t’s hard to predict the image from an event that will get the most exposure in the press. We try to plan to be in the right spots for the newsworthy images, but it doesn’t always work out. And, quite often at conferences, photographers aren’t fully briefed on the plan. In the case of the Bill Gates image I made showing him releasing mosquitoes into the audience, both Asa and I had no idea what was coming. All we knew was that the talk was going to be big and we had to cover it from every possible angle.
At the time of the mosquito release, Bill was standing next to his prop table with the jar on it. We actually didn’t know what was in the jar. Asa was down in front for close ups. I was up on the stage left stairs just doing semi wide shots with my 70-200. As Bill talked, he turned, reached down, opened up the mosquito container, and then sat down the cover. I barely had time to realize what he was doing and to react on the fly, reframing the composition I was working on. I didn’t even have time to zoom in. The EXIF data from my image says that I shot this at 86mm. Here’s the result:
In the frame right after this one, the cover was on the table and doesn’t adequately show the action of opening the container. It was definitely a case of the right time, right place, right moment. One chance to get it. A quick reaction to what I was seeing through the viewfinder while working on a different kind of shot entirely. And we didn’t even know it was coming. There were lots of moments like that at TED.
Of course, right after I shot this sequence and before Bill announced that the mosquitos weren’t carrying malaria, I started thinking about the little buggers now flying about the stage. I remember quite clearly thinking, “Hrm. Maybe I should go to the back of the room and work the long shots from back there now…” Even after he gave the all clear, I still moved on pretty quickly.
One question that both Asa and I wondered about (and were asked) is whether or not we got any of the mosquitos in flight. I doubted it given their size and the conditions, but for kicks, I’ve dug out the original NEF file and took a look. Here’s a 200% enlargement:
It’s still hard to tell, but I’m pretty damn sure I’ve got a mosquito there. Pretty cool, huh? Now I’m wondering what I could have seen if I had been able to zoom into 200mm. Or even what I would have gotten out of a 300mm from my position. Alas, we’ll never know.
The photo ended up running on television, including NBC, MSNBC, and FOX (and maybe ABC and CBS, although I don’t have confirmation), all over the world in newspapers, and appeared in multiple places online. It even made the Colbert Report. Here’s a quick list I’ve been keeping for myself where I’ve personally seen it:
- BBC: TED on porn, malaria and robots
- CNet: TED conference: Gates, Gore, robot wars
- The Colbert Report for January 9th, 2009
- FOX: Red Eye
- Investors Iraq: Bill Gates Unleashes Swarm of Mosquitoes on Crowd
- The Mail Online: The moment Bill Gates released jar of mosquitoes at packed conference
- MSNBC: Bill Gates releases mosquitoes into audience
- PCWorld: Bill Gates Releases Bugs Into the Wild
- The Sydney Morning Herald: Bill Gates releases swarm of mosquitoes on audience
- The Tech Herald: Gates spooks conference attendees with malaria prank
- Today’s News NJ: Bill Gates Lets Loose Mosquitoes at TED
- What Really Sucks: Mr. Gates Spreading the taste of Malaria
If you see it out there and I don’t have it in this list, please drop me a line and I’ll add it! (And thanks in advance!)