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Best Seat in the House

Photography, sports and life as seen through the lens of Seattle Times photographer Rod Mar.

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April 11, 2008 8:27 PM

Hello, Dalai!

Posted by Rod Mar

Sorry, couldn't resist.

My assignments for Friday and Saturday are to cover the Dalai Lama's visit to Seattle. The visit is titled "Seeds of Compassion".

I was headed for my first event, a conversation between the Dalai Lama, NBC personality Ann Curry and musician Dave Matthews when I saw some acquaintances on the street.

"Wait a minute," they said, "You're a sports photographer. Why are you covering the Dalai Lama?"

The answer was easy, I told them. "He's appearing at Hec Edmundson Pavilion, Key Arena and Qwest Field. Those are all sporting venues, so this must be a sports".

Plus, the Lama is a quite a golfer according to Carl Spackler, who apparently once caddied for his holiness, saying, and I quote (as many as you can, I'm sure):

"The Dalai Lama, himself. Twelfth son of the Lama. The flowing robes, the grace, bald... striking. So, I'm on the first tee with him. I give him the driver. He hauls off and whacks one - big hitter, the Lama - long, into a ten-thousand foot crevasse, right at the base of this glacier. Do you know what the Lama says? Gunga galunga... gunga, gunga-galunga."

Ah, gotta love Caddyshack.

Before you tee off on me for being sacrilegious, understand that this Dalai Lama (real name Tenzin Gyatso), actually the 14th Dalai Lama, seems to have a pretty good sense of humor. During his speeches and conversations he readily displayed an ability to laugh at just about anything (just ask Ann Curry about using the word "nipple" in the presence of his holiness).

So, I don't think he'd be too angry at me for quoting a movie that causes grown men from ages 25-55 to utter his name every single time they step onto a golf course.

The event at KeyArena was interesting. Photographers were told that the "throw" (distance from the stage to our shooting position would be 80 feet.

I'm a sports guy. KeyArena is my office much of the year. I know a basketball court is 94 feet long, and the free-throw line is 15 feet from the end of the court.

Do the math -- 80 feet is just about the distance from one end of the court to the opposite free throw line.

I use a 300mm lens very comfortably from that distance, and a 400mm if I want to get real tight.

Of course, logistics aren't always correct, and my buddy Ted Warren from the AP texted me that the throws were much longer than were promised. He'd been there for the Dalai Lama's first appearance of two at the arena, and my co-worker Alan Berner was there, too. My job was to replace Alan on the riser and to shoot the second session and the concert following.

Ted warned me to bring both extenders (1.4x and 2x) for the 400mm lens, and also a tripod, because the light was low and the distance was great.

If I haven't said it before here, Ted is a pro's pro. Always prepared, always looking to tell the story, always find the smart pictures.

As the Dalai Lama entered the stage, a woman stood right behind him with a still camera shooting photos. We didn't know who she was, only that she was absolutely KILLING our backgrounds, as His Holiness bowed and greeted the audience. Only after the introductions and the speakers were seated did we realize the woman was NBC's Ann Curry, who was a surprise member of the panel.

(Canon EOS 1D Mark IIN, EF 400mm/f2.8 lens + EF 1.4x teleconverter, ISO 500, 1/160 sec./f4)

The discussion started out slow, and I was told to try and make "out-of-the-box" photos, since we were photographing him at three different events that day. Plus, Alan had been shooting all afternoon from the exact spot in which I was standing. Out-of-the-box became this weird and desperate image of a television monitor on a table strewn with leftover water bottles and old coffee cups.

(Canon EOS 1D Mark III, EF 70-200mm/f2.8 lens @ 130mm, ISO 2000, 1/30th sec./f5.0)

Dave Matthews, who lives in Seattle, was funny and entertaining while chatting with the Dalai Lama, and twice gave us good pictures. The first came when they were discussing the power of the sensitivity of women, and Matthews flexed when describing the physical anger he sometimes experiences before his wife calms him down.

(Canon EOS 1D Mark III, EF 400mm/f2.8 lens, ISO 2000, 1/250th sec, f3.5)

At the end of the discussion, Matthews reached over and he and the Dalai Lama shook hands, but then His Holiness grabbed Matthews and gave him a "fist bump", which has come to be a symbol of male bonding. It was a fun moment.

(Canon EOS 1D Mark III, EF 400mm/f2.8 lens, ISO 2000, 1/320th sec, f2.8)

I kept shooting the Dalai Lama (is it appropriate to call him "the Lama"? Sounds awkward, like he's an animal. I think I'll refrain...) as he left the stage and managed to make a nice silhouette of him as he exited (Note, this photo looks like poop on the web for some reason related to compression. I think it's the amount of red, or something, but I can't make it look sharp on the web, even though it's perfect on the monitor.. Apparently, no one else at the office can figure this out, either, as it looks terrible in our web galleries, too. Trust me, it's a decent photo).

(Canon EOS 1D Mark III, EF 400mm/f2.8 lens, ISO 2000, 1/320th sec, f2.8)

Following the discussion was supposed to be a set by Dave Matthews and Tim Reynolds. But organizers sprung a "surprise artist" on the crowd, and "Death Cab For Cutie" took the stage for a brief acoustic set.

(Canon EOS 1D Mark III, EF 16-35mmf2.8 lens @ 17mm, ISO 800, 1/80th sec, f4.5)

Still shooters, as is par for the course (back to golf, did you follow that?), were allowed to shoot the first two songs from the "pit" right in front of the stage. After that we were herded back to our risers to wait until Matthews performed. No photos were to be taken for the rest of the Death Cab set and so some waited, while some of us edited and transmitted photos back to our desks.

When it came time for Dave Matthews to take the stage, we were gathering to go forward to the front again, and it came to me that shooting from the pit looked like any concert. I realized that if I stayed back on the riser (which we are LOATHE to do for regular concerts), I could make a photo that tied in the backdrop from Seeds of Compassion, therefore giving my images a sense of place and event.

((Canon EOS 1D Mark III, EF 70-200mm/f2.8 lens @ 125mm, ISO 1600, 1/100th sec, f4.0)

The photos probably aren't as dramatic from the riser as from the front of the stage, but they did put Matthews into the place of the event. By lying down on the riser, I was able to put Matthews into a good position with the heart symbol that is part of the logo for Seeds of Compassion.

(Canon EOS 1D Mark III, EF 400mm/f2.8 lens + EF 1.4x extender, ISO 2000, 1/125th sec.,f4.0)

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