Strong Secondaries

September 23, 2010 

Readers of my rants and connoisseurs of photojournalism know that the prettiest picture isn’t always the best one for the story. Often times, my favorite shots from a take fall short of this storytelling requirement.

Last year, I went to the Lao Temple in Kennewick to photograph preparations for Bounmahaxath, an important Buddhist holiday. This shot of a little girl sitting behind trees filled with money to be donated was my favorite,

and while the basic information conveyed is the same as this shot of members making other donations,

the small slot reserved for the photo made the second shot a quicker read and our final choice for the paper.

A couple weeks later, Guadalajara’s Leyendas de Chivas played an exhibition soccer game at Edgar Brown Stadium in Pasco against the Pasco Soccer League’s select team. The main shot featured Sergio Pacheco giving autographs,

and this frame of Kennewick’s Luis Martinez concentrating before the game ran secondary:

This shot of Pasco’s Nathan Martinez, then 9, was my favorite of the day, however:

Looking at it now, the unclean layering between Martinez and the kid in blue behind him bugs me, but I still think it’s a fun angle and moment with decent light. Little kids get to mess around on the field during halftime of any soccer match, however, and this event was more about the local all-stars facing off against some Mexican legends.

I visited Trinity Anglican Church in Kennewick for our Good Friday coverage this year and had fun working with the symbolism:

What was interesting to me, however, was how interactive the service was for the small congregation. And while the shots of Father Andrew Ray responding to Benton County Treasurer Duane Davidson during an anthem,

and congregation co-founder Jimm Jarrett of Richland ringing the church bell lacked the visual punch of the other two,

they helped convey a bit more information about the people at this service.

The same could be said this past June as the Sauers, who run a cherry stand and a bed and breakfast at their orchard at 8101 W. 10th Ave. in Kennewick, were worried that construction on 10th Avenue would cut down on business from passersby. I checked in with owner Steve in back and couldn’t resist shooting some of the cherry harvest. I got my favorite from the day by exposing for the highlights in the spotty light offered by cherry tree leaves above:

And when I headed up to the stand, I captured this cute and quaint scene of Steve’s parents, Leonard and Jean Sauer, with Bo the dog:

We ended up going with this shot of Jim Butner of Kennewick buying cherries to bring a taste of Eastern Washington with him to Portland because Butner happened to see a sign pointing to the stand down on Clearwater Avenue, an extra measure the Sauers had taken to ensure people knew where to get cherries:

To support that photo, we included this lame sign photo to show the relation of construction to the front of the business:

Last week, however, I had the opposite problem after shooting ballroom dancers at the Pasco Senior Center.

Early on, I captured friends Tom Lee, left, of Kennewick, dancing with Janice Grady of Pasco in one of the pseudo-spot-lit areas on the floor.

They were dancing alongside Al and Jan Jacobs of Richland who later told me that they had started dancing to meet people after moving to the area a few years ago. Al also gave me a pretty good quote that helped tie in the fact that the event is open to dancers of all ages and dancing skill. "There was a young girl who came here that couldn't dance worth bananas," he said, "and six weeks later, she's great."

It lacked the extra angle that Jan told me, however. "Everybody's so friendly and just dances with everybody," she said. This shot of Jan and Tom dancing would have worked, but the lighting isn’t quite there, the layering is messy and the woman laughing in the back, whom I failed to ID or talk to, hogs the viewer’s attention:

I shuffled around the dance floor trying not to get in the way and after snapping this frame, I went hunting for a couple more names:

With Jan in the mix, left, I knew I had a good starting point, but ended up finding out more interesting stories with the rest of the dancers. Here’s what the caption would have looked like:

Merle St. John of Hermiston dances with Fern Whitescarver of Kennewick while LaMar Barnes of Kennewick dances with Jan Jacobs and Marion Boyles of Richland dances behind them with Bill Schlagel of Othello Wednesday at the Pasco Senior Center at 1315 N. Seventh St. Boyles and Schlagel were classmates at Yakima High School (now Davis), and randomly reunited at the dance two years ago and St. John has been attending dances there since 1967, when the facility was much smaller. He likes the floor and live music. "We don't have a band like that down where we live," he said. About 50 people go ballroom dancing every Wednesday from 7 to 9:45 p.m. Admission is $5 and the Columbia River Dance Band, including Luke Danielson on trombone, left, provides live music. Dancers of all ages and skill levels are welcome.

For some reason, I really liked Marion’s face tucked between Jan and LaMar’s when I chimped at the senior center. It looked like she had stopped affectionately mid-dance. After hearing those stories, I felt pretty good about what I had, but decided to try and work some stronger layering. Unfortunately, a brusque camera-shy couple told me not to photograph them and then proceeded to dance in that good spot of light I was working.

My frustration continued after getting back to the office and getting a good look at the photo with all the little back stories tucked into it. I hated it. The lighting, composition and balance of the frame are terrible and the snapshot-quality does nothing to pull a viewer in to read the cutline anyway. I considered cropping it into a vertical frame, snipping Merle and Fern out from the right, but the framing of Marion’s face now looked silly to me.

It’s like rain on your wedding day, right?

Plus, it didn’t make much sense to talk about Marion’s reunion with Bill if all you can see of him is the hint of his pants. I looked through my take again to see if I had a better frame with the same people. Unfortunately, the only other viable photo immediately preceded it,

and it suffers from the same snapshoddy quality, but with even more technical deficiencies. I ended up going with that first shot of Tom and Janice, glad that I had Al’s “banana” quote to toss in there.

Of course I try to make interesting, well-composed and emotional photos whenever I can, but sometimes seamlessly integrating the photo part of my job with the journalism aspect leaves me feeling like I’ve missed an opportunity. Hearing a great story or nabbing a funny quote enhances the quality of the photographs I think I have. Conversely, a pretty picture’s clever lighting or angle fails to elevate the photo beyond its superficial charm. I’ll keep working at it, though, and while incremental change is always hard to notice, looking back through these photos while writing tells me I’m at least headed in the right direction.

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