Formula for Adequacy

February 24, 2011 

One of the more common assignments on slow days is covering presentations at local schools. Sometimes famous or successful alumni return to talk at their former schools and other times it's a promotional event.

Either way, I've settled into a pretty standard routine in covering them.

These aren't the toughest gigs, but there are a few hurdles to overcome. Most of the time, the guy who's giving the presentation isn't a big enough name to settle for a straight-up podium-style shot you have no option to shoot in more high-profile situations. Thankfully, these presenters usually like to interact with the students — especially when the students are small and snotty.

When the Harlem Globetrotters' Rocket Rivers visited Lewis and Clark Elementary in Richland, I made sure to show up early, hoping for some unscripted interaction. That worked out as a class filed into the gym and asked if he could spin a ball on his finger:

I love the faux-hawk kid's reaction and the girl next to him exclaimed, "If I had a million dollars, I would give you some!" I wish the tough sell on the right was a little more excited, but this ended up being the shot we ran. He did plenty of other impressive stuff, like twirling the ball around his body while it spun,

but the reactions are more removed and less apparent. He also obliged requests to show off the 35-foot four-point shot the team is unveiling on its tour this year,

and while I scrambled onto a rickety folding chair to get the right angle, the reaction timing isn't epic enough to make up for the the tough read.

He had some more direct interaction, when he brought students out to do some tricks of their own. Here was the best moment from that:

I like it OK, but his position relative to the little girl could give it a dirty, funny-caption-contest sort of vibe. I included it in the gallery, but felt that offering it as the only shot in the paper wasn't as strong as the ball spin. I would have like to include this detail of a kid snapping a phone pic,

but, of course, on a day when we have extra photos, we don't have space.

More recently, poet Kenn Nesbitt, who writes poetry for children, visited Cascade Elementary in Kennewick. I didn't show up early to this one, but had the same approach of pushing for interaction and reaction from the kids. Though we ended up running this shot, mostly because of the great expression on the kid on the right,

there were plenty of other similar photos:

I tried mixing it up a bit with an equally overused lots-of-raised-hands technique,

but didn't get anything I liked better.

Looking over these and previous assignments of similar nature has made me realize how formulaic I am in these and many other shoots these days. Russ Kendall, picture editor at the Bellingham Herald, was an adjunct professor while I was in school. I remember him telling the class that he particularly enjoyed teaching because students often make photos that he would never think of making anymore.

I'm starting to understand what he means.

Even while photographing painter and performance artist David Garibaldi — a much different assembly than I was used to shooting — I didn't stray far from my general approach. I did make use of some strobe to work some motion blur and try to convey the energy in his show, and his distance from the crowd meant most of my shots focused on him:

The interactions had to wait until afterward:

While they look dramatically different from the shows at other schools, that's mostly due to lighting – much of which was out of my control. Settling on this routine makes my job easier, but does little to improve my skill set. And while I often tell myself that I need to experiment more and make frames for myself, it's been a challenge to follow through for some reason.

Maybe the late winter doldrums of local news have sapped my motivation. Maybe I'm just in a regular ol' creative funk. Maybe Herald design guru Jeremy Dutton's departure to the hotter pastures of Tucson's Arizona Daily Star knocked the little remaining wind out of my sails.

It's probably a combination of all three, and there's really no cure besides finding the motivation to push myself again to see things more creatively. While this approach is certainly solid enough, it ends up feeling just as hackneyed as the go-to podium shots I'm so desperately trying to avoid.

Insert segue here

Until I summit this irritating hump, I'll just have to keep entertaining myself with coworker shots like this one of Jeremy excitedly awaiting cake at former Herald reporter Sara Schilling's send-off:

I would have liked to get shots of him at his bon voyage, but was unfortunately on assignment. While it's customary to wish someone luck as they leave, I don't think he needs it as much as I do to shake this slump. Working with him on creating covers for our entertainment guide, like this shot for a local production of the Wizard of Oz, was always a nice way to get the creative juices flowing again,

and his design talent will be sorely missed by me and the rest of the photo staff.

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