Paul McCartney Atop The Ed Sullivan Theater

What to do when a superstar holds an impromptu free concert.

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When Popular Photography's technical editor Philip Ryan found out that Paul McCartney was getting ready to play a short set of songs, within the next hour, atop the Marquee of the Ed Sullivan Theater for his performance on the Late Show with David Letterman, he sprang into action. From his drawer, Philip grabbed a Sony A900 already outfitted with the 70-400mm f/4-5.6 G-series lens under review for the September issue. He loaded the camera with a 16GB Sandisk Extreme IV card and ran out the door mumbling thanks that the battery was fully charged.

Since he had no press pass, and had no time to arrange for one, he had to weave his way through the massive crowd of people to find a decent vantage point from which to shoot. As the performance progressed, he continued to jockey for better positioning, even going as far as to stand on top of a fire-hydrant-like pipe and bracing his elbows on a traffic-light control box. Thankfully, there was a lot of natural daylight, the A900 keeps noise reasonably under control at ISO 1600 and below, and the camera's sensor-shifting image stabilization gave enough leeway to not have to worry too much about too-slow a shutter speed.

When Philip got back to the office, he was still in awe from a once-in-a-lifetime experience and brought with him a batch of images from which we culled the nine in this slideshow and one more to accompany the lens test in the magazine. In the interest of full disclosure, it should be noted that almost all the images in this slideshow have been cropped-in some cases quite severely. Some of the images aren't quite perfect, technically speaking, but in those cases we included them because we thought they're cool anyway.

SirPaul1
SirPaul1
The scene on the street was chaotic to say the least. In addition to the people and barricades, Philip had to contend with large video camera booms that managed to swing through his frame at just the wrong times. Shot details: Sony A900; 70-400mm f/4-5.6 G SSM zoomed to 70mm; 1/160 sec.; f/5.6; ISO 400.Philip Ryan
SirPaul2
SirPaul2
Arm raised triumphantly, Mr. McCartney acknowledges the crowd after finishing a rousing performance of “Get Back.” Shot details: Sony A900; 70-400mm f/4-5.6 G SSM zoomed to 400mm; 1/500 sec.; f/5.6; ISO 1600.Philip Ryan
SirPaul3
SirPaul3
The green arrow from the sign made a cute prop, but we found it interesting that the company that made it is called Paul Signs. Shot details: Sony A900; 70-400mm f/4-5.6 G SSM zoomed to 400mm; 1/640 sec.; f/5.6; ISO 1600.Philip Ryan
SirPaul4
SirPaul4
Paul made his way to the front of the marquee for a little rock and roll grandstanding. Shot details: Sony A900; 70-400mm f/4-5.6 G SSM zoomed to 400mm; 1/800 sec.; f/5.6; ISO 1600.Philip Ryan
SirPaul5
SirPaul5
Back at his microphone, Paul looks to his right as his lead guitarist rips through a solo. Shot details: Sony A900; 70-400mm f/4-5.6 G SSM zoomed to 400mm; 1/500 sec.; f/5.6; ISO 1600.Philip Ryan
SirPaul6
SirPaul6
Leaning back and rocking out. The decades have treated him well. Shot details: Sony A900; 70-400mm f/4-5.6 G SSM zoomed to 400mm; 1/320 sec.; f/5.6; ISO 1600.Philip Ryan
SirPaul7
SirPaul7
The Italian restaurant sign points down toward him, so he points right back. Take that! Shot details: Sony A900; 70-400mm f/4-5.6 G SSM zoomed to 400mm; 1/250 sec.; f/7.1; ISO 1600.Philip Ryan
SirPaul8
SirPaul8
In a brief pause before the final number, Mr. McCartney looks in our direction. Shot details: Sony A900; 70-400mm f/4-5.6 G SSM zoomed to 400mm; 1/200 sec.; f/7.1; ISO 1600.Philip Ryan
SirPaul9
SirPaul9
Paul finishes up the set with gusto and the crowd goes wild. Shot details: Sony A900; 70-400mm f/4-5.6 G SSM zoomed to 400mm; 1/400 sec.; f/5.6; ISO 1600.Philip Ryan