Blessings & curses of news photography

Robbery or 211–One strange robbery attempt. The exact circumstances of this robbery that was in progress eludes me now. But in getting to breaking news like this, it’s a lot of luck naturally. On something like this picture shot on film, you have 36 exposures unlike hundreds on a digital camera today. Necessary even today is the presence of mind to check how many exposures you have left when you know something important is about to unfold before you.

Professional ambulance chaser and breaking news junkie are the 2 phrases that come to mind as I look back at my career at the newspaper.

And to my fewer  and fewer buddies  and classmates who also majored in Photojournalism still in the business, I salute you all for your “staying power” and your “longevity” in the field.

This post is not meant to be derogatory in any way.

I say it with ambivalence:

It was a blessing as well as a curse.

A Blessing

With the exception of portraits, newspaper photography allows for very little manipulation, so most things had to be shot in camera.

With  digital photography and the super-charged competitive nature of the business, more than one news photographer has gotten into deep doo-doo for lapses in judgement.

Be sure to read to the end of this post for two examples: one before and after the arrival of digital photography.

Here are 2 few lessons I am thankful  to have learned:

Camera handling

I can thank news photography for making me adept at camera handling and working quickly under almost any situation to get pictures.

There is no better way of knowing your gear than to use it day-in and day-out.

With that familiarity, most photojournalist can guess the exposure for most situations within one f-stop. No, I’m not bragging.

That comes from years of exposing miles and miles of film before digital cameras.

Remaining calm under pressure

And when it comes to handling pressure, there is no better training ground.

Many events captured by news photographers are breaking news situations which are spontaneous. Some of these events, brush fires and law enforcement-related activities like robberies will happen daily.

You don’t get to say “Can you stop a second? Can you do that over? I wasn’t ready.”

Even when the event is “staged” and the media is invited to cover them like in Sports, there is no do-over.

Pick the wrong moment to change lenses or re-load your camera and all you have is a war story of a great shot which got away.

Speaking of pressure. I recall being drafted to photograph the visiting board of directors for the newspaper towards the end of my days there.

My supervisor at the time was so worried that he came out to watch me work. And he actually moved my lights without telling or asking me. He felt he had to do something even if it was just messing with my lights.

A Curse

Standards for pictures in newspapers are often unrealistically high especially when you consider how brief a duration the public sees these pictures.

Work with  no shelf-life

It may be a fantastic picture to grace the cover of A-1 but in a week or even just a few days later, how many people remember it?

In the immediacy of the internet age, what’s new and fresh is now reduced to hours.

As soon as an image is off the homepage, it is hopefully archived somewhere easy to find. If it isn’t, good luck locating it.

It’s no surprise the burnout rate of journalist is so high. If it wasn’t high before, it surely is today.

When you read of Pulitzer Prize-winning photographers losing their jobs  because of downsizing, it can’t be good for our democracy.

You have to start and wonder who loses out in this situation.

And it goes without saying since we seldom can have our cake and eat it, the long hours and low wages are the other obvious cons about this career.

Earlier I mentioned 2 instances where news photographers ran afoul of their ethics.

Interestingly one instance was before digital photography and the other was after the arrival of digital photography

3 thoughts on “Blessings & curses of news photography”

  1. Hello Andy,
    Thanks so much for visiting my blog and leaving your insightful comment. It’s a business to them, just another piece of real estate. When they do that, I suppose it’s their prerogative. The problem is when they don’t let the old managers run the outfit but start imposing their idiotic ideas.

    That’s when organizations get run aground.

  2. As long as people like Murdoch and Berlusconi are buying up media outlets, we’re all suckers for glittery distraction over substance.

  3. ‘And when it comes to handling pressure, there is no better training ground.’
    Its funny how your quote not only brings back the fires & shootings but also juggling family life as well.
    Who is going to pick up the kyds from school when their bus has been diverted to a shooting you are covering and spouse is Heli-tack Fire Captain.

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