From Lame to Luminary: A Retrospective

December 30, 2010 

As 2010 wraps up, I'm approaching my third year anniversary at the Herald — Jan. 21 for those of you looking to buy me a present. In this time, I've grown comfortable, always a dangerous feeling when creativity is the keystone of your profession.

Spurred by contest success and increased confidence in my job skills and security, last year felt like a steady climb in my photographic progression. And though contest wins aren't a legitimate indicator of your ability, my steep decline in wins this year naturally left me feeling like this was plateau kind of year. As I looked through my work over the past year, however, I'm proud of how I've battled the complacency that would have been easy to slide into while covering many of the same events and stories I had already done.

I pushed myself to finally produce a time lapse showing one of the Toyota Center's overnight conversions — a project I'd been interested in doing since joining the staff; I worked hard to cover the annual boat races with different angles than I had the past three incarnations – and had a blast doing so; I finally had a chance to produce something for the football preview that I was able to take from concept to realization — instead of scrambling to make something out of nothing; I had the opportunity to travel to a pair of championship games — getting a chance to see the football season through in a comprehensive way that had previously eluded me; I took the plunge, bought my own kit and started working on my location lighting skills in a meaningful way; and I had my work featured, along with six other Washington-based photographers, in my first gallery exhibit, which in turn led to my friend Brandon Edwards interviewing me for his podcast (it's episode #4).

Not bad, all things considered, but there's always plenty of room for improvement. It's funny to think back to how I used to perceive my own abilities. Just a few years ago, while working at the Oregon Daily Emerald — the University of Oregon's student newspaper — I'd look at some of the less impressive photos that appear in big papers or national magazines and smugly think, "Pfft. I can do that." Now, after three years of professional experience and all the learning and improvement associated with my tenure here, the most important thing I've learned is just how much more I need to improve if I'm going to make it in this increasingly competitive career.

So in that vein, and inspired by a hilariously self-deprecating SportsShooter update by The Dallas Morning News' G.J. McCarthy, I'll kick off this look back with my worst 10 published photos of 2010.

On a slow August day, in search of a feature photo, I settled for this boring situation and came away with a lame photo from it. There's some nice wide-angle distortion on his head and the weak, poorly exposed reflection in the van window is like a maraschino cherry served with a turd sandwich. Does it really make it better? I don't know.

Here's another weak feature photo, this time of a guy spraying for mosquitoes. There's little indication of that, though, and his funky backpack is awkwardly cut off. I saved the situation, however, by tilting the horizon.

That makes it artistic.

Of all the crappy landscape type shots I've made this one is probably the worst. Shot for a story about a possible land swap between Pasco and the Department of Natural Resources, it just plain sucks.

Here's another mind-numbing stinker to let our readers know that the water flowing through KID's canals was just testing and that full service would be available at a later date. It takes skill to make a less-compelling photo than anybody with a camera could have made at a check passing or press conference, but my ham-fisted marriage of crappy scenery with a dorky bird managed to do the trick.

This "portrait" accompanied a story that kicked off our wall-to-wall coverage of the Bodie statue in the Richland Parkway. Skillfully placing Bodie-owner Cindy Irvin's head in a messy spot in the background, I also mismanaged the tough midday light — creating an image that probably made Irvin wonder why I had made her sit on that rock so damn long.


And with another entry from the guide on how not to light a portrait, see Charles Smith, a World War II veteran seen here holding up a piece of shrapnel that pierced his right temple. Some dramatic lighting could have helped this awkward pose I put him into, but I decided to expose just enough for the tungsten lighting to give him the complexion of an Oompa-Loompa with a spray tan.

While I never enjoy covering parades, I always work hard to get something more interesting than a shot of float passengers mugging for the camera, but my mishmash of loosely composed snapshots from Kennewick High School's homecoming parade meant I settled for this technically deficient cheese fest for print, justifying its publication because the junior class pirates won the class competition.

As one of the most polarizing issues of the last few political seasons, you'd think an immigration debate would lead to some engaging photos.

Well, that assumption really only made an ass out of me.


No 2010 recap of mine would be complete without a little football, and leading the way is this backlit and backfocused shot of Pilate Lopaya for a feature on the Chiawana kicker from Sudan. In my defense, this was supposed to be a placeholder shot, as I banked on getting some game action kicking of Lopaya, but on my Saturday of four football games, he didn't take the field during the time I had.

Miraculously, I managed this shot (amazing how close "o" and "i" are on the keyboard and in this instance) later that same day and stadium while scrambling out to get something out of the Waitsburg/Prescott vs. DeSales matchup. It's truly awful, especially when you see the terrible full-frame I cropped it from:

There you have it. Ten photos my mom couldn't even find anything good to say about made to look slightly better in contrast with my teeth-gnashing attempts at humorous commentary. Here are my 10 favorites of the year, and because I've already written about all of them, I'll spare you further rambling and just link to the previous posts and stories that featured these photos.

Rodeo Mojo (for both).

What a Drag

Sportraits


Politicky-tack


In the Out Pile

Pasco’s Sibling Rivalry

Back to the Feature Part IV

XC Your Own Limits

A Smashing Success

So there it is. After a year with more than 4,000 of my photos published in print and online, I tried to sum it up in 20. Sure, I shot plenty of other photos I liked, but you're probably a regular reader who's seen those already. If not, here are a few of my favorite blog posts this year that haven't already been linked above.

Tripping the Poop Fantastic
Wading Through Grief
Swingin' Tri-Citians
Silly Send-off
Let's Get Physical

OK, so I'm far from becoming a luminary, but as I turn the page on another year, I need to push myself to specify the general goals I've been talking about. It's one thing to say that I want to work on more long-term stories and dive back into producing some interesting multimedia projects and another to find the subjects to help me realize those ambitions. Here's hoping 2011 brings me some growth-inducing discomfort.

~~~~~

kyau@tricityherald.com
(509) 585-7205
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