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Alan Alda at The Museum of the Moving Image

(652/365) When you jump out of your comfort zone, you're going to make mistakes. That's what happened the night I photographed Alan Alda.

As the evening approached, I was sweating. This was my first celebrity photo op, and I had no idea what I was getting into. I know only one thing: I didn't wanna screw this up. What if it was too dark? That meant one thing: flash.

I knew nothing about flash, but with some help from my friends, one was suddenly resting in my hand. In my lifetime, I had never used one with any conscious control. Now I was going to photograph Hawkeye Pierce, the main character from one of the most famous shows of all time.

The night the last episode aired, the streets were empty, as the largest audience in TV history sat down to watch the historic episode.

No pressure, Ben.

I confessed to the first photographer to arrive about my rookie status. "You'll be fine," she told me. Here I was, standing next to a pro photographer, who couldn't remember, but thought she had "photographed this guy a few times" in the past. She couldn't remember.

How many people learned flash while shooting a celebrity they hugely respect? Certainly there weren't many of us, but it was becoming clear that I was joining a small club.

Mr Alda swooped in with a crowd of suits, everyone laughing, all vying for his attention. Then things stopped, and his attention was on us.

I shot off a few shots wildly, several drawing blanks. Another shot misfired.

And again.

I was photographing a group around him now, and it was not going well. The photog from Getty Images kept our average passable, and the world continued without me.

In the heat of the moment, I tore off the flash, switched to what I knew, and started shooting in plain light.

By now, my peers from Getty had control of the scene, as everyone forgot about me. Now, the only one without a flash, I had lost their attention. The girl from Getty was cool though, and knowing it was my first time, took turns, directing their attention back to me.

As they went to finished up, I found my voice, and asked for a few more shots. "You again," said Alan Alda. He was in a good mood, which loosened me up.

Just as things ended. It was over. The world hadn't exploded. Mr Alda, let alone the museum executives were not unhappy. And who knows what the results looked like, but I had just photographed Alan Alda.

The night continued, and covering the talk without flash, I was back into my groove. I could play it cool, and keep my story to myself. Brag about this image as if it was no big deal, and move on.

But there's another move here: Share my tale, and remind ourselves that the worst often doesn't happen. We put ourselves out there, screw up, and make the most out of it.

Next time you're too afraid to try something, I hope you'll remember this story: The time I photographed Alan Alda.

  • Canon EOS 5D Mark II
  • 1/250 sec
  • f/2.5
  • 85mm
  • ISO 320
Additional Details