My Oscar night ended with me standing on the stage of the Dolby Theatre a few feet from where Ben Affleck had just accepted the Best Picture Oscar for Argo. I was surrounded by the happiest group of security guards, stage hands, grips, and producers I had ever seen as they celebrated pulling off the 85th Academy Awards. In this moment I was thinking two things: 1. That was the craziest, hardest, most difficult shoot of my life. And 2. I really, really hope that I get to do it again next year.
This was my fifth year covering the Academy Awards but for the first time I was nervous and had no idea what the day had in store for me. In years past I have covered red carpet arrivals and the press room but this year I had almost unlimited access to the biggest show in entertainment. I treat all major shoots much like how an athlete preps for a big game by creating a routine of familiarity. I start the day with a good meal, then head to the site where I do a walk through of the venue before starting my pre-shoot ritual of prepping my gear in the locker room, or in this case a hotel room at the Loews Hotel in Hollywood. Armed with a Canon 1DX and 5D Mark III, 16-35mm, 50mm 1.2, and 70-200 lenses, a flash, and lots of backup cards and batteries I was ready to go. Around 3pm I headed down to the Dolby Theatre to meet up with the one of the show’s publicists and the few other photographers who have similar access. After a quick meeting we got ourselves organized and hit the red carpet about 3:30pm. What followed was a complete assault on my senses.
There are very few events in the world in the category of the Oscars. The SuperBowl, Olympics, and World Cup come to mind when thinking about other comparable experiences, except rather than shooting from the sidelines I was right in the middle of the strong. Imagine covering a football game from the middle of the 50 yard line and you will have an idea of what it’s like to shoot the Oscars from the red carpet. Everywhere I turned there was a photo to be made as I traversed the red carpet against the flow of traffic passing Michael Douglas and Catherine Zeta Jones, dodging to avoid bumping into Zoe Saldana, and attempting to bob and weave to not become an uninvited guest on ABC’s live broadcast of the red carpet. I felt like I had be thrown into complete chaos as the combination of people, lights, and sounds was very overwhelming and it took me several minutes to adjust to my surroundings and actually begin doing my job. Once I had settled down, I began to make pictures and there are so many amazing pictures to make as fans cheer from the bleachers, photographers scream for attention, red carpet reporters swarm the stars with questions, and of course the beautiful men and women in beautiful clothing floating down Hollywood Boulevard. After about 90 mins of taking the best red carpet photos of my life of the nominees, presenters, and performers like Adele, Jennifer Lawrence, George Clooney, Daniel Day Lewis and Halle Berry I headed in for the real fun to begin.
Shooting backstage during the Oscars show is an incredibly complex situation. There are amazing moments of joy and combinations of celebrities but it is a dark and crowded space. The extra concern of making sure I didn’t trip over stage elements, props, trophy presenters, or dresses and disturb the live broadcast in any way was hanging over me all night. I was working with a 5D Mark III which I was using with the 70-200mm that was never set below 5,000 iso and a 1Dx which I occasionally used with flash that was set between 640 iso (when using flash) all the way up to 10,000 iso for the moments that the stars walked off the stage. Despite these obstacles it is an amazing way to watch and document the Oscars. From my position, I was allowed to peek out from behind the stage and had a great view of the audience, the theater and the winners accepting their awards. Further, there are great photos to be made of the presenters as they prepare to go on stage and walk through the wings backstage, on top of the amazing moments that happen as the winners are walking off stage and are reacting to the moment. After 6 hours of non-stop shooting and several thousand photos I stood on the stage at the Dolby Theatre exhausted and elated after one of the great shoots of my career.