"Class of 2011 – Dismissed…!" West Point, NY. 21•May•11

(3) – Newly commissioned 2nd. Lieutenants toss their covers skyward in the traditional “hat toss” during Army’s Graduation and Commissioning ceremony in Michie Stadium at the United States Military Academy in West Point, NY on Saturday, May 21, 2011. Navy Admiral Michael Mullen, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff delivered the commencement address as 1,031 cadets received their diplomas and were commissioned as 2nd. Lieutenants in the U.S. Army. CHET GORDON/Times Herald-Record
“Army Graduation by the numbers…”

Working this year’s graduation down at West Point was no easy matter. It never is and shouldn’t be looked upon as any mere graduation day. Ever. Not even after working the four previous events, including POTUS (Obama) on station for last year’s ceremony, I still had a ton of intricate details to prioritize in my mind and more importantly – in my mind’s eye. There are again too many variables to anticipate and to sort out in any cohesive order, so I’ll try to put some of the challenges in perspective here a little.
In no particular order: 4:30AM wakeup call, begin packing the car at 5:30AM departure (above left) to stadium. 5 – camera bodies. lenses – 10.5mm fisheye to 600mm (the 300mm f/2.8 + a 2x tele-extender attached at times during the ceremony), 1 – Gitzo monopod, 1 – heavy duty luggage cart, 4 – SuperClamps, 2 – Manfrotto Magic-Arms, 7 – Pocket-Wizards, 1 – pair each: pliers, wire cutters, channel locking pliers, half dozen zip lock freezer bags, 1 – bag 24″ black locking plastic ties, 1 – rain poncho, 1 – full rain suit, 1 roll of black gaffer’s tape, 1,031 graduating cadets, 1,241 frames shot before first edit, 88 – frames on second edit, 30 – (selects or “keepers”) frames… 

Secure areas literally in the shadow of the stadium itself on post forced me to actually leave the base, drive out the back gate, and head through the small village of Highland Falls to the main gate. That brief detour cost me nearly 30 minutes, for what would be on a normal day, probably a 6 – 8 minute drive. Keep in mind, all vehicles had to be re-inspected at the gate and I still had to make my way up to the press parking lot, near the opposite end of the stadium were I was only 45 minutes earlier a little after 6AM. Imagine arriving for an assignment literally 4+ hours early, and still worrying that you’re late. Although I didn’t get into the stadium (more security checks, hand-wanding metal detectors, and bomb sniffing dogs) and finally on the field with my cart full of gear until nearly 7:30AM, things worked smoothly in installing the first remote camera (above left) on one of the aluminum benches for the graduating cadets. Even as a few very brief early morning rain drops fell, and a fog hung over most of the academy, I’d decided while waiting in traffic again to enter the main gate, that I’d install at least the main remote camera. Besides, I loaded up on both zip-lock freezer bags that would fit over the camera if needed and I could easily add another plastic grocery bag over the rig if needed too. Unless there was going to be a downpour, I was intent on installing this #1 remote for the third time. This was the year to make it all work since there weren’t going to be any top level dignitaries on the dais, like a POTUS or even a VPOTUS. (Vice – President). In fact, First Lady Michelle Obama had addressed the graduating cadets the night before in a brief ceremony, and luckily I hadn’t drawn that assignment. Once the main remote was securely installed and sort of locked into place with the help of two black heavy duty plastic locking ties, I got permission from the West Point PR folks right on the field to place the second low angle remote mounted on a black metal finished floor plate under the stage, and pointing back toward the cadet seating. I knew this camera would probably give me a good picture as well, depending on how the lighting conditions evolved during the morning. I’d thought all week how this second remote camera would provide an additional view of the cadets marching into the stadium, seated and standing during the ceremony, and finally a second unique view of the “hat toss” to end the ceremony. Fortunately I was able to borrow the metal floor-plate from a freelance colleague here in town. It was only a matter of minutes before I had this camera aligned under the main podium at field level. I’d also thought alot about lens selection on these two remotes, and had even briefly wondered how things would’ve worked out if I had placed the Nikon in this position with the fisheye, and this Canon 1-D on the benches, angled straight up toward the main stadium grandstand to make the lead image. By the time both remotes are in placed, secured and confirmed to be firing from a Pocket-Wizard in my hand (and eventually on the camera in my hands) I barely have enough time to make a restroom pit stop, have a few bites of a power bar, and start looking for feature images of the audience, etc. Ironically, the Cadet First Captain walked around the field about an hour before he and his 1,000+ classmates formed up in the Foley Athletic Center to march into the stadium, and that would become my lead image below in the slideshow to officially start my workday making images… ~cg.Here’s an edited take from the ceremony:

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