Last night I was lucky enough to find out that the gala premiere of Last Chance Harvey was being held at the Odeon Leicester Square just as I was on my way into central London. Problem was, the only lenses I had on me were my Tamron 28-300mm f3.5-6.3 and my Canon 50mm f1.8. A problem because the Tamron has the reach but doesn't have vibration control (the Tamron equivalent of Canon's image stabilisation) and, while the 50mm is a great portrait lens, the red carpet was so far away that the resulting pictures would have to be cropped to zoom in so far that there would be almost nothing left of them. And, of course, the 50mm doesn't have IS either. If you've ever taken pictures in a jostling crowd, with everyone surging forward just as your subject gets into view, you'll know how important image stabilisation is.
As I've said before, I don't normally go chasing celebrities but I couldn't pass up a great opportunity to cap my previous achievement by getting some close-ups of the stars. I was lucky to get a position near the rail looking along the red carpet to where the cars would be pulling up. I metered off of a couple of security people and realised that I'd have to shoot at ISO 1600 to have any chance of avoiding motion blur and/or camera blur. That's OK, though, the 40D can handle that - as long as the shots are crisp enough.
Trusting that the reach of my 300mm lens would be long enough for the job, I tested it on the crowd of waiting fans, many clutching their autograph gear.
Not a brilliant result but I knew I'd have plenty of chances to get it right. My 40D was Already in Av mode, so I switched it to burst mode to up the chances of getting some in focus. This method is sometimes known as spray-and-pray. If you're one of the paparazzi in their special enclosure, you've got a good chance of getting the shots you want. If you're just a bozo in the crowd being pushed from all sides, you've got to use whatever methods you can.
Emma Thompson's car was the first to arrive. She worked half of the autograph hunters then disappeared for a while. Then another car drew up. I'd guessed it was probably Dustin Hoffman's and was proved right when Emma stepped in front of kt, waving her arms to try and get it to go back, as if she wanted all the adulation to herself. Quite a crowd-pleasing scene.
Dustin emerged from the car and he and Emma spent some time chatting.
It was possibly the first time they'd met in over a year.
If any of the other stars of the film arrived after that, I wasn't aware of it as I'm not a film buff and wouldn't recognise them. It seems that most of the crowd were in the same position. The only names you could hear called out were "Dustin!" and "Emma!" and each time one of them came near to the crowd, the fans would call out even louder, waving their autograph books.
Both Emma Thompson and Dustin Hoffman allowed some of the fans to take photos of fan and star together.
And they both made sure that plenty of fans were chatted to and autographs were signed.
Emma's long-suffering husband Greg Wise not only followed her around, he was even gracious enough to take the fans' cameras for a shot of the fan with his or her arm around Emma.
Some of the fans had been there for over three hours and both stars made sure that the wait was worth it, signing autographs and posing for photos.
In fact, Dustin Hoffman came back out of the cinema later to make sure he visited the fans he'd missed the first time round. One of the cinema staff had to come and fetch him just as the film was about to start.
I got around 120 pictures and 92 of them were worth keeping. I think a 76% keep rate is pretty good considering the conditions I was shooting under: having to shoot at 300mm most of the time, using a lens with no image stabilisation, having to shoot at ISO 1600, and being shoved around by the crowd. Not only did I come away as a satisfied amateur photographer, I had a good time; the guy next to me who amused us all by shouting out to the security staff to stop blocking our view, and who said he was taking pictures to prove to his wife where he'd been; and the woman with the American accent who'd perfected her "DUSTIN!" shriek by years of practice on rock concerts - a big 'hi' to both of you and thanks for helping make it such a great evening.