More often than not in this job, five minutes early is right on time. Show up early and you can scout a portrait location or chat up your subjects and build rapport. Sometimes, you can elicit secret information from the people in charge of the event, such as who the special award winner will be, who's important and who is likely to erupt into a Springer-esque brawl.
I have yet to experience that last example, but I’m keeping my fingers crossed for this year's Tri-Citian of the Year ceremony.
Is your mind blown yet? No? Fair enough. I suppose this mindset isn't unique to my profession. Anybody who's had a job interview, court appearance or period knows that accidentally being late is seldom in your best interest.
Sometimes, though, being late isn't just better than never.
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A suspected arson destroyed 12 units at the Kamiakin Apartments on Feb. 21. Because fire crews hadn't been called until about 12:10 a.m., we didn’t have anybody on scene for the actual fire. I was working that Saturday and found about the blaze in the early afternoon while covering the Eastern Washington Chess Championships.
I didn't make it to the apartments until around 4 p.m. and wasn't very optimistic about what I would find. I tried my best to tell the story with an empty, burned out building:
Without a human element, these photos are pretty lame, and when the exteriors looks to be largely intact, they're also unimpressive.
I looked around to try and find another way to tell the story. "Well these cars look pretty effed in the a," I thought.
It’s got some nice textures and is storytelling, but I knew I would only get one photo for this, and the melted front of a car isn’t the best way to tell a story about an apartment fire. I tried incorporating both elements:
Stomach grumblings aside, I decided to postpone my lunch a bit longer. I chatted up Clyde Morrison of Moon Security, who was posted there in case people tried to enter the crime scene. I found out that TV stations had been down hours ago, which only added to my disappointment with my timing.
"Yeah, they were here interviewing some residents," he said.
I bit my fist.
We chatted some more and hit a couple awkward silences before he decided to do a quick perimeter check.
OK. Decent composition. I got the burned out apartment building. Security to help visualize the crime element.
I had my C.Y.A. shot, but for some reason, I decided to stay just a little longer. Soon after, a car pulled up, and a visibly distraught woman got out. She told me that the fire had started in her apartment and that she knew who did it, placing the blame on her boyfriend, who she said was mad at her.
Her chief concern, however, was the safety of her dogs, and her neighbors who were looking after the dogs were gracious enough to let me in to photograph the tearful reunion.
The dog photo never ran in the paper due to space constraints, but sticking it out was fulfilling on a personal level. It's not that I get off on photographing people crying, but there is something satisfying about getting a warm reception while doing this job, even more so when it happens in delicate emotional situations. It's far preferable to the police intentionally blocking your view or the dirty looks you often receive in similar situations.
Three weeks before the Kamiakin Apartments fire, I was scheduled to come into work around noon on Saturday. Looking to take advantage of the late start, I went out that night and stayed up even later than I had planned.
I received a call about a fire in Pasco around 9:30 a.m. After hanging up and uttering a string of expletives, I splashed some water on my face and made it out there in 15 minutes. This was still later than I’d generally prefer to be, and by the time I arrived, the shed fire was largely extinguished and mostly obscured from street view.
The family, however, graciously let me inside to grab a few snaps:
The moral of the story isn't that I can show up late and that things will work out, however, but that despite all the skill and planning required to do this job, sometimes a little luck goes a long way.
And while late is always better than never, sometimes it's even better than early.