A Royal Gamble

On assignment at the Prince Harry's wedding to Meghan Markle (Apparently I have a thing for Royal Weddings), the circumstances behind this shot were chaos and total stress.

Chaos-- You're fighting 8500 members of the media all gathered in this tiny town of Windsor to cover an event that's completely locked up by the BBC. The BBC is the official outlet for the wedding, and most agencies simply buy rights to their superior camera placements and access to the royals. As a street (or beat) reporter, you try to enhance what the BBC is already covering. Working for Entertainment Tonight, my job is to work our talent, Nancy O'Dell and Kevin Frazier, into the shots everyone else will see. 

Stress-- You don't know what's going to happen, exactly. Everyone is trying to guess what is about to happen-- there is no published plan-- you hear a rumor and have to assess if there is validity to it-- and decide which (if any) resources to allot to the rumor. Then you have to execute, which is stress on a different level.

I was feeding the show live from a satellite position on the grounds of Windsor Castle. We paid a small fortune to essentially rent a piece of land with a pretty background and equipment from a company, ITN, to feed our show out every day. Kevin and Nancy stand in front of bright lights and conduct interviews like the one above, or host the show by reading scripts off of the iPad I hold under the lens of the camera.

We were running through the show at the time the rumor began circulating that Princes William and Harry were going to meet well wishers about a 1/4 mile from our position at 5 p.m. Our live satellite feed is from 4-6 p.m. This is a locked time period called a "satellite window." We have to send the entire daily show back to Los Angeles for that night's broadcast during these 2 hours. It is an immovable window of time. 

The rumor made sense. At the 2011 wedding, William and Harry did something similar a few evenings before William married Kate Middleton at Clarence House near Buckingham Palace. 

I was facing a very difficult decision. The rule in the field is: Never EVER stop the feed. Without the feed, there is no show. There are no hosts. The show cannot air. You don't stop the feed. There are millions of dollars in advertising depending on this feed going ahead as planned. No feed, no show. Game over.

Putting our hosts in front of William and Harry is pretty much why we bothered to travel 8,000 miles to cover the event. If I can make a moment like this happen, the value is immeasurable. Otherwise our footage consists of our hosts standing in front of iconic buildings with crowds-- fairly ordinary stuff you'd see on the news. 

I stopped the feed. 

We began walking toward the gate where we heard the brothers were to emerge and ran into a massive crowd. I didn't have a crew with me, we were renting cameras from ITN, they were wired into the satellite system. But my rule in the field is to never go anywhere without a camera. I had my DSLR, a Nikon D850 that shoots both video and stills. 

 My plan was to shoot video of Nancy and Kevin and the royals as they came out, change to stills mode and capture a few images, then back to video mode as they return to the castle. Better be fast!

But we still had the crowd to deal with-- how were we to get close amidst all of these people? Kevin Frazier is the best reporter when it comes to breaking news coverage. While the crowd was penned into an area surrounded by what looks like bicycle racks, the police had set up a 2nd row of barriers, to give the royals a cushion from the crowd. Kevin saw that 2nd row of barriers as an opportunity and led myself, Nancy and her assistant Liz in front of the gathered crowd! 


As you might imagine, this upset everyone. But covering news is about seizing an opportunity when you see one, and this gave us a big advantage-- we now had a front row view to an historic moment, and the police didn't say a word. Game on.

My job was to lean over the barrier as much as possible, point the camera at Nancy and Kevin, then turn it to reveal William and Harry walk by. I had no tripod, and the camera weighs a lot-- I'm going one-handed here.

I flipped the Nikon to stills mode and took some images as the princes returned up the hill. The key here to go with safe settings. Increase the depth of field so everything around them is pretty much in focus. Speed up your shutter to freeze action. Shoot RAW so if something goes wrong, you have a chance to fix it. Burst mode, fire away and hope they look at your lens. I got a few decent shots.

Then I flipped the D850 back to video mode and rolled, just as Kevin threw a question out. Prince Harry answered, and we got a terrific exclusive. "Harry, are you ready? Are you ready, Harry?" "Of course!" was the response. We were quoted everywhere. The gamble-- stopping the feed-- had paid off. 


When Barbara Met Mary

So the problem became this:  I take a lot of photos.  Like-- thousands. Since 2007, by my count I've accumulated over 44,000 images.  Now not all of these are pristine gems. Some are rather ordinary.  Some were experiments, some were shutter actuations while the camera was pointed at my shoes, or an impressionistic look at the Coke in my left hand.  But there are a lot of images of actual stuff.  Not all fall into the category of portrait (though some do) or art (hey, a guy can aspire, right?), and many don't belong as a part of my photo library or camera technique.

But they tell a story.

So I came to the conclusion that I need a place to put some additional images that are interesting in context, but not necessarily promoting business or shilling for THE MAN.  Whatever that means.  Which is why I'm writing here at this particular moment in time.  

Case in point-- this image:

Mary Hart and Barbara Walters are both broadcasting legends, but the circumstances surrounding the photo were rather extraordinary.

This image was taken inside Kensington Palace in London.  Yeah, I'm talking about the former home of Princess Diana and Prince Charles, and the current residence for Prince William and Princess Katherine.  

We were in London for the Royal wedding in 2011.   That's Buckingham Palace above-- and I'll tell the story of this photo some other time.  

My role in the coverage started out as video support.  In fact, my first night in town I was charged with the task of obtaining footage of a police station for a story about security for the wedding.  I grabbed a video camera and set out for the nearest station and took some footage of the exterior-- until I was arrested detained by the authorities for doing so.  Luckily, they released me.   

But as the weeks wore on, my role shifted.  One afternoon I got a call asking if I could get to Kensington to be the third camera on an interview between Mary and Barbara.  No problem, I grab the 40 pound camera bag and head out.  

Finding Kensington isn't all that easy-- It's nestled in Hyde Park, and it's not clearly marked.  Yeah, I got a little lost looking for a palace.  Who knew?

Kensington is like a maze.  It's room after stunning room-- each with artwork worthy of a museum.  They do tours here, though like the White House, there's a private residence that's off-limits.

So I get to this room and Barbara is finishing up her live shot for GMA-- and my producer Carolyn (left) and news director Whitney (middle) are there, but no cameramen.  This is a problem.  It's difficult to be the third camera if there's only one present!  

I'm deathly afraid Ms. Walters is going to see us a pack of goobers.  Mary is used to having the set 'perfect' whe she does an interview.  No lighting and one camera will not be kind to either lady.

Whitney quickly cuts a deal with ABC to borrow their cameras and lighting, but there's no director.  Well I guess that would be me.  So I block the interview and get everyone settled.  There's a little coldness in the room between Barbara and Mary, but with everyone lit and mic'd up, we're ready to roll.

I wind up directing while shooting a two shot on the handicam I'd lugged.  Sometimes you just have to take on whatever role is necessary.  The difficulty of communicating with Mary and the cameramen while holding a stable, handheld two shot of the interview cannot be understated.  Besides-- the camera I was holding was heavy.  

The interview was a success, and aired that day on Entertainment Tonight.  

To be in these surroundings-- sometimes you can't appreciate it at the moment.  I mean-- it IS a palace, you know.  Later I did find out what was going on between Barbara and Mary.  Barbara being upset that Mary wore red.  She felt it upstaged her.   You be the judge.