News Columns & Blogs

Daily Grind Press

Tuesday started in a way that's been all too typical lately. Our new reporters haven't started yet and the skeleton crew is spread even thinner with trials and elections in full swing. This, of course, meant a feature hunt was in my future. Our increased reliance on these stand-alone photos means the low-hanging fruit is long gone for this season. And while I should probably stop whining and figure out something more meaningful to photograph than cute kids, it can be tough to catch your breath in the daily grind long enough to dig a little deeper.

With my creativity as devoid as the local events calendars and daily log of news items, photo editor Bob Brawdy suggested I start with a pumpkin patch visit — a seasonal favorite we hadn’t cashed in on yet. A quick call to Job’s Nursery in Pasco revealed a scheduled preschool visit to their patch in progress and I hustled out there like I used to rush to car accidents as an intern — eager to cut my teeth at a real breaking news scene.

As I approached the nursery, I saw a group milling about the pumpkin patch and resisted the urge to power slide into the parking lot. Missing my chance at a cupcake assignment like this would surely cast a pall upon the already grumble-filled day. Luckily, I had about 10 minutes before they packed up and the light even lined up pleasantly for this cute shot of Rafael Torres, 4, of Kennewick, blasting his lats with a pumpkin deadlift:

After an hour of fruitless wandering, I noticed a lone fishing boat on the Columbia River as I crossed the cable bridge into Kennewick. The light was still pretty decent and it was smack dab in the center of the river. As I rubbernecked over the bridge I played with some potential compositions in my mind and thought that a frame with the boat centered in blue isolation with the blue bridge behind it might look...well, good enough to fill some space, anyway. I parked at the mini golf course and hoofed it up the bridge just in time to see the boat putting its way back to shore:

I kinda like the squiggly wake, but it's even more boring than the low expectations I had for my first idea. As I plodded back to my car, singing a song full of swear words and vulgar descriptions of what I'd like to do to this tedious day, I noticed a girl dancing her way down the Sacajawea Heritage Trail. It was different and unexpected, and the bright red flower in her hair helped make her stand out. I tried a couple different compositions, keeping it loose at first to work the sweeping trail line behind her before going with a horizontal orientation to use the Clover Island marina as a place marker.

Having been bitten before by my still frame not conveying a sense of dance, I sprayed down the scene somewhat excessively, trying to time my shots, but firing bursts with the motor drive to pad my chances. Here's a couple of uncropped animations to show how I hosed it down:

I scrambled down the path after her to get her name, but dancing is a surprisingly brisk mode of transportation. I tried calling out a couple "Excuse me's", but I’m guessing her headphones drowned that out. I accelerated to jogging speed while simultaneously putting on my least threatening face and digging through my vault of useless knowledge in search of the average range of pepper spray.

Keeping a wide berth, I finally caught up with Lacynda McGill of Kennewick, who happily gave me her name and told me she hoped to open a dance studio one day. It's funny how people who you think might freak out after finding out you've taken their picture seldom do.

After going through my take, I picked out this frame

because I liked the sassy pose. A closer look exposed another frustrating reality, however:

A wonky focusing screen in my camera means I have to rely totally on autofocus. Not being able to tell whether my photo will be in focus means I'm constantly hammering on the autofocus button to improve my chances. It also means I'm usually shooting at a smaller aperture than I'd like to increase my depth of field, but most importantly, it means I often have to resort to a lesser moment.

In this case, I liked her upbeat posture and hint of smile in this shot:

Looking at it again, I'm wondering if I should have cropped it tighter. My idea for keeping it loose is to show just how alone she was on this path and I liked the receding squiggle. There are a lot of distracting elements in the background, though, which is making me second guess that choice.

Another lucky break came as I headed back to the office after meeting Lacynda. Kennewick firefighters were working on their entry techniques at the old Beaver's Furniture Sales & Rentals on Columbia Drive, which the Port of Kennewick had bought as part of a riverfront development project. The firefighters let me go into the building, where I snapped this:

None of these are mind-blowing photos, and they won't end up in my portfolio, but it was nice to have a different mix of photos to offer on a slow news day.

Picture editor Mike Davis wrote a blog about serendipity this week and it made me think about how I’ve approached these feature hunts. One graph in particular resonated with me:

"I've told a couple photographers I’ve worked with in this past week that if they have five minutes to make a picture, spend four of those minutes getting to know the subject and one minute making the picture. Simple."

While I've seldom gone flying freeform out into the Tri-Cities in search of photos, I haven't necessarily approached the community in a way that reflects how I've grown to know it these past three years. A more concerted effort to get out of the car more frequently to stroll through neighborhoods instead of frantically darting my eyes around while rolling through them would be a good start, but really what I’ve been itching for is a chance to dig a little deeper.

Up until now, many of my self-generated photo successes can be attributed to lucky breaks like this particular feature hunt. It's up to me to push myself to the next level and create more of my own luck, daily grind be damned.


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