Floated and Bloated

October 1, 2009 

I’m a big baby about heights, so when I was assigned to cover The Great Prosser Balloon Rally last Friday, I had mixed emotions.

A chance to ride in a hot air balloon for my job? Lucky Being in a wicker basket hundreds of feet above ground? Nervous Beautiful morning light? Excited Getting up at 5 a.m.? Dread

But really, I can’t complain. Our aeronaut, Larry Nelson, gave me plenty of time before we lifted off to get shots of people getting their balloons ready:

A cute kid-type feature:

Obligatory colorful shots of the insides of balloons — from both top:

and bottom:

Which I knew were out of the question for the paper, since that was the type of shot we ran last year.

So I played around with some quirky framing:

And worked the post-dawn light:

Which is when I snapped my favorite frame of the day:

which unfortunately ran black and white. This is because we wanted to highlight the flying perspective unavailable to most people who attended and photographed the rally:

Although another runner-up for me was the assisted landing that showed the helpful camaraderie between aeronauts and their ground crews:

An asterisk of neato was when Nelson let Herald reporter Drew Foster lift us off the ground after a brief stop:

which obviously terrified me, especially after hearing Nelson’s safety briefing, which detailed all the possible ways we could die. These fears were, of course, unfounded, and our flight was beautifully serene. Nelson even performed a splash and dash for us.

All in all, the early wake-up was definitely worth it and I was pretty snap-happy with all the gorgeous color and light to play with. Even though I was disappointed my favorite shot ran without that lovely color, at least I had the online photo gallery to show off my stuff.

These galleries are a blessing as mixed as the emotions I felt about this assignment, however. It’s nice to have unlimited virtual real estate for the numerous outtakes we often have leftover after the one or two best photos are selected for print. Plus, people like looking at photos online and these galleries have been a major contributor to our growing web presence. But this drive for more page views has resulted in a push for bigger galleries.

My photo gallery of The Great Prosser Balloon Rally tips in at a very flabby 54 images. Our popular high school football galleries can be hefty as well.

These loose edits feed into my natural tendency to show off as many photos as possible, but fly in the face of photojournalism’s conventional wisdom. We’re taught to edit tight, and just as a strong photo only contains the necessary elements to tell the story, so should a series of images. When assembling portfolios, we are reminded that we are only as good as our weakest photo and that a good collection of photos should leave the viewer wanting more.

People love to see photos of themselves, however, and galleries from community events such as the balloon rally, Water Follies, the fair and high school football games always generate a lot of web traffic. It’s assumed that some of this interest stems from people checking to see if they know anybody in the photos.

But we’re photojournalists, not event photographers, so we try and strike a balance. Sure, we could post hundreds of photos of as many people as possible from these types of events and some people would click their way through, hoping to find a picture of themselves. That would be an affront to our profession, however.

Some might argue that a gallery of 54 images from a balloon rally is a similar disservice to photojournalism and our readers. As professional photographers, we are expected to deliver a more careful and clever way of seeing than the average person. You don’t have to look very deep in some of these larger galleries to see photos that fall short of eliciting any wows.

There’s no denying that the bigger galleries generate more page views, and it’s hard to blame a guy for increasing his job security in an increasingly tough industry. Still, it’s tough to know what’s on our readers’ minds. People only speak up when they want to complain, so at least we know these galleries aren’t really pissing anybody off.

So what do you think? Do you prefer having a lot of photos to look at or would you rather see a tighter edit similar to what I’ve presented here? How far do you make it through these 40+ image galleries before you lose interest?

Sadly, the last time I posted a blog asking for feedback, it published on the same day our commenting system crashed, so if Murphy decides Oct. 2 is a good day to enforce his stupid law on me, feel free to send me an e-mail directly.

I’d love to hear what you think.


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