Readers are a fickle bunch.
You could be firing on all cylinders and capturing moments that nobody else noticed or be quick enough to document the most fleeting moment in time.
And yet none of those feats of everyday photo heroics garner public recognition like a shot of a bird will.
It was a painfully slow news day back on Jan. 9, which means feature hunting. These hunts can take several forms, though for me, they usually start with a thorough scouring of local events calendars. If those aren't helpful, then it's time to hit the road. I keep a list of interesting things I've seen or places with potentially cool lighting and check on them periodically, but sometimes a feature hunt resembles a snipe hunt more than anything else.
This devolution happens at various speeds. If this is your fifth day in a row of feature hunting, it can happen pretty quick with heavy sighs bookending your effort as you spend half of your day cruising 90 miles in town trying to find something of interest.
If my soul hadn't already been traded for my criminally luxurious mane, days like these would crush it.
Even worse is coming up empty on a day that you're actually excited to go cruising, your enthusiasm deflating with each mile you crawl at 25 mph frantically darting your attention everywhere except the road ahead. Day to Day, Neal Conan, All Things Considered and Terry Gross certainly help you through the time, but they have to compete at a low volume with the scanner, which keeps us alerted to breaking news.
While I have never found myself hoping for a car accident or house fire on these dull days, I'd be lying if I told you I've never felt a combination of excitement and guilt when something does happen in the doldrums. I don't want bad things to happen, but I want to be nearby when they do.
But on Jan. 9, this wasn't an issue. After an earlier unproductive hunt, I set out for Round 2, when I decided it was time to hit up everybody's backup plan — the park. When I spotted a couple people with binoculars and cameras in Columbia Park, I parked in an excessively aggressive manner and found out that they were out watching bald eagles in the park. John Berger of West Richland and Richard Butts of Pasco agreed to let me tag along with them. We walked and talked and stalked one of the eagles for a bit before I grabbed this:
"Did you get it?" they asked me.
I showed them the back of my camera with a posture that said, "duh. I’m a pro."
Berger complimented the photo, but added, "I don’t think it’s newspaper-worthy, though."
I don't think his intent was malicious, so I responded, "You obviously don’t read our paper."
It ran on the front page and I received the most reader mail I ever have.
In the interest of full disclosure, this was only four emails, but considering that more than 95 percent of my photos receive no reader feedback, that's a bona fide torrent.
The vets on staff found awhile back that readers love bird photos; so much so that they created the acronym B.O.D. (bird of the day).
Don't get me wrong. I love praise from strangers. It just always seems so misplaced and any photo I'm proud of invariably elicits no response (i.e. any of the photos here).
There are plenty other photos that are much better that never earned me even a two-word email consisting of almost any combination of "good," "nice," "job" and "photo."
Even "job photo!" would have made my day.
I expected at least an email from the family for this fun little feature last August.
Or some kudos from some parents or faculty at Kiona-Benton High School for this front-page shot of high school graduation last June.
Maybe a "cool colors!" or "thanks for freezing your ass off with us!" from the windy set-up of the boat parade in December.
Then there are the equally mediocre photos that took more skill or creativity, but again fall into the unnoticed column.
Finding something of interest at cleanup for Water Follies certainly isn't automatic.
Neither is squeezing a face among the chaos at an artistic glass booth at Art in the Park.
It's not that I crave the praise, I just don't understand how a fairly weak shot of a bird managed to motivate people to actually look at the photo credit and write in when so many better photos did not.
Granted, it's not just any old bird, but the symbol of our great nation. It is the embodiment of perseverance, power and grace, having climbed out of endangered status one swooped fish at a time.
And maybe that’s all there is to it. Most readers won't care that a twig is hanging over the eagle's face, or that the lack of detail indicates a drastic crop; just like many wouldn't care about a misused "whom" or what the city council discussed last night. We still mix what we feel is important with items that may have mass-appeal.
So if you’ve ever seen a B.O.D. placed prominently and thought, "what the hell is this?" I'm right there with you, buddy, and the good news is that there is something you can do about it. When you see one of us commit a commendable act of daily journalism, photo or otherwise, let us know that's what you want to see.
Otherwise, pretty soon your local fish wrapper will be full of birds.