Category Archives: Photojournalism

Grab Shots: PJ Edition

* From Staffer to Freelance: John Harrington, who writes the Photo Business News blog, points out that all the layoffs in the newspaper business are going to swell the ranks of freelance photographers. He wrote it a while back, but still worth a read.

* More Cuts on the Way: Alan Mutter, former editor and now chronicler of a declining industry, sees more down-sizing ahead “if the industry is to sustain its traditional operating margin,” which, by the way, is still more than 18 percent.

* Silencing the Inner Curmudgeon: When your world is collapsing around you, as it is for many staff photojournalists, it’s easy to let the anger rise and the bile fly. But that doesn’t help you find more work, or learn new skills, or fuel the energy and creativity you’ll need to keep working as a photographer. (I know; I’ve been there on all sides.) If you feel the curmudgeon stirring inside, read Jay Rosen’s post on how to deal with the beast.

* Photoshop, Ethics and the PJ: In my magazine work, I set up a lot of pictures, meaning I arrange the people and control the light in a way pure photojournalists don’t. I also Photoshop the pixels out of an image if I think it makes it snap more. How much of this type or post-shot manipulation has been debated in the PJ community ever since someone first burned the edges of a print. Here’s a good discussion about the topic on SportsShooter, sparked by this original rant and this young photographer’s portfolio.

On the Job: Tourists

Tourists at Golden Gate Bridge

I like tourists. Maybe that is because I like being a tourist myself — seeing new places, talking with people from other cultures, finding wonder and amazement in what the locals consider to be the quotidian.

Here in Marin County, we get tourists — about 13 million a year who arrive by boat, bus and, more frequently of late bike (over the Golden Gate Bridge.) Last month I did a photo story for Marin Magazine about local tourism. I did the usual reporting about numbers and economic impact, but the most fun I had was shooting the tourists.

I photographed about 40 individuals, couples or families, mostly in tourist-heavy locales like the Sausalito waterfront, the Golden Gate Bridge view area or the Marin headlands — people from all over the world: Finland, Turkey, New Zealand. Only one couple said no, a pair of very paranoid Americans who all but shrank when I approached.

The above shot of a cute French couple was the double-truck opener for the piece.

The technique was simple: A 17-55mm on a D2Xs in my right hand, an SB800 with a remote trigger in my left, on quarter or eighth power.

Here’s the whole story. Or go to the jump for the opening anecdote about four fun-loving ladies from Arizona and one’s desire to be frisked.

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On the Job: Father’s Day

Father's Day Little Leage GameEach month for Marin Magazine, I make a photo and write a short essay (200 words) that fills a page in the front of the book. Here’s an example about Life on the Edge, and another about being Between Sea and Sky.

For June, the editor wanted something about Father’s Day, a cliche idea, but I liked the challenge of creating something that wasn’t a cliche and thought I might find it at a local Little League game.

I spent a couple of hours at one game and made some fine actions shots, but couldn’t capture the moment I wanted between a coach and a player or a father and a son. I was looking for that instant, communicated visually, when knowledge moves from one generation to the next.

I returned a week later, this time to a night game and spent about an hour shooting before the game as the kids and dads warmed up, playing catch and a bit of pepper. As the light faded, I looked for some final shots. It would soon be too dark to shoot the game. Suddenly, the coach called all the boys near and he knelt before them. I has to change lenses and got off two frames before the huddle broke. The above frame image ran in the magazine.

Below is the essay I wrote to accompany the picture.

—————————————–

… And They Will Come

“Little League baseball is a good thing ‘cause it keeps the parents off the streets and it keeps the kids out of the house.” — Yogi Berra

Yogi Berra, the language-mangling New York Yankee, also once said, “You can observe a lot just by watching.”

What you observe when you watch the boys (and a few girls) take to local Little League diamonds is that this diminutive form of baseball depends as much on the coaching talents of fatherhood as the hitting and fielding skills of the sport.

Take a night game, for example. The fathers arrive fresh from work, some in their suits, others already changed into colorful T-shirts bearing the names of their children’s teams – Thunder, Storm or Raptors, outsized words for such pint-sized players.

Out come the gloves, the bats and the balls. A simple ritual begins. Catch. A child throws. A father catches. Back and forth. Back and forth. Encouragement is given, adjustments made. The moment is timeless, the lessons eternal.

As game time nears, the young players gather around their coach. He makes eye contact, commands attention. A man never seems so large as when he is surrounded by children who look up to him. A good coach, like Eric Dahlke of the Timber Rattlers in the Mill Valley Little League, takes a knee before his team, knowing that little ballplayers need men who are big enough to meet them at their level.

Cartagena: Dancer

Cartagena Dancer
A wedding of two friends in Cartagena last week was a good excuse to end the vacation drought my wife and I have been in. We’d been working non-stop for about 18 months and whenever a getaway window opened we’d manage to slam it shut for one reason or another. So, when the couldn’t-say-no-because-we’d-help-bring-them-together invite to the boda in Colombia came, we jumped at the chance.

I couldn’t leave work behind completely, though, so I pitched a travel story to local magazine, packed a camera bag and booked a room in a luscious hotel fronting the Caribbean at a wedding rate that was 60 percent of rack.

Cartagena has hit the travel-writing radar lately. The New York Times just did a 36-hours-in-Cartagena piece, as did Travel & Leisure, which called it:

” … one of the prettiest cities anywhere: Imagine Havana with a fraction of the population, or San Juan or New Orleans without the sophomores on spring break. It’s both crumbling and majestic.”

I agree with all that, and would add that Cartagena is also home to some of the most beautiful human beings — women and men — I’ve ever seen. Skin colors range from the deep cocoas of the Afro-Caribbeans, to the mochas of the native South Americans, to the near ivory blanco of descendants the European pirates who pillaged the Colombian coast for centuries.

The dancer above was one of a troupe who accompanied the wedding party on its short walk back from the (blessedly air-conditioned) Iglesia Santo Toribio to the Sofitel Santa Clara Hotel. (The photo was shot with an SB800 on camera, using balanced TTL and rear-curtain shutter.)

The old-walled city of Cartagena was beautiful and a delight to photograph. The newer sections of town (where most people live) was a standard Latin America mix — flourishes of prosperity set amid wider pockets of poverty. The beaches were wide, the sand heavily tramped down (except on the outlying Islas del Rosario), and the water 80 degrees.

Fish fresh from the sea dominated menus — robalo, mero and, especially, pargo (red snapper). Street vendors fried up crunchy corn fritters called arepas, some filled with eggs, cheese and meat. Eating one was not an option.

Nothing, though, beat colder-than-cold limonadas, especially those made in a blender with lime juice, sugar, ice and club soda. Add in some leche de coco (coconut milk) and you get a concoction we gringos dubbed a Key Lime Pie.

Children of the Canal

About a year ago, I photographed competing immigration rallies in San Rafael. On one side of the street were advocates for the local Latino community; on the other were members and supporters of the Minutemen, a conservative anti-immigrant organization. Both groups were a rarity in Marin County, an affluent, mostly white, heavily liberal enclave just north of San Francisco.

A few weeks earlier, federal immigration agents had raided homes and businesses in the city’s Canal neighborhood, a tightly packed area of run-down apartment buildings and small homes that is home to 12,000 people, 86 percent of them immigrants from Mexico and Latin America. The agents arrested 65 people, 23 of whom were eventually deported.

The raids were part of the broader immigration debate in the country, a divide that had spawned huge marches across the country. I wanted to put something together for Marin magazine about how the issue played out in suburbs, but was hesitant for a couple of reasons. First, I was jammed with doing the book. Second, after 20 years of traditioal journalism I didn’t want to write an on-the-one-hand-but-on-the-other type story where the emotion got buried under a slag heap of official statements from either side.

After I finished the book this spring, I began talking with Tom Wilson, head of the Canal Alliance, the Canal neighborhood’s primary social service group, about different story ideas. He pointed me to an after-school program that tutors neighborhood children, teaches them other academic skills and exposes them to a world of possibilities outside the Canal. The program guarantees that if a child sticks with it, he or she will graduate from high school and enter a community college.

I told Tom I’d like to photograph the kids in the middle-school program and ask them a few questions about their dreams. Then I pitched the idea to the magazine, adding that I’d write an introductory essay — not a story — about the immigration issue. To my surprise, they loved the idea.

I made the photographs over three afternoons in a classroom. I wanted the pictures to be simple portraits, so I posed the children in the middle of the room and lit them with one umbrella and a big reflector, using the far wall for a backdrop. I spoke with each for about five minutes first, talking about their dreams, their families and their countries of origin. Most of the interviews were in English, a few were in Spanish.

Some of the children dreamed big — to be doctors or lawyers. Others wished for little more than a visit home to their family in Mexico. Some rushed forward to be photographed. Others I had to persuade through cajoling.

If you look at the photographs, you will see the faces of children, but also, in many of them, the eyes of adults who have seen more of the world, a rough world, than any 12- or 13-year-old should.

If you read the essay (below), you will learn how I feel about this children, which is that regardless of how any of us feels about immigration the children of immigrants should not pay the price. Who are we to deny them better lives — especially in the United States, a country founded on that very principle?

* Here are the photographs.

* Here is a PDF of the Marin Magazine package, including the essay.

* Or, click the jump for the essay.

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Choices: Mine, Yours, the Editor’s

Samantha ParisAnyone who has worked in media knows the end product — magazine, newspaper, film — represents a series of choices and decisions made by individual creators, the team as a whole and, increasingly in films, the audience. (And, of course, web-based media like You Tube or Fark is almost wholly based on audience selection.)

How much weight your decision carries in influencing the final result is often relative. When I ran newsrooms, I had little control over what the creators — the writers and photographers — chose, but quite a bit more over the final product.

Now that I’m freelancing again, I have creative control over how I shoot something, but less to say about how the photo is going to be used or even which one from a shoot will run in , let’s say, a magazine. I have learned, though, how to shoot things differently for different clients — some like light glossy and bright colors, others prefer darker, edgier shots. I shoot to match their style, then always add in some preferences of my own.

The above picture of Samantha Paris, who runs a voice-over training school in Sausalito, provides some good examples of the choices I made in photographing her and the decisions my client, in this case Marin Magazine, made in using the photographs.

I stopped by Samantha’s studios while the writer was interviewing her, just to look the place over and meet her. As soon as I saw the recording booth, I knew I wanted to shoot her in there, but also knew I’d be pushing my technical skills because the space was so tight (about 3 feet by 5 feet) and so dark.

I wanted to use the shapes of the microphone and the pop screen as graphical elements and also have a spotlight effect to the photo. The booth had a window in front so the actor and sound engineer could see each other and I decided to use one light to shoot through that window.

At home, I blocked out a space in my living room similar to the size of the booth, and saw that I could get another light stand in the back corner of the booth and a shorty studio stand on the floor behind Samantha. I did some tests shots and felt I at least had technical control of the shot.

For the shoot itself, I used three SB800s — the one outside the window,the one in the booth corner and the one on the floor. The main and hair lights had snoots and CTO gels to warm up Samantha (not that her personality needed it) and the background light had a blue gel.)

We shot for about 30 minutes in the booth, including a sequence in which she acted out some scenes (left).

I also wanted to make some pictures of Samantha interacting with her students, so we set up some chairs in a front room with a big window and I shot about 20 or 30 frames using the natural light.

Afterwards, looking at the files, I was pleased with the shots in the recording booth (although I did underexpose by a half-stop), but I was pretty sure the magazine would use the more informal and more interactive shots with the students. I also liked the shots of in the booth more when she wasn’t acting and just looking at the camera.

I got first indication of which way the magazine’s choice would go later when my wife, a former journalist, looked at the take and loved the acting shots and those of Samantha with the students.

She was an audience focus group of one and her instinctive response mirrored the one the magazine editor made later. The image below of Samantha and her students, ran big. The “acting” shot ran smaller. My favorite (at the top of this page) didn’t make the cut.

Is there a lesson? Yes, and it’s that we shoot (or write) for many audiences — the audience of one (ourselves), the audience of many (readers, viewers) and the audience of economics (our clients). I love it when they overlap. When they don’t, I cash the check anyway.

Samantha Paris

Grab Shots

Amy Vitale * Nikon’s new website, Nikkor.com, is live and features the work of photographers who use — what else? — Nikons. Despite the marketing intent of the site, the work it showcases is terrific. Check the images by photojournalist Amy Vitale. (Thanks to Nikon Watch for the tip.)

* Strobist-in-Chief David Hobby points to this portrait of Admiral William J. “Fox” Fallon by photographer Peter Yang for Esquire Magazine. Yang made the photo with one light, a technique, says David, that anyone can attempt regardless of the price of their gear. (Here’s my mimickry of the Peter Yang shot.)

* The protests against China in advance of the Olympics are producing good images. Here is a vigil in San Francisco seen by professionals and an amateur (and in Flickr’s first use of video.)

* The Photoshelter blog, written by Rachel Hulin, has a Q&A with photojournalist Antonin Kratochivl (Iraq, Myanmar and other conflict zones) that includes a wonderful portrait of him by Clay Enos. (Tip from A Photo Editor.)

* Gregory Crewdson sells his set-piece images for up to $100,000 apiece. JPG Magazine spent the day with him on a shoot. Story and photos here.

Pulitzers, 2008

Pulitzer PrizeEven though the bulk of the 2008 Pulitzer Prizes announced today were won by large news organizations — the Washington Post took six — one of the awards demonstrates that capacity of great work exists even within the smallest of news organizations.

Photographer Preston Gannaway of the 20,000 circulation Concord (N.H.) Monitor on the Pulitzer for Feature Photography with her intimate essay of a family coping with death. Looking at her pictures is difficult emotionally, but rewarding in their honest portrayal of something that is real in all of our lives. (Slidshow here.)

In my previous blog about newspaper journalism, I once wrote about the power of one, the capacity of any journalist, writer or photographer, to strive for excellence. Gannaway proves the point.

* Also: The Pulitzer for Spot News was won by Adrees Latif of Reuters this picture of a wounded Japanese photographer being held at gunpoint during the riots last year in Burma. The photographer later died.

Grab Shots

Good work from around the web:

Golden Gate Bridge* Keep an eye on National Geographic’s Week in Photos, a set of some of the best recent photojournalism. The Golden Gate Bridge shot on the left is from this week’s and was shot by John Storey, a former colleague at the Examiner.

* Reuters has a photo blog for its shooters, pictures plus a lot of behind the scenes commentary.

* Getty Images has a blog, too. Here’s a post by Chris Jackson about shooting the royals for 10 days in the Caribbean. Rough life.

* Bryon Houlgrave, a staff photographer for a small paper in Waukesha, Wisc., blogs about this work, which is hella good. See the raging river night shot.

* Photos are where you find them. Here’s a nice feature shot by S.F. Chronicle staff Mike Kepka.

Schwarzenegger’s CEO

Susan KennedyAs much as I don’t like politics, I confess that I do like politicians – in person, at least. One on one, pols of various stripes are among the smartest, most engaging people I’ve met while doing journalism. They’re articulate, their words are pointed, and they share the same off-center sense of humor that is found in most newsrooms.

Susan Kennedy, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s chief of staff, belongs in that group. I photographed her in her Fairfax home for a Q&A with Marin Magazine. I have my issues with how she and the Governator are running California, but she’s someone you’d love to sit next to at dinner – intense, unflinching and intellectually persuasive. Plus, she’s twinkly.

When I got to her house the reporter was about 30 minutes into the interview. They were in a small office, big enough for her desk and two chairs. There was window on one side with a bench in it, and I immediately decided to use for a post-interview shot. The rest of the room was dark.

There was no space to set up an umbrella, so I decided to point a couple of snooted Speedlights at her, one from the long end of the office, the other from across her desk. I put one like on a stand, gelled it warm, super-clamped the other to the rim of the desk, and started shooting, squeezing my way around the reporter. (See an overview of the scene.)

About 10 frames in, the clamp popped off the desk and it and the strobe clattered to the floor. The upside was that it loosened us all up; the downside was the $100 repair bill.

I reset another strobe (didn’t you mother tell to always have a back-up?) on a stand, and began again.

I shot for about 10 minutes more, listening to them talk, working the angles. I liked the light. It was strong, but tight. Nonetheless, I was looking forward to getting her by the window for some softer light.

That wasn’t to be, though. Another five minutes and her phone rang (with the caller visible on the video-phone screen on her desk.). She was late for a meeting. By the time I stowed the gear, Kennedy was on the conference call.

The lesson of the day is one I learned early on – both as a photographer and as a reporter: As soon as you enter the room (or the event or the whatever), start working. It may be your only chance.

Grab Shots

Photojournalism work that caught my eye today:

* Joao Silva in Sadr City for the New York Times. Silva is always in the middle of things. Here is his own website.

* Also in the the Times, the Cat Lady of Switzerland, a textbook example of doing photojournalism with small strobes ala Mr. Strobist.

* This Washington Post gallery of the election in Zimbabwe (10 sec. ad). No. 8 in the gallery is show in this post.

* Correy Perrine of the Nashuah (N.H.) Telegraph shows you can make an extraordinary photograph at an ordinary event such as a teachers’ protest.

*Another good use of small strobes on assignment, an author in a jail cell by Ken Ritchie of the Madison Courier.

Dith Pran

Dith Pran, the New York Times photojournalist whose life in enslavement and later escape from Cambodioa under the murderous Khmer Rouge was portrayed in the movie The Killing Fields, died Sunday.

The Times obit is here. A gallery of Dith’s his life and his photos is here.