Covering the President’s State of the Union Address (SOTU) at the U.S. Capitol is pretty cool. The event is full of pomp and pageantry but it is also the worst case example of hurry up and wait.
Because of the heightened security surrounding the 9:00 p.m. event, it is best to arrive early and before the perimeter lockdown that occurs at 6:00 pm. It is still possible to enter with the proper credentials. But it is a mandatory 100% ID check and if you are lacking a credential, you are out of luck. Most photographers covering the SOTU start arriving at around 4 p.m. with some coming in even earlier to set up their workspace. Most of the wire services need to set up their editing stations and make sure that their hard-wired positions or their wireless systems are all working properly.
I was also covering a 9:30 hearing that morning along with another assignment at 11:30. So my day began as it typically does at 5:00 am and I was in the Capitol by 7. Of course I was done with shooting and filing by 2, so I was in for a long down spell.
This year there were about 50 or so photographers that were credentialed for the event. That is a lot of shooters for an event were there really isn’t many convenient places to put them.
The Senate Press Photographer’s Gallery, which credentials still photographers for coverage at the U.S. Capitol, has 18 seated positions and 15 roving positions. The rovers have access to three different entrances in the galleries on the second floor where they can shoot from the steps. There is also 1 photographer who is allowed on the floor of the House for the event. This is a pool position that is rotated between the wire services from event to event.
In addition to those shooting positions, it is possible, with special permission from the gallery director, to shoot from the House Press Gallery which is the section on the second floor that is behind the Speaker’s podium. This area is best for getting the cut shots of the President during his speech as well as photos of the members of the House and Senate on the floor before and during the address. But this is also a bit more difficult to shoot from there because photographers have to shoot from behind or between the reporters who have seated positions there.
Photographers are allowed to enter the House chamber about 30 minutes prior to the entrance of the President. This is a great time to get photos of Members arriving and interacting. Sometimes you can get some really interesting images. Then, before the entrance of the President, you have the parade of Senators, Supreme Court Justices and the President’s Cabinet Members. Of course the event officially begins when the President is announced and makes his entrance.
About an hour later it is time to edit 600 frames and transmit. Of course now it is 10:00 and everyone is waiting on deadline. It was a long 16 hour day with my head not hitting the pillow until 1 a.m.
I took Wednesday off.
A full gallery of images from the 2012 State of the Union Address can be found in my archives.