Flail Mary

November 16, 2012 

Photographers can be a superstitious bunch, with even the non-religious thanking the photo gods when an image comes together. The religious slang even spills over into technique, when lack of height or things to climb on leaves you with only the Hail Mary shot to frame like you want.

The move refers to the prayer you say when you reach your camera somewhere and frame a shot without looking through the viewfinder. And like so many recurring themes in this job, it seemed to pop up a lot in the past couple weeks for me.

It started on Halloween as I wandered downtown for the annual daylight treatfest. As I crossed the street, a little girl became infatuated with the stop sign a crossing guard held high. I rushed over and reached my camera up to try and frame the two, but left her too cramped in the corner for it to work:

In this instance, it would have been hard to make it work even with better framing, since shooting with a wide angle so close to the stop sign makes it really dominant either way. I ended up going with the obviously cute tiny fireman getting candy from the real one:

The next day, I visited Kennewick High School for a Spanish class' Dia de los Muertos project. The students were making an altar, including photos of loved ones who had died. It was a very cramped corner of the room and I hailed Mary again as they reached to stick things up:

Here's one of the downfalls, as it's easy to mess up your prefocusing before you raise your camera. I rarely trust the autofocus to get the right thing nailed. I'd rather blame myself than my gear.

The elements just didn't line up quite right with this Hail Mary:

And I stuck with a framing I composed as Tanner Newman added a photo of his grandfather:

It worked better because you get the other photos close up and gives you a stronger connection to what the holiday is all about.

I started the next day at a construction site, watching workers hoist showers up for installation:

I came wearing a hard hat and safety vest, so they had no problem with me scuttling into the framed building for a different view. I didn't quite get high enough for the top-down view to work,

so I moved a couple rooms down and reached my arm out as far as I could to try and get a view from the building of work being done:

It fell a little flat, as the work never lined up right and I couldn't quite get far out enough. I wandered a bit more and ended up finding a better shot as a father and son framing team installed a window on the top floor, which gave me a decent view of the size of the building as well:

That same day, I waited for a couple hours at Dentistry for Kids to get a shot for Operation Cash for Candy, which buys back extra Halloween candy to send to the troops in care packages. Frustrating though it was, I did get better at a couple of my iPhone games as I hoped somebody would come in with a donation.

I stepped outside for a phone call when I noticed a man grabbing bags out of his car with no kids in tow. A harried hang-up later and I was hoisting my camera high to get a view of his sweet stash:

or trying to, anyway, as I totally framed it wrong. Not knowing this at the time, I stepped back as Front Office Coordinator MaryAnn Segura joked that she was coming to Nathan Cathey's house next year for trick-or-treating:

It's a frame that hardly seems worth the amount of time I devoted to it, but I'm hoping it got the word out for the charity.

About a week later, I followed third-graders on a tour of Richland City Hall. The students were asked to spend three fake dollars on various city programs in an exercise to see how third-graders would budget for the city. I tried a couple high shots to show the crowd and mini fervor,

but a closer frame actually showed a little more of what they were doing:

I didn't end up using any of those, opting for a shot of the television studio and a demonstration of energy-efficient light bulbs for print:

They had more to do with the tour than the faux budget did.

On Wednesday, I finally used a shot, as the lower angle gave me poor separation of the people from the horses of the Carousel of Dreams:

A little elevation helped fill out the room the little bit and that's the shot that ran:

Did the photo gods finally answer my prayers? Not really. It's a pretty run-of-the-mill photo, and if I hadn't shot anything else, most of the Hail Marys above would have been usable. It's more an issue of not leaning too hard on one technique when you can avoid it.

Plus, a Hail Mary doesn't rely too much on chance when you know your gear well. Having spent countless hours behind a viewfinder will help you visualize what's in there even when your eye is a couple feet away. It's not just blind clicking, either, as you fidget with an estimated angle and watch the scene for moments to develop.

Sometimes a less-extreme vantage point just tells the story better.

For a more established vantage on shooting...

Sports Illustrated legend Neil Leifer talks with Deadspin about some of his NFL work.

Steven Mayes argues that photographs are experiences now, thanks to the instant-gratification quality of cell phone images. It's an interesting read about the the evolution of photography and how professionals fit into the current system. He ends the Q&A with a particularly strong point:

Cell phones do the individual and his or her experience. Professional photographers can take an overview and can introduce us to different elements looking at patterns, validating stories or recontextualising them. For now, there is a role for us.

That last line is a bit ominous and echoes the nerves and seemingly impending panic that flitters through the photo industry. The newspaper industry is a little further along that line, as papers work to maximize the digital medium while struggling to make money from it.

Here at the Herald, we've switched to a metered paywall system like many other papers. I've always worried for the early adopters, as Internet users (myself included) have this egalitarian mindset that information should be free.

I won't argue the merits of moving to this system, as it was outlined in our official statement, but the comments on the announcement on our Facebook page were expectedly disheartening. The major recurring theme is that the same information will be available elsewhere for free.

That's partially true, though the repeated argument that the TV stations have the exact same information is patently false. Their newsroom staffs are even sparser than our skeleton crew, and I'd estimate that I'm on the only media person at half the things I cover. Now, you can argue that some of those things aren't interesting or relevant to you, and readers of my blog know that I'd agree with you on those foot-dragging assignments, but that statement is wrong on every beat we cover.

And there are a lot of beats.

We have nine reporters, about half what we had when I was an intern in 2007. The once semi-specific beats of related topics have merged into conglomerations of slack picking after losing so many to layoffs and attrition. We had three business reporters just a couple years ago, now we have two reporters splitting those duties with their other beats.

Here's what our current beat list looks like now:

ANNETTE CARY (ext. 1533) - Hanford, PNNL, Energy, Environment, Hanford Reach Monument: Hanford and science of nuclear waste cleanup at Hanford; Hanford Reach National Monument; Weather; Battelle’s PNNL lab; Energy Northwest nuclear plant and Areva. Also, Kennewick Man. Natural resource issues, including water, salmon, growth management, endangered species and pollution.
SARA SCHILLING (ext. 1529) – Richland, Benton County, Social Services (non-health related): Richland City Council and community; Hanford Reach Interpretive Center; Benton County; Tri-Cities Regional Public Facilities District; Kennewick and Richland Public Facilities District. Social services (not health-related) and charitable organizations.
MICHELLE DUPLER (ext. 1543) – Pasco, Health, Politics, Health-related Social Services, Veterans issues: Pasco City Council; Hospitals, B-F Heath District, TC Cancer Center, American Red Cross; Nursing homes and Tri-Cities Chaplaincy; Health-related social service and charitable organizations. Mental health services. Developmental disabilities. Local politics. News stories, features on interesting or important personalities from various minority groups.
KRISTI PIHL (ext. 1512) – Kennewick, Business, Agriculture, Irrigation: Kennewick City Council and community; Kennewick Irrigation District, other Irrigation districts. Farming and farm labor issues, food processing, farm organizations. Ports of Pasco, Benton, Walla Walla, Kennewick. Real estate, including construction starts and home sales; Economy & unemployment. Biz blog.
TY BEAVER (ext. 1402) - K-12 Education, Higher Ed, Mid-Columbia Libraries: Kennewick, Richland, Pasco, Burbank and Finley school districts and boards; Educational Service District 123; Tri-City teacher unions. WSU and CBC.
KRISTIN M. KRAEMER (ext. 1531) – Courts, Criminal/Civil, Immigration: Benton & Franklin superior courts, district courts and Pasco municipal court, including civil lawsuits and criminal cases; U.S. District Court. Criminal justice issues. Juvenile Justice Center. Backup for transportation.
PAULA HORTON (ext. 1556) – Web watchdog, Police, Fire, Prisons, Transportation, Backup for courts: Police and fire agencies in the Tri-Cities, including the sheriff’s departments. Also, major crimes in regional areas. Washington and Oregon State Patrol, emergency dispatch center and the Tri-City Metro Drug Task Force. Also, state prisons, especially Coyote Ridge. Transportation, including airports, rail, and cars, gas prices. Ben Franklin Transit.
LORETTO HULSE (ext. 1513) – Business features, West Richland, Tourism, Religion, Food, Rural Issues: Retail sales. West Richland council & community. Basin and Valley issues of major interest, particularly in Prosser, Benton City and Connell. Food column. General assignment features. Business features and briefs. Chambers of Commerce. TC Visitor and Convention Bureau; Biz blog; Religious issues and briefs.
DORI O'NEAL (ext. 1514) - Arts and Entertainment, AtomicTown, Animals, Fair Board: News, features and listings on the various arts councils, symphony, light opera company and theater groups. Atomictown section and website. Benton-Franklin Fair Board. General features. News and features about animals.

Now imagine keeping up with all those disparate organizations, not only sifting through dozens of email alerts every day, but trying to check in with the quieter ones to look for news that isn't screaming to be released. Then imagine doing that on the truncated 37.5-hour work weeks we're held to while covering other people's shifts during a week of unpaid furloughs.

That brings me to the most annoying argument against financial support for local news — that we aren't the New York Times, so we don't deserve it. That's like arguing only national chain restaurants should charge for food, not mom and pop cafes. And to compare the quality of coverage is so absurd, my analogy generator exploded.

The Times has as many assistant and associate managing editors as we do reporters.

The problems we've had as a company are numerous and well-documented. I think I've shown that I'm not a mindless company man, and without working here, I don't know that I would be keen on buying that digital subscription

So support us or don't.

I won't take it personally. What I do take personally is when people who don't know what they're talking about tell us that advertisers should be flocking to us in droves and that's all the money we should need. Or that a few typos in the daily novella-full of text means our news team is composed of mouth-breathing idiots who can't cover or edit the news.

Frankly, I'm amazed we can do the job we do.


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