Reformation 500 Celebration - Cathedral of St. John the Divine
When you get a chance to be lead photographer for the 500th anniversary of the Reformation it's not something you consider, even briefly, turning down. Especially since (a) it's held in the Cathedral of St. John the Divine, the largest Cathedral in the world, (b) there are several bishops, archbishops, a cardinal and other heads of various religions in attendance, (c) music is provided by a brass and timpani ensemble, a Latin America ensemble, the Evergreen Jazz Ensemble, the United Nations Choir, and an 8,514 pipe organ (I counted the pipes myself) and, (d) I might not be able to make the 1000th anniversary.
Needless to say, an event like this requires an entire staff of planners. Countless documents, timelines, maps and floor plans were created and stored on a Google Drive. Several planning meetings were held. The whole ceremony was choreographed down to the minute.
So what camera equipment do you bring to something like this? Everything you own, and if you don't own it you rent it (thank you, lensrentals.com). I had two Fuji XT-2 bodies, one with a 16-55mm and the other with a 40-150mm. I also had a shoulder bag with a 10-24mm, external flash and lots of spare batteries and SD cards. I brought my 100-400mm and a 35mm prime but ended up not using them.
The lighting, as you would expect, was excellent. The Cathedral has their own lighting director and crew. Seriously. The altar was lit so well I was down to ISO 320 for some shots. The lighting was perfectly tungsten balanced. I thought it was my birthday.
The challenge here is logistics. The Cathedral is over two football fields long, 601 feet to be exact. Moving from the high altar to the rear of the congregation seating takes time no matter how fast you are. Having a detailed plan helps. Luckily, I had another great photographer with me, Leslie dela Vega, who also happens to be a NY Times photo editor. We each took one side of the Cathedral and split up the pre-ceremony assignments like rehearsals, vesting, setup, etc. We had a shot list that was only slightly shorter than "War and Peace" so there was a lot to do before, during and after (yeah, they had a reception afterward).
One interesting obstacle to overcome was the incense smoke. At one point there was so much of it I had to switch to manual focus because my autofocus wouldn't work. Never ran into that situation before! Other than that, everything went smoothly. I took 1713 images myself and ended up with 220 selects. (I slept a lot the next day). The sample gallery below shows 32 that I kind of like.
I already volunteered for the 1000th anniversary. Have fun.