Election Day is weird.
It’s weird as a voter. It’s weird as a candidate. It’s weird for the winners and it’s weird for the losers. But it’s especially weird as a press photographer.
We start our day bright and early. (Actually now that Daylight Savings screwed up my sleep, dark and early.) Out to the polls for a basic sunrise shot of lines of eager voters, excited to cast their ballots for candidates they either feel strongly about or strongly against. And in today’s polarized political climate, “strong” is an understatement.
It’s nothing special, but it starts the day.
For the most part after this, polling places are left to the reporters most of the day. Driving around checking the last of the county’s other polling locations takes a couple more hours out of my day.
I check my watch—it’s 10 a.m. What do I do now?
It’s a good thing I brought a pillow with me to work today because photo studios are much more relaxing when you’ve woken up at 5 a.m. A quick nap and a couple hours of boondoggling, and before I know it it’s 6 p.m. Time for election pizza. It’s a classic staple of newsrooms around the country. But for some reason, my day is just beginning.
7 o’clock means early voting numbers are soon to be released. So I mosey on over to a candidate party which, luck would have it, is hosting almost every Republican candidate in the county. Talk about killing eight birds with one stone.
This bar is my headquarters for the night. Grab a table near an outlet. Set up my laptop. Invite other press to share in the space (Gotta make friends with someone who understands). And wait for the results of “the most important election of our lifetime” to unravel. Here’s the thing: every election is always the most important of our lifetime, at least according to that cycle’s candidates.
As the night goes on, cheers and boos ring out as republicans and democrats win and lose throughout the country. But the biggest cheers come when local races get called.
Blending in is hard. I’m one of few people not wearing the color red. I’m carrying around 2 big cameras with big lenses on them. My press passes are jangling by the carabiner on my belt. I’m a walking target. The enemy of the people, as we’ve been called. I can assure you right now, I’m not here to make enemies with anyone. I’m just here to do my job and take some pictures of the party. But some people don’t understand that.
NBC News is on TV. Spectators grumble, asking “Why is NBC on? They hate us!” Someone goes to the manager for a channel change. Fox News is on now. “Much better,” they say.
As I meander through the crowd eyeing candidates, I have to make sure I get the shot I need before they see me and either run or shoot me a dirty look. It’s the strangest game of cat and mouse I’ve ever played. At larger parties for big-time candidates, it’s harder to run from a team of photographers all vying for photos. But in these local races at intimate parties, I’m one of two or three and I stick out like a sore thumb.
I grumble to myself most of the night about how the lighting sucks or I wish the candidate would step into the light just once. Bars are dark. The party goes on like this for some time.
It’s early in the night, maybe 9:30. Texas is a red-voting state. Candidates are ready to make their victory speeches. This is a quick opportunity to get some good photos of each candidate. Except for one thing. They all expected to win. Nobody is really flush with excitement. There are no screams of joy. These victories aren’t an upset, just business as usual. Most are expected victories. So the challenge here is to make the same angle look interesting in 8 different ways. Yikes.
The party is winding down now, so it’s time to race back to the newsroom. Deadline is approaching. Shooting RAW is great and all, but nothing beats the turnaround time for deadline than a JPEG with some noise reduction. Quick edits. Quick cutlines. And I’m done. Cold pizza is waiting for me, my favorite. No, really.
The rest of the newsroom is scrambling to make some calls and pump out their stories, edit copy and design the pages. But I’ve been around all day. I was first to get in this morning—by a large margin I’d like to remind you—and I’ll be first to leave at night.
I told you, Election Day is weird.