Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Media frenzy

I first heard the news about the Hauser family on a Friday afternoon while driving north for the Minnesota Fishing opener and immediately guessed it would be a story that would attract at least statewide attention.
But Colleen Hauser's decision to disappear with Daniel virtually assured the story would grow to have national, even international, interest.
From the handful of local media that attended their first press conference, the media contingent quickly grew to a veritable herd of state and national outlets.
And with the growing hordes of national media, the intensity level ratcheted up considerably. The news business is, of course, a very competitive one. On a local level, we all naturally want to be first with getting the story or in the case of photographers, getting the image that best tells the story.
And while we're competitive, we all know each other and there is a degree of cooperation we afford to one another. And since the news business isn't that big of a family, even if you toss the Twin Cities media which arguably is more competitive yet into the mix, there is a certain degree of familiarity with one another.
But the national media is another matter. Many of them frequently hire videographers on a free lance or contract basis.
A freelancer who doesn't consistently come back with the goods isn't likely to be tapped for other assignments. In other words, they are only as good as their last shot.
Hence, the spectacle this past week of cameramen literally running down the street along side the Hauser's family van when it showed up at the Brown County Courthouse earlier this week.
Of course, my job is to come back with the goods as well, so like the rest of the pack, I found myself sprinting across the courthouse lawn to elbow out enough shooting room to get an image or two of the family getting out of the van.
It's not something I'm particularly proud of doing, but it's my job.
I can only imagine what the Hauser family may have been thinking as dozens of news cameras closed in around them.
Certainly, the national media spotlight they found themselves in in recent weeks is far harsher than the quiet ambiance of the dairy barn.
At least for now, the satellite broadcast trucks, the coiffured news anchors, the video and still cameras, have vanished from Brown County.
But whether the Hauser family likes it or not, theirs is a story that will continue to be watched and reported, whatever end it may come to.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Old School versus New Wave

I began taking photographs for newspapers way back in 1968 so I am very familiar with the "bathroom" technology we relied on in those days _ a room with running water and a lock on the door so the dark didn't leak out.
Nowadays, of course, everything is digital and darkrooms are a quaint historical reminder of the way things used to be done.
I'm frequently asked which process I prefer and truthfully, tradition film and digital imaging have their advantages.
From purely a selfish view, the ability to go into a darkroom and lock the door behind you for a couple of hours each day sometimes was a welcome refuge from demanding editors and other distractions.
In addition, there is a certain "feel" to a film image that is lost in a digital translation.
However, in an era when everyone in a newsroom is expected to do more with less, the speed and efficiency of digital imaging allows us to get so much more done.
I'd be less than honest if I didn't admit to some trepidation and concerns about being an old dog learning new tricks. The transition to digital imaging steepened the learning curve a bit but in the end, of course, a good photograph is a good photograph, regardless of how it was made.
I am something of a traditionalist: I still prefer to hold a sheet of newsprint in my hand to read the news of the day.
But the advent of the Web and newspaper Web sites has expanded the possibilities for photojournalists, as well.
Reproduction has always been an issue for photographers because newsprint is not the optimum medium for capturing the colors and nuances of an image. Photographs displayed on a glowing monitor always look much better.
And since our digital images are basically just a code of zeros and ones, there are not the space constraints to limit the number of photos we can post on the Web.
As a result, we frequently can offer more photographs of an event like the bird banding Thursday at Rasmussen Woods.
Only three were published in the Free Press, but we were able to post 10 of them as a photo gallery at our Web site.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Earplugs required

My iPod is a disaster. I listen to so many different types of music I can't find anything half the time. That's probably why it didn't bother me a whole lot when I got the assignment to shoot the Slipknot concert Wednesday night in Mankato. Now, my heavy metal days are long gone, so relating to these guys wasn't happening. The beauty of photography, though, is you find you always have something in common.
Most concerts are a challenge to shoot, regardless of the type of music being played. Some bands make you shoot from next to the sound board near the back of the arena (about a 300mm lens' throw away). If you're lucky enough to shoot from the pit (the area between the stage and the fans), you have security personnel, speakers, wires, body surfers and a host of other stuff distracting you. And you only get three songs to get the lighting right, so you'd better shoot quick.
The benefit to shooting a heavy metal concert from the pit is you're face to face with both the band and the fans, both of which are really, really into the music. Bands like Slipknot, who have been around for a while, know they're being photographed and will seek you out for the briefest of moments and give you an opportunity to make an image of them doing something right at you instead of over your head.
Needless to say, from my three-song vantage point between two stacks of speakers, there were plenty of distractions. Everything from huge security guys shoving me around to body surfers reaching the end of the line came flying my way.
Fortunately, no blood was spilled. At least not any of mine. More photos are in the web gallery here.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

He can't be any happier

I can honestly say that I can't list bowling among my favorite sports to shoot. I've seen a lot of sports, and a lot of things you can barely call sports, and in some way I've liked
 them all. Not bowling. No bowling alley is lit well. There's little drama, little action, little emotion.

Until Tuesday night.

I was assigned to shoot the Mankato East and West adaptive bowling meet against Austin Tuesday night. I had photographed some of these kids before, so I knew in some respect I could throw at least one of the bowling stereotypes I had out the window: There would be excitement.

These kids are excited to be bowling competitively. They smile all the time. High fives abound whether they get a strike, make a spare, or get a pair of gutter balls. What I didn't know was Sam Wright was on his way to putting up some big numbers, and a lot of Xs.

As I was shooting some of the bowlers from West I heard a huge cheer from the East lanes. Not unusual, except I had already heard it a few times recently. When I looked up at the scoreboard, Sam had already gotten a Turkey (three strikes in a row). Knowing how happy I am to get two in a row, I decided to watch and hope he would maybe get another.

He did. And another. And another. Each time his celebration got more demonstrative, more excited. Sam's high fives to his coach and teammates got more exuberant. It's rare to get a second chance at a celebration photo, much less a third or fourth. It gave me a chance to figure out an angle where I would see his face, his teammates and his lane devoid of pins, and figure out how to light it so I could see all of that.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Welcome to The Blink of an Eye

The moments go by so fast. Whether it's a baseball game or a portrait, they key moment flashes by in the blink of an eye. How do we pick those moments? How did we decide to use the particular picture that appears in your newspaper or online every day? Here's your chance to find out.

From time to time, "The Blink of an Eye" will give you an insider's look at the photographs the staff at the Mankato Free Press take every day. Some make the newspaper. Some (thankfully!) don't, but we'll tell you the stories behind them.

We hope that "The Blink of an Eye" will give you an entertaining and informative look at what goes on behind the camera as we're out on assignments taking pictures for The Free Press and the various other publications we shoot for. From time to time we'll also throw out some opinions on photography and journalism in general (and believe me, we have plenty of opinions to offer!).