Unlike many other disciplines, the quality of photography doesn't always depend on how much time and effort you put in. This is most obvious on the bulk of assignments out at Hanford. While it's cool to be out there and see these historic reactors and buildings, long drives out, repetitive settings and security restrictions mean most of your photos look a lot like the images you made on your last trip to the reservation.
As I've written plenty of times before, nothing beats the access you can get by spending time with a subject and building rapport. The beauty of only having to capture a fraction of a second in time, though, is that you don't always need it.
When motivational speaker Nick Vujicic visited Tri-Cities last week, reporter Jacques Von Lunen and I met him at the Red Lion in Richland shortly after his plane landed for an interview and portrait. Tight on time, Vujicic said that the 20-30 minutes Jacques estimated he needed for the interview was too long. It was an interesting response that I haven't seen too much in a town where people are usually super excited about being in the newspaper.
Of course, his reaction wasn't unexpected. He travels the world and answers the same questions ad nauseam. He even made a comment after the interview that he doesn't usually talk to local papers anymore, opting to copy and paste responses from before, but that he found this interview to be quite enjoyable.
I couldn't tell. Usually I like to listen to the interview and get a sense of the subject's personality and figure out my portrait idea. Sometimes there's an anecdote or some interaction between multiple subjects I can play off. If we're at the person's home, school or work, I can try to figure out a fitting location or background for the shoot.
None of that applied here, so I spent the time figuring out what I was going to do with the lounge at the Red Lion. I decided to work the window light and repeating lines from support columns for my quickie portrait. I set up one light with an umbrella to mimic the soft window light while punching his exposure up a bit against the background:
From first click to "Thanks Nick" was about two minutes. I could have worked it a bit longer, but I didn't want to spoil the goodwill Jacques had garnered from the interview and I was planning on photographing his performance later that night. Of course, something else came up, so this is what we ran, but it was good enough for the front page. Even better was getting a little practice at coming up with a quick concept for a portrait of a busy subject and executing it.
Maybe next time I'll try something a little more creative.
The next day, a call came over the scanner about some SWAT action and I groaned my way over to Court Street. As I wrote in the briefer days of Behind the Fold, these operations tend to drag on. You're stuck in safe areas, which are usually bad shooting angles, and have to resist being lulled into a chaos coma so you don't miss the action.
If there is any.
I found my shooting spot while reporter Paula Horton was getting the low down from the police, and I missed the part about how the guy they were looking for had already ran away. So when this guy finally gave into repeated requests over the bullhorn to come out, I was actually pretty excited. It's not the most exciting spot news photo, but at least you can kinda see the SWAT guys reflected in the window below:
It turns out that he was just in the building and despite getting cuffed, wasn't anybody of interest. After 1 1/2 hours on the scene, the best I got was this shot of SWAT guys hut-hutting their way into the last apartment:
The next day, I headed out to the Snake River near Strawberry Island after hearing reports about a body in the water. After driving back and forth between a few spots trying to figure out where dive rescue was among a river full of fishing boats, I finally found Waldo with help from somebody who lived near the pump house.
Even a tighter crop doesn't reveal much more of the back-lit scene, so I went to find a better angle.
After cruising up and down Sunset Drive a couple times, I remembered that Diàne Eckstine lived along the river and thought she had mentioned riverbank access when I was there a couple weeks earlier for a portrait:
She was happy to help and I was off, scrambling along the rocky riverbank to try and get a better angle. It isn't a place oft traveled, however, and foliage hung over the slippery rocks:
It's a far cry from a Bear Grylls-type adventure, but hustling along while carrying two cameras with bulky lenses wasn't easy. A slow 50 yards or so later and I got as good as I was going to get:
It's not a whole lot closer than my previous angle, but the light is better and I think it has a better sense of place. I ended up cropping it at bit for print:
After a couple hours of hunting and working, the best shot I got was of this dive rescue boat speeding out to the scene, which doesn't serve the story as well as the distant snap:
It was extra frustrating because I ended up missing the going-away party for retiring Managing Editor Rick Larson, but there was no time to dwell on that since I had to rush off to cover a penalty shootout mulligan between Kennewick and Kamiakin. It was one of the most bizarre sports events I've covered and also one of the briefest.
The officials wouldn't let us photograph on the field behind the shooters, citing their understanding of the rules a funny statement at a redo born from a misunderstanding the night before. I decided to try my luck at going wide behind the net, which came together nicely as Cley Burns scored the game winner toward me:
The reason this is a gamble, though, is because kicks going the other way don't look so hot, as was the case in the ensuing block by Kamiakin's Shad Harp on Kennewick's Christian Martin's attempt:
Martin also didn't help me make a nice jube-and-dejection cliché by reacting in anguish, opting for a wistful look back toward the goal:
I also failed to really capture the Lions' heartbreak, only half-assedly doing so with this shot of Kennewick goalie Angel Romero sulking off without shaking hands in front of the very sparse crowd:
Still, it was hard not to be happy with catching that winning shot, especially since the whole thing only took about 10 minutes from start to finish.
The unpredictability of this work is what keeps it interesting, but it can also be frustrating. Luck certainly favors the prepared, and as a pro you live by this philosophy. You go into every assignment confident and determined to come away with something good even when the odds are usually stacked against you. Still, with so many variables out of your control, sometimes you scrape by with just good enough despite working hard to avoid that minimal outcome. There are no awards for effort, though, so you just have to enjoy it when things come together nice and easy.
Around the web
The New York Times, which I so often laud for its Lens photo blog, ran an update on Samar Hassan, the girl featured in the late Chris Hondros' iconic photo of her moments after U.S. soldiers killed her parents. The update is fine and it's interesting to see how her life is going now, but for some reason, they thought it was a good idea to show a 12-year-old what she looked like at her darkest moment. The move, which would seem much more appropriate in a few years, seems to have been driven by Hondros' recent tragic death. It would be interesting to know how he would have felt about it.
Paul Melcher wrote a provocative piece on Black Star Rising questioning why so many women photojournalists feel the need to identify their gender. It's weird to me that he takes issue with photographers identifying themselves by specialty (sports, news or celebrity). The column is kind of a head-scratcher for me, but The Hartford Courant's Bettina Hansen wrote a nice response to it.
The rights-grabbing crusade continues with Twitpic's terms of service (that thing we all agree to without reading) that grants it the right to use your images for anything it damn well pleases. It's crap like this that is making an already tough and competitive industry even rougher. Facebook tried something similar a couple years ago, but after mass uproar, tweaked its terms. Here's hoping there's a Twitpic exodus that sends a clear message.
And the Whu? award goes to religious newspaper Di Tzeitung for digitally removing Hillary Clinton and Audrey Tomason from the photo inside the situation room showing our nations bigwigs watching the raid on bin Laden's compound.