July 8, 2010 

Covering the same events year after year can be tough, so when I found out I'd be covering Basin City's 4th of July parade last Saturday, I was excited.

Sure, it meant an early start, but after three years in a row of seeing pretty much the same thing at Pasco's Grand Old 4th Parade, I was ready for a change. What was extra sweet was that the parade was going to be on a different day than our local fireworks display, negating the need to work a split shift.

The reason reporter Pratik Joshi and I went out to cover a small parade that far away was because Basin City invited firefighters from around the state to join their annual parade to help honor Franklin Fire District 4 Chief Chet Bauermeister, who died June 23 when his ATV flipped and rolled around 100 feet down a hill while he was helping to battle a brush fire. A memorial service in the park would follow the parade, so I was supposed to get a shot from each.

I showed up early to chat with people and get a sense of how long the parade would be and whether there were any unique traditions or surprises I should be aware of. The one that stuck out was one that Bauermeister started of having fire trucks hose down the crowd as they rolled through. It sounded like a fun and different 4th of July parade photo that also tied in with remembering the fallen chief.

I wandered up and down the street during the beginning of the parade to fill up the photo gallery and cover my bases in case the hosing was a bust. As the procession of visiting firefighters started, I picked a crowd to hang by, selecting a group of orange-clad spectators who were packing a small arsenal of squirt guns. The orange shirts were in honor of Bauermeister, who was well-known and apparently well-teased for his trademark orange T-shirts.

I was trying to get a shot of them returning fire despite being clearly outmatched and came close when the first Franklin fire district 4 truck came by:

I moved in closer after that, hoping to get a tighter shot of the kids firing back as water drenched them, preferably with a fire truck having passed by or dominating the right side of the frame. Unfortunately, it never lined up right. People would swarm the stream of water or turn away, and I was only willing to adjust my angle out into the street a bit farther with all these multi-ton vehicles passing through. This shot of Emily Smith, 11, left, and Laticia De Luna, 6, both of Richland, had a some of the emotion, but lacked the parade context:

While this shot had the reciprocal problem:

I got some names and then hustled down the street after the trailing truck. During a lull in the parade's spectators, I asked if I could hop aboard and joined firefighter Robert Keck and Colen Smith, 12, whose father Scott was driving, and worked to get a shot from the less-seen perspective. I started simple, just focusing on the kids welcoming the water:

before going wider. I liked the little rainbow and the quiet country feel of the next shot, but thought this desolate stretch of the parade wasn’t a very accurate representation of the event:

I worked harder to include Keck in the shot, which wasn't easy as we drove through the parade at uneven speeds while standing on wet metal 10 feet off the ground. These next two were close candidates, but I felt the lot of bright cars dominated too much of the frame:

And then it started raining balloons:

You may wonder why I'm focused on Keck's hand instead of the incoming attack. I ended up selecting an autofocus point on the left side of the frame since I was bouncing around so much and was keeping Keck there compositionally. In my joy of riding atop a fire truck, I had forgotten about the cache of water balloons these kids had stockpiled — something I had even talked to them about during my parade rounds — and didn't think to focus on them as my little adventure started. As I tried to adjust, my camera took a direct hit, transferring enough kinetic energy into my face to make me wonder what had happened for a second or two. I shot this frame:

which ended up being the shot we ran, and this less-chaotic frame:

before shifting into defensive mode. Sure, shots of giddy mini water guerrillas would have been sweet, but light-bending water droplets on my glasses were making it tough to see what was going on, and while the weather sealing on our equipment is good, I figured one direct hit was enough. I protected my gear from the onslaught and wished I had some water weapons of my own, though with one hand dedicated to hanging on to the guard rail, my semi-blind one-handed blocking wasn't very effective.

After a fun, but long couple minutes, we were in the clear and I was soaked through. I smeared the water on my glasses with my wet shirt and did my best to wipe the excess water off my camera and lens before getting back to shooting, this time paying more attention to potential ambushes ahead. Of course, since I was ready for it, it didn't happen, and as we finished the parade route, I rehashed a previous shot:

And captured this moment, which strangely reminded me of the "Ain't war hell?!" scene in Full Metal Jacket:

I was beaming from the experience and having one of those "I can’t believe I’m getting paid to do this!" kind of moments. My busy Saturday continued, however, as I covered Bauermeister's memorial, the Jehovah's Witnesses' district convention, the final day of competition at the 4-Cycle Sprint and Shifter Grand Nationals and Columbia River FC's semi-pro soccer match.

When I finally got back to the office, I was really looking forward to my take from the rolling water fight. As it often seems to happen with really fun assignments, I was disappointed. I had all of the key elements in my take, but none of the frames wove them all together. Some had the fun energy I felt in the midst, while others had clean, straightforward, newspaper-friendly composition. Some gave the viewer a face to connect with, but lacked the context of a 4th of July parade. Ultimately, I chose the chaotic image for a similar reason we chose the silly string photo from Connell High School’s graduation — it puts the viewer in a spot that most people didn't get to be in.

The frame could be a lot stronger, but it contains the most informative elements of the frames I have. Compositionally and technically, it could use a stronger focal point (on the kids perhaps), and a moment in which Keck was turned more toward the camera would be better too. I do like the chaotic feel of the shot, though, and felt good about taking a chance with an unconventional shot for the paper. There was a time when I would push for a different shot just for the sake of being different, but I think this has a little more to it than that.

Judging by the lack of complaints from my bosses or our readers, it would seem so, but I'll put the question out to you. Did I make the right choice?


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