To take a picture of a World Leader
The great thing you can always count on, no matter how experienced or well prepared you are, is that the camera can fail at the most critical moment, it does not differentiate between world leaders and a picture of ducks on the local lake.
I was standing inside of Number 10 Downing Street having been invited in for the first time, watching the current British Prime Minister Tony Blair and a former Israeli Prime Minister Shimon Peres through my viewfinder looking very happy and at ease with each other walking towards me, I am thinking that this is much better than the boring posed handshake which I will get in about 10 seconds when they reach where I am standing and stop for about 20 seconds before continuing in to a private room for their meeting.
At that point, it’s the photographer’s worse nightmare, you press the button to take the first picture, and nothing…
Each fraction of a second that is passing without having managed to take a picture, is another fraction of a second messing up an opportunity that I may never have again.
I did not even have time at that point to beat myself up for leaving my second (and backup) camera outside with my bag in the excitement of being invited in for the first time, which was something I never do, I always have a second camera with me for that very reason and to be prepared on a longer or shorter lens to move quickly between cameras, no matter what happens in front of me.
Even though I had not been in quite that position before when the camera fail, like most photographers, it had happened, and I knew from instinct to keep completely calm (I could hardly swear out loud in my current surroundings anyway) and try and work out as quickly as possible what the problem was.
If you panic in that kind of situation or ones like it, it will stop your brain being able to assess what to do, ALWAYS STAY CALM!
Usually the best and most effective thing to do, as well as the most obvious, is to simply switch the camera off and on again in the same way you would reboot a computer, that way it will either reset itself from the many different reasons that the modern day DSLR camera can shut down.
At least then you have more of an idea what is wrong before trying other techniques, like taking off the lens and reattaching it, taking the digi card out and putting it back in again, all things you really don’t have time for in the kind of situation I was in, another few seconds and I would have nothing except a red face to show for my first (and possibly last) invitation inside Number 10.
To this day I still do not know what the problem was, but after switching off and on again the camera responded and I calmly proceeded to photograph the greeting as if there had never been a problem.
On my return to the cold street outside and reality, which was very politely adhered to by the Downing Street staff, I had a chance to reflect on the events of the past thirty minutes, and how close I had come to blowing my big opportunity, at which point I suddenly felt my legs start shaking and my hands trembling at the thought of what had happened with the camera, and made myself a promise that, although I could not control when my camera was going to fail, I would never again go in to a situation like that again without a back up camera, a promise I have kept even all these years later.
The only times after that I ever seemed to have problems with cameras failing were on the biggest jobs, it got to feel like it would save it for me to see how I would react in the most demanding situations.
It happened again while photographing Prince Charles, The Prince Of Wales on two separate occasions, also with the President of Israel on a State Visit to England when my Flash over heated and popped, all things that are pretty much unavoidable, the trick though is to always have a back up, keep calm and pray.