends times with his young kids. I think the images are defining and surely do not harm his image.