I pride myself on being a prepared photographer. Prepared for an assignment, prepared to make photographs and prepared to move those images when the assignment is complete. That doesn't mean mistakes don't happen or things always go as planned, but again, I like to think that I'm prepared to deal with those instances as well.
So perhaps I let my guard down a bit while covering the 5th USA Science & Engineering Festival at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center over the weekend. This event which has over 3000 exhibits and draws in excess of 350,000 people takes place every two years and I've covered all five during my time as the photographer for the Office of Naval Research (ONR).
Maybe it was because I was coming off a pretty large job in Panama City, Fla., and looking ahead to the largest maritime exposition in the United States, Sea Air and Space next week followed by an at-sea job at the end of the month, that I was not as focused as I should have been.
I got a little later start than I wanted to on Saturday, but still arrived at the convention center around 11:15 and was surprised by how crowded it already was. I made my way to the Department of Defense exhibit space and made contact with those I was supposed to photograph. The booth was a little uninspiring, but those manning it were enthusiastic and were doing their best to engage attendees.
My frustration was that despite a huge convention floor, the booth space I was concentrating on was located in a corner surrounded by other booths, making it bit of a choke point, and making clear shots difficult. For around an hour I tried to get some photos, any photos, of engagement with kids, or kids and parents, who wanted to learn about STEM opportunities with the Naval Research Enterprise but came up short.
It was during this time I found myself spending more time talking with friends and only half looking for photo opportunities. I noticed a member the ONR team talking with a casually dressed gentleman, but only lamented the fact that it wasn't a child. Then I noticed several of our team talking with the same person. At that point, I took a look to see if it was perhaps an executive or program officer from ONR. Satisfied that it wasn't, I went back to my conversation.
Well, thankfully I was interrupted by someone who pointed out that the gentleman was, in fact, the 76th Secretary of the Navy, completely alone, just taking in the Department of the Navy exhibits. I regrouped and immediately began making photographs, first with a 24-70mm and then switching to my second camera with the 70-200mm mounted to it.
Fortunately, the conversation lasted long enough for me to get several usable images. And just like that, I had my photo. Funny thing is that almost as soon as he left, I was able to make two more photos that featured more traditional scenes.
I stayed long enough to download and caption all my photos, transmit to DoD sites, upload to ONR's Flickr and Instagram accounts and email to our social media manager for posting to Facebook and Twitter.
Just another reminder to never take any assignment for granted and never take it lightly just because you covered it many times before or it's not as high profile as other assignments that are currently on your mind.