The once-sought after newspaper photographer position Part 3

How do I start off this 3rd segment Assignments: ones I enjoyed?

Did I mention I met my wife on an assignment?

I photographed her for a story, one thing led to another… and this photographer rode off into the sunset with the girl.


While at the newspaper, I was often asked, “How do you get a job like yours? You get to shoot football, baseball etc?”

It made me realize how lucky I was to be able to do this for a living.

I enjoyed the competitiveness of shooting sports because the next day, I could always check the sports pages of the different newspapers in the LA area to see what their photographers got.

Sure, there was no prize or even an “attaboy” from the boss, but it was as real a test as I can think off to measure how I did. There was no pretense or excuses.

Covering sports was fun in that way.

In the Spring when the pro tennis circuit came through I especially enjoyed covering tennis at the Newsweek Tennis Open in the Coachella Valley.

Weather out there was a balmy 70ºF while the rest of the country was a frigidly cold.

We would spend our entire 8 hour shift covering that.

That night and weekend/sports shift also meant we got to cover concerts occasionally.


Now concert photography isn’t always all that fun because you’re usually allowed to shoot the first 3 songs.

It’s one thing if you can count on the performer being someone you like or heard of.

Most of the time, they are just loud and crowded except for the time I got to listen to Luciano Pavarrotti rehearse.

But that was in Cleveland when I was an intern at a small newspaper in Ohio. It was just him, the orchestra and me.

Now that was magical.

The weekend/night or what I affectionately call the “family wrecking shift” used to be assigned to the rookies and junior photographers.

Or when it came up, we could trade amongst ourselves, but all that changed when the ownership of the newspaper changed.

It didn’t matter anymore what the tradition was or what a employee who paid his dues wanted.

For me, that attitude of management marked the decline of the newspaper I worked for.

Feature Pictures

Feature pictures are like self-assignments, ones photographers originate and generate.

By their very nature, since it’s my “muse” I already know I’m going to love it.

It’s a chance to showcase my very own creativity.

On slow days when there were no assignments, I loved the freedom of just driving around looking for story ideas.

I came across many of my favorite pictures that way.

Banking left—When we were above the area which is now called the Diamond Valley Lake, the tow plane on the right released the cable and we were on our own. I asked our pilot to start a steep bank so the cockpit could be lit by the sunlight.

The aerial photo above I took on board the sailplane/glider was exactly that.

Is it original? Heck, no. It’s been done over and over again by glider pilots especially.

I just wanted to get up in the air in a glider. If you’ve never done it, you should try it.

There’s no sound of an obnoxious engine once the towing plane releases the line.

It’s just you, the thermals which you ride to great heights and supreme peace.

Since I had some flying background, I could visualize what my final image would look like.

The hard part was securing my motorized Nikon F3 safely on the wing of the glider and finding a pilot who would agree to taking me up.

When I finally did find a pilot, he turned out to be an 80-year-old.

His co-workers asked, “Young man, do you know how old he is? Aren’t you scared?”

They didn’t have to know I knew how to fly so I just smiled.

So the camera was loaded with one roll of Fujichrome 100, a 36-exposure roll.

I mounted my 18mm lens (the shortest wide angle lens I was issued), set the aperture to f22 and taped the focus down for the hyperfocal distance to yield maximum depth-of-field.

I tested my Quantum radio slave on the ground and off we went. One short 15 minute flight.

Exposure mode had to be set to aperture priority because there was no way to change anything once we were airborne.

Based on my experience of shooting Fujichrome 100, I was confident that the shutter speed would be between 1/60 sec and 1/125 sec—more than enough to stop any camera shake or motion since we were in glider and there weren’t going to be any vibrations from an engine.

Meeting interesting and inspirational folks in the community was something I thoroughly enjoyed.

Some weren’t people of any stature like the sheepherder of Basque descent in San Jacinto.

He was on the job 24/7 months on end. His employer hauled a trailer out into the sticks provided him with some supplies, handed him a shotgun. He checked on him occasionally but other than that, he was all by himself with the sheep. I used to bring him a 6-pack of beer whenever I saw him.

Then there’s folks like Sandy and Tony Cappelli who founded the non-profit organization Steven’s Hope for Children.

Named after their son who died shortly after being born from a heart defect, the organization provides temporary housing for  children and their families during their outpatient treatment.

Community activist Eddie Dee Smith was also someone I felt blessed to cross path with.

The senior citizen center in Rubidoux is named after her.

I am thankful I got a taste of what I went to college to major in.

Some of my classmates weren’t as fortunate. They got that piece of paper but never found jobs in the industry because of the competitive nature of the profession.

Sadly, the newspaper photojournalist looks to be in danger of being a dinosaur as newspapers look to cheaper means and the general public for their pictures.

That’s more than enough about me in this post.

Please excuse the self-indulgence.