News Columns & Blogs

Duck Redux

One of the greatest challenges of community photojournalism is seeing events in different ways year after year. Even during my brief time in the Tri-Cities, I’ve had to cover the same event two or three times. This, of course, pales in comparison to the veterans on staff, who will probably look toward my direction when they read this and shake their heads.

I’m not sure if readers even notice if we run a similar take on an event two years in a row, but we definitely work to avoid this. It’s a matter of professional pride, and with the amount of photos we make every year, images have a way of getting mentally muddled enough without the added confusion of photo déjà vu.

So before any of these annual events, I make sure to check our archives for the photos we published the last few years. If I haven’t covered it before, this also gives me an idea of what to expect. This wasn’t necessary last weekend, however, as I was the one who had covered last year’s Great Mid-Columbia Duck Race. I did a gallery last year, but it has since expired. I won’t bore you with the full set, but here were the few candidates for publication:

This one was the shot we ran last year.

Aside from an aerial perspective and some tighter details, versions of these four snippets of the event showed up most often in the archives. And though I always try to make interesting photos, I was especially driven to find a new perspective on something that has been photographed to death — not only by our staff, but by the dozens of people filming and snapping away from the shore.

Time was an issue this year, however, as a number of Saturday morning assignments were all happening one after another. My morning started with apple gleaning by Fields of Grace, and the duck race was sandwiched between a soccer match and a Freedom Salute Ceremony welcoming home troops from Delta Company, 1st DN 161st Infantry. I didn’t have time to produce a photo gallery from the duck race, which meant I didn’t have to spend time running around and getting feature shots from the race’s periphery.

I decided I would try to use a pan blur to capture the cascading ducks as they fell toward the water. Panning is a technique that involves moving your camera along with a moving subject with a slow shutter speed. When done correctly, the final image features a sharp subject with a lot of motion blur in the background. It’s a fun technique to play with, and I’ve always enjoyed using slow shutter speeds. You can read more about the technique at the digital photography school.

I lugged out our 300mm lens and found a good angle, which required some scrambling on damp rocks — always calming when carrying a lens worth more than $4,000. I waited for the crane operator to hoist the duck-laden canister, but despite repeated requests by the crew working the finish line to raise it higher, the hatch unexpectedly opened and I grabbed this:

I was reasonably satisfied with what I saw on the back of my camera, but had to get some safer shots to back me up, so I grabbed some of the dramatic finish:

And wasn’t too pleased with it. There’s too much boring negative space for the tame and partially obscured moment to anchor, so I tried for another unconventional shot of the duck wranglers waiting to clean up the river:

I like this shot, but not enough to have pushed for its publication. Editors like faces in news photos and I don’t think this one is strong for me to make a solid case for it.

We ended up running this shot of Larry Kalish, 6, of Kennewick, braving the cold Columbia River to help out with the cleanup:

The duck race was going to run secondary (read: small) on the front page, and the panned duck drop wouldn’t have read very well. Plus, it wasn’t the dramatic artsy image I had hoped to make, and a boat that had been in the background drifted out of frame during the drop, removing the context of spectatorship.

This is not to say the safe shot that ran is without problems. The tossed duck gets lost in the swarm of its brethren, but a lower angle that would have created the necessary separation also would have obscured Kalish’s soaked pants.

Oh, well. There’s always next year.


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