BATON ROUGE, La. — Soon after arriving in Louisiana to cover the Senate race, Roll Call Associate Politics Editor Kyle Trygstad and I found out Republican challenger Rep. Bill Cassidy and Sen. Mary L. Landrieu would be campaigning at the massive alcohol-infused ritual that is Louisiana State University tailgating. With thousands of spirited football fans gathered for all day feasts on Cajun cuisine and every imaginable type of libation before the 6 p.m. kickoff of the LSU-Mississippi State game in Baton Rouge, I knew we were going to be witness to a spectacle with a high chance for the unexpected.
Thanks to the Southern hospitality of Fred and Lou of the Tequila Tigers tailgate crew, we were quickly invited into the fold when we arrived early at the first designated meeting spot on campus for Landrieu’s tour of the elaborate tailgate parties. Soon I spotted Landrieu’s entourage winding through the purple and yellow encampments. She moved quickly from group to group, saying hello, passing out campaign stickers, shaking hands and posing for photos. She even dared to approach what seemed like hostile territories, greeted with a chorus of boos or occasional shouts of, "Go back to Washington!"
After shooting these quick stops at countless parties for more than an hour, the photos were becoming the same over and over again. Hot, exhausted and slightly bored, I wandered away from Landrieu at the last stop to look for a scene-setter photo. Then I heard people shouting, "keg stand" from the vicinity of the senator. I raced back into the crowd to find a purple and yellow-clad football fan being hoisted above a keg by his legs, with Landrieu leaning in with the keg spigot held to the young man’s mouth.
I ended up kneeling right against the keg, looking up into a scene I could not believe was happening — and it was happening fast. There was no time to worry about exposure, depth of field or switching to my wider 24-70mm lens. I had to go with the 35mm lens and fire away. Luckily I had my camera set on aperture priority exposure mode, which I rarely use, and I hoped the combination of Nikon’s auto exposure technology and shooting RAW format would save me in this backlit situation. This was going to be the photo of the day, probably of the whole Louisiana trip, and missing it would have been a disaster. I fired off 28 frames at 10 frames per second, capturing a scene that was over in seconds.