My oft-lamented dreary winter feature hunts are probably getting to be as laborious to read about as they are to execute. However, through all my teeth gnashing, head shaking and feet dragging, I do realize that driving around all day in search of photos is a far cry from the truly tough jobs countless people do every day, and getting paid to do it is a blessing when considering how many photojournalists vastly more talented than me have lost their steady gigs in the last few years.
After what seems like two solid months of daily feature hunts, though, the old saying of "A bad day in the field is still better than a good day at the office" starts to lose some of its shiny absolution.
I remember covering some sort of political event back in college where I ran into Register-Guard photographer Chris Pietsch. A brief chat ended with him summing up the task of creating interesting images in a drab setting as "trying to make chicken s--t into chicken salad." It's a phrase that often pops into my head on assignment and it applies most accurately to these endless hunts.
Feature hunting can be fun, welcome even, when sprinkled sparingly amongst more newsworthy assignments or projects. But when it's cold outside, there's no snow and kids are in school, your options can be limited. Add the fact that this community is devoid of areas with concentrated gatherings of people, aside from parks, and you need a lot of spice and mayonnaise to make that chicken salad. So many consecutive days of feature hunting means we've all used and reused many of the handy go-to spots in the last couple months, though. And while each of us has our own routes we like to cruise, our own tastes, interests and styles, what we all have in common is a shared bottom-of-the-mayo-jar tactic the B.O.D.
The acronym was coined long before I joined the staff and stands for "Bird Of the Day."
A couple weeks ago, I found myself settling for this desperation move after a long, fruitless cruse through town. Not much was going on in Leslie Groves Park, so I went with the 70-200/2.8, slapped on the 1.4x teleconverter and worked on my feeble urban nature photography skills by slowly creeping up on a group of gulls hanging out in the water. I was trying to get a fun mini moment in the crowd, but wasn't really liking it, this shot being the best I managed before moving:
I crept closer to a wall of gulls near some napping geese and after getting as close as I could, waited. Shots of birds at a standstill only work if it's a rare species, so I knew I'd need some interesting compositions or moments for these last-ditch B.O.D.'s to, ahem, fly. I made three frames I liked while crouching in the droppings and sand, fearing that standing might startle these filthy creatures:
I liked the oafy goose best and we ran that one the next day, socking away the other two in case the great Tri-Cities photo drought of 2011 continued. A couple days later, the tighter shot of the two geese filled a hole.
Having two run was already a boon, but I was hungry for the trifecta. A week later, after much facetious pestering, the B.O.D. hat trick, perhaps the rarest move in lame feature photography, was completed.
It's an accomplishment that's funny in a sad-clown sort of way and while it's a highlight (of sorts) that I will remember from my time here, I hope it's obvious that this is not the type of work I am truly proud of. Desperate times call for crappy measures, I guess, and it's tough to stumble across something of interest in this town at this time of year.
I had some luck recently, however, when kids were out of school and I noticed Gabriela Boarder, 9, left, and her sister Mikayla, 6, working on their softball skills in the the unseasonably warm weather:
Their elevated balcony-style entrance also gave me a nice, colorful element to tie in the Americana of it all.
More recently, a busted sprinkler head caught my eye on a similarly slow day and I probably looked certifiably insane with how hard I worked the scene, all but laying in the frigid puddle to get this shot:
These photo nuggets are rare, though, and as February plugs along, I hope each day brings less intercity wandering. I haven't done an odometer check in a while, but I've easily driven 100 miles within the Tri-Cities in search of space-filling photos before.
It's not all scatter shot, however, and any day devoid local happenings begins with a quick review of any potential feature sites and a look through local events calendars. Our own calendar is always my first look and it panned out the other day when I saw that the Tri-Cities Singles Over 50 group was having a coffee mixer. I happened to show up as organizer Bill DeBoard was snapping some shots of new members for the website, and I thought it made for a fun photo that would also inform readers of a group in town they might not have known about:
So if you have something going on in town, be sure to add it to our calendar. It automatically gets into Atomictown, our weekly entertainment guide, and you might just make it in the daily newspaper if it's a slow enough day.
Besides, I think one B.O.D. hat trick is plenty for my career.