If you just want to look at pictures, scroll down.
For me, I look back on three important things this year. Experiencing the landscape of the West, becoming an honorary West Virginian, and the further embracing of my visual style. The first one happened rather unintentionally. While I had explored the surrounding region of the Black Hills and Badlands to a certain extent, my work hours prevented me from venturing too far out. Once I got over the initial shock of being laid off I began thinking of all the places I’d been meaning to go to. In those few months I made my way to Montana, Eastern Idaho, Western Wyoming, Colorado, Nebraska and other closer but still important areas. I still struggle to describe the feelings invoked by the landscape there, everything from its vastness to how light seems to dance across it. I think about that land often and wish I could go back there even for a short time. It never felt like I was in just another part of the states, rather it truly felt like a world unto itself.
Eventually, after being unemployed for four months and living off of my severance, unemployment insurance and tax returns, I moved back to DC and took back my old job at ProPhoto and applied for jobs while crashing at my best friend’s place. On a facebook job page, I saw an opening for a staff photography position at the Gazette-Mail in Charleston; West Virginia’s capital and largest city. With the exception of Harper’s Ferry and a night trip to Shepherdstown, I had never stepped foot in West Virginia. However, I have always been interested in places that hold ideas and assumptions in the American psyche; places that everyone seems to have an opinion about without ever really having been there. Since taking the job nearly six months ago, I have visited many areas of the state and gotten to know the people who call this place home. I can thankfully say that i’ve only come to enjoy this place more as time has gone on. Yes, West Virginia has plenty of problems and issues it has yet to overcome, but this place has plenty of good in it too, and a lot of people who care deeply for its future.
Lastly, and what has personally meant the most to me, has been the overwhelmingly positive response I have received from people here regarding my more artistic images; specifically my long exposures. Long exposures were the very thing that made me fall in love with photography in the first place; a creative method that could take a scene or moment in front of you and reveal so much more than our immediate senses could perceive. Admittedly, it had been a long time since I had regularly taken long exposures (one of my biggest regrets this year being that I didn’t take nearly as many long exposures in South Dakota as I should have). I decided to take it up again as a means of showing West Virginia from a different take, and the amount of enthusiasm with which my paper has embraced those kinds of images coupled with the responses I have received from others have motivated the hell out of me to shoot, shoot and shoot more. It’s been awhile since i’ve felt so compeltely energized, and I think great things are around the corner for 2018.
So here are, in no particular order, my favorite images from 2017.
I’m about a week or so away from hitting the 6-month mark of my time in West Virginia, and I think November has been the first month where i’ve started getting a grasp on this state and no longer feel like an outsider. I’ve been here long enough now to already have made some good memories and long enough to decorate my desk! That being said, November was also a good month for photos. I think I’ve shot more sports (football, soccer, basketball) in the last month or two than I have for the past 12 months combined, but I’ve also shot a decent amount of other subjects. This month I started incorporating single or multiple on-location lighting setups and hope to use them to better effect this coming month. Considering how dark it’s going to be I’m sure I’ll find a time to. Lastly, If you know me even a little, you know how passionate I am about long exposures, and i’ve been blown away by the overwhelmingly positive responses i’ve recieved from people regarding my long exposures for the Gazette-Mail. The photos that have been published so far have been photos taken on my own time for the fun of it, and to know that the publication i’m working for appreciates and embraces the use of those images means a lot. One other thing i’ll mention that was great this month was I got to volunteer at the Atlanta Photojournalism Seminar. I’d like to thank Kevin, Ted, Michael and all the others who’ve been incredibly kind to me and made my time volunteering there a great experience.
This guide was created in google slides, but I was very unsatisfied with how the slides were presented here when I embedded it in the post itself (you couldn’t even make the presentation full screen!) so I simply exported the guide as a PDF that I have linked below for you to view or download as you please. I hope this guide of San Francisco will be of some use to you. Enjoy!
It happens to all of us, more than we would probably like it to. You get an assignment with a brief description of the subject, sometimes it’s a person, place or event. Maybe you’ve already started visualizing the shot you want in your head, or maybe thats not your style. Either way, at some point in the assignment, wether its the moment you arrive, while you’re there or right as you’re leaving, you see the shot happen in front of you (or off to the side or somewhere else, you know what i mean) Whether it’s because you didn’t put yourself in the right position, choose the right lens, the right exposure or any of the other familiar obstacles and rookie mistakes
Whatever the reason, you miss it. And almost instantly you know, sometimes a few seconds after or even as the moment is still happening, that that moment was the picture. It’s not even a thought; it’s a sinking feeling in the pit of your stomach. Obviously, you don’t just give up and walk away. You keep shooting the assignment and try your best for as long as you can. Maybe at the end you still come away with something that you’re proud of, and sometimes you don’t. either way, you think of that picture you didn’t get. Sometimes it bothers you more than you know it should and you beat yourself up about it, because when you pour so much of your energy, so much of your heart and soul into something, that “something” for better or worse becomes a part of you; how you see yourself, who you are. When that happens it’s hard to separate yourself from what you might look at as a failed assignment; to not fall into the trap of feeling like you are a failure because of it.
When that happens its important to remember that this whole thing is a marathon and not a race, that the missed moment can be a lesson learned so you won’t miss a more important one later, and that even the best of the best make mistakes too.
With that in mind, I thought I would share a couple of my more memorable experiences of not getting the shot; the could have been’s and never were’s. These aren’t good pictures, and that’s kind of the point.
My immediate favorite when it comes to my screw ups, I was able to get a pass to cover Obama’s second inaugural parade. I got to the place relatively early, and was tipped off by an AP guy on the press riser that Obama would be getting out of the beast somewhere around 9th and Pennsylvania and walk for a couple blocks before getting back into it. I walked over to the space and saw a bench with no one on it. All I had to do was go sit on it and wait for awhile. But no, I didn’t feel like doing that. I went to get some food. By the time I got back it was a solid wall of people, and the bench, totally full. So as the Obama’s got out where the guy said they would, I had to hail mary it with an 80-200mm from the 90’s that already wasn’t good at focusing even when I was looking through the viewfinder. The results were predictable. I got nothing. I was so angry I left immediately and didn’t talk to anyone for a good 24 hours. It doesn’t bother me at all now; thousands of photos of the Obama’s were taken that day, but at the time it meant a lot to me.
Ever since this assignment iv’e done my best to get to places early (just assignments, i’m still working on that in my personal life) I was assigned to photograph a young pastor who was taking a leadership position in a very old and traditional church in DC. I got to the assignment right on time; and too late. Just as I was walking up I saw him greeting and hugging the last few people at the front door. I felt it right then and there that that was the photo I needed and that everything else I took would just be secondary. As much as i tried to make interesting pictures in the basement while he gave his sermon, my pictures (if I’m being generous) were just ok. I didn’t get another call from the Metro desk for a year.
I cringe every time I open the folder of this shoot. It’s so awful. This was my first portrait assignment for the SF Chronicle during my internship there, and I knew next to nothing about portraits. I had a lighting kit given to me, but I had no idea how to really use it. I was assigned to photograph a ballerina who had come all the way from France to perform/study in San Francisco. I was told I’d be shooting her while she practiced and to try and get a portrait of her as well. But there was a mixup with the timing and I actually got to the building as she was finishing practice. So I found myself desperately trying to look like I knew what I was doing shooting with no lights in the blaring afternoon sun. I was grasping for straws to the point that I told her to lay on the bush, because the bushes and design of the bars reminded me of Versailles and I figured that was reasonable enough. Considering how inept I was, she was incredibly gracious with her time and attitude. I walked back to the Chronicle and showed my miserable photos to Russell the photo editor, who asked me if I thought the photos were beautiful. When I said no he handed me back my laptop and said “well that’s what you have to do next time” before walking away.
This was back when the Occupy Movement was happening. The campers had just put up the “occubarn” in the early morning.
It’s not that good a picture, but I remember this being the first photo i took that really pissed me off when the officer just walked into the frame at the perfect time to mess it up. Speaking of being in the frame.
Well it’s almost 4am here, and I know I have plenty of missed photos in my albums at work, so i’ll probably add more tomorrow when i can look through them.
I wanted to share some background info on a few images from the previous week’s work: the premise of the assignments, how I approached them and the thoughts behind the images. To be honest, I don’t know how much interest there will be in a post like this. I’m writing this post for myself so I can take some of these experiences to heart and remember them. If theres one thing Iv’e definitely learned, you can’t remind yourself enough of the basics.
This image sums up (at least for me) the objective that all photojournalists look for in approaching an assignment…
The challenge is relatively simple; find the unscripted in the scripted, the anomaly in the routine, the unique in the standard.
You see, there’s a quick formula for completing a photo assignment at its most basic level. You need a wide, overall image that sets the scene. You also need a medium image that shows the subject of the story. Finally, you need a tight, detail shot; a close-up image of an item or object that accompany’s the medium shot and adds additional information to the story. As an example; if I were shooting the stands in a stadium during a playoff game, the wide would be an overall shot of the stands, the medium a group of fans in the stands, and the detail a sign that someone was holding. There’s a phrase that sums up this formula; CYA or Cover Your Ass. These are the pictures you take so as to fulfill the basic requirements of the assignment and not piss off your photo editor and the layout team.
And then there is the anomaly image.
One of my professors described it as the “surprise” image.
The surprise image is the shot that rises above the others. It transcends the parameters of the assignment itself and stands on its own. Sometimes the surprise of a football game shows itself on the sidelines. Sometimes it is the backstage during a show; the finish line of a parade or a face in the crowd during a politician’s speech.
Learning the technical aspects of a camera down to an intuitive level is the easy part. It’s capturing a moment; a real moment. Not forced but a candid, intimate, human moment. That’s hard.
I was assigned to photograph a formerly homeless veteran in his apartment as a part of a larger story the Journal is doing on homeless veterans in the city. I had ideas for photos that I wanted and packed accordingly, but along with my canon gear and a lighting kit from work I also decided to bring my own Nikon with a 50mm f/1.4 attached, hoping to get a tight shot of his face after getting everything else I wanted. However, as soon as I got there with the reporter it became clear that nobody had spoken to him prior about a photographer being there as well, and he flat out refused to have any pictures taken. Rather than just leave right then and there as I might have done in the past, I sat down with the reporter and listened to the vet talk for almost two hours, engaging in conversation with him at times and just letting him get used to me. After the reporter had exhausted all of her questions, I was able to talk him into having his picture taken; just him, no apartment. It was clear he wasn’t going to let me bring in any lights and there was just enough window light to make a passable image, so I was glad that I brought the Nikon with the 50mm that I used to take this shot. The picture’s not great. I went into this assignment anticipating walking away with a lot more than this. But I still consider it a small success because it’s an example of one of the most common and frequent challenges of being a photojournalist; turning a no into a yes.
I was assigned to shoot this hockey team’s practice before their first game of the season the next day. I spent the entire assignment with them; shooting them changing into their clothes in the locker room, waiting on the side of the rink for the ice resurfacer to finish and the practice itself. I was on my way out when I noticed a few people cleaning the floors and windows around the rink. I thought that the act of people cleaning the arena was as much a visualization of preparation as the hockey players themselves practicing, and I liked the idea of capturing that with both elements in the same image. The woman who turned out to be a volunteer for the team rushed to clean the window pane because she thought that I just wanted to shoot the team through the window, Ha!
This was the last image that I took on this assignment, and it turned out to be my favorite image. I got to shoot my first fire; a prescribed burn that was five years in the making. I shot the guys lighting the fire and walked with a crew to an overlook where they were putting down photo points. I even walked up an adjacent ridge to shoot the fire from above. I was driving on the dirt road away from the fire when i noticed the stark light beams being made through the smoke. I stopped my car and leaned myself as far out the window as I could to shoot one of the guys who was watching to make sure that the fire didn’t jump the road. At first his back was turned to me, but I waited assuming he would turn at some point which is when I took this picture.
I’m trying to look more and more for the quirky image; one that gives at first glance a chuckle. This visual of a person disappearing into this massive tree was one that came to mind before the assignment and tried to capture as the tree was being placed into a harness to be moved into the square.
I was assigned to take photos of Spearfish airport, which had recently been granted control of the local airport which had previously been under the control of the county. I wanted to shoot more than just a couple photos of a line of jets set out on the runway. Walking across the airfield to a hanger that housed the administrative office, I came upon Roy fixing up an airplane. Talking with him for awhile was a great experience, an he added a human element to what could have been arbitrary images of some buildings or planes.
Shaan Sakaria, left, and Shriram Gangineni look on as the kids fashion show progresses during Diwali Night at the School of Mines on Saturday evening.
A group of dancers perform the Dandiya, a regional folk dance of India during Diwali Night at the School of Mines on Saturday evening.
Spectators watch a fireworks display during Diwali Night at the School of Mines on Saturday evening.
Berlinn Farner, 3, was one of many children who attended the 35th annual Harvest Meals for YFS’ Child Development Center and Girls Inc. of Rapid City programs.
Guard Jamall Taylor tries to maneuver during the Hardrockers match against Grace University at King Center on Friday evening.
It has been exactly one month since I started working at the Journal. So I wanted to share some of my images taken while on assignment and put down some thoughts I have had since starting…
Photojournalism is in some ways unlike any other job in the world, while in others it is like any other job. One of those things being that it’s very easy to lose sight of the bigger picture and become frustrated with yourself; what you are doing and where you are going.
While photojournalism is hands down the best career in the world and one that I wouldn’t trade for anything else, it doesn’t mean there aren’t days where I want to rip my hair out from dealing with the daily grind.
From right, David, Laura and Mathew Scott wait in line with others to get into Storyteller Bookshop during Scare in the Square in downtown Rapid City on Saturday afternoon. The couple and their son were representing all three Star Wars trilogies.
Wesley Delaney and Leighton Aves, both 9, count their candy during Scare in the Square in downtown Rapid City on Saturday afternoon.
And what is the daily grind?
The daily grind is a high school volleyball game and a minor league hockey game followed the next day by a city council meeting and a building dedication ceremony.
The daily grind is running back and forth for an hour and a half on a football field in 35 degrees because both teams suck and won’t stop punting.
The daily grind is a person at a podium.
The daily grind is another high school volleyball game and a minor league hockey game, followed the next day by a photograph of an elementary school.
The daily grind is trying to make a storage unit and an exercising room look interesting.
It doesn’t work.
The daily grind is being told about a really awesome assignment you’ll be doing the next morning then being told 30 minutes later that the paper is using handout photos instead.
The daily grind is waiting another hour to go home because the writer hasn’t got back to you yet about info you need for a caption and there’s a hornet that somehow got through two separate doors just to exclusively menace your desk.
lines up snow boards in preparation for the Black Hills Ski for Light Ski Swap which will take place Saturday at Rushmore Civic Center. The swap is a fund raiser for the annual event that gives a day of skiing to impaired children and adults.
School donor Bob Malone of Texas greets a line of students, faculty and supporters of the Tiospaye Center for American Indian Scholars at the South Dakota School of Mines & Technology, which was expanded after a generous donation by the family of Maria “Agnes” Roybal Trujillo.
The daily grind is two more high school volleyball games.
The daily grind is running on a muddy field with rain and hail pouring down on you without a rain jacket using a safeway plastic bag to keep your camera dry and not caring because you know the photos will be great.
The daily grind is getting up at 4:45 am to climb boulders in the dark and stand in 27 degrees waiting for the fog to clear just enough to get your picture.
The daily grind is hearing that people are keeping a copy of the newspaper in their car from that story you did on them to show other people.
Joan Renelt tries to put a golf ball into the hole as her husband Tim looks on at the Rapid City Executive Golf Course on an unusually warm November afternoon.
wide receiver Mason Archambeault gets a hug from quarterback George Johnson after his touchdown catch during the RC Stevens-RC Central football game at O’hara Stadium Thursday evening.
1st and 2nd place winners Karlee Simmons, right, of Hill City and Haleigh Timmer of St. Thomas embrace each other at the end of the 2016 Region 5A Cross Country Meet at Rocky Knolls Golf Course in Custer.
The daily grind is having insightful conversations with people you’d otherwise never meet.
Lynn Delameter stands outside of his business the Black Hills Sleep Center, which he is closing down after being in business since 1971. Lynn, who is originally from the area, came back on a visit after spending seven years in California and decided to stay; “I had a love affair with the Black Hills” he said, being the perfect place for someone with a passion for skiing and motorcycles.
Roy Kimbell, 85, who served as a B-29 super fortress mechanic during the Korean War, went on to graduate from the South Dakota School of Mines with a masters in mechanical engineering before working for 30 years as a jet engine performance engineer for aerospace manufacturer Pratt & Whitney. While his career was based in the testing of jet engines, “this is my first love” Kimbell said in reference to the propeller plane he was working on. “Since I’m retired this is sort of a fun thing to do.”
Jared “Cappie” Capp stands in front of his energy-independent house on Friday morning in Spearfish. Capp has created a house that generates its own electricity, and uses various building methods and materials to make the house entirely self sustaining.
Luis Rodriguez & his son Kiev 45, Rapid City. Retired Combat veteran; Iraq. Nurse at Rapid City Regional Hospital. “Perhaps he’s not very eloquent…but he will have the right people behind him to make things happen.”
Outside of the polling place at Walter Taylor 4H building, a couple cancelled out each others votes for president. Darrell Welch, a retired law enforcement officer said he voted for Trump as “the lesser of two evils” while his girlfriend Desiree Derflinger, a lumber trucker who identifies as a republican, voted for Clinton because “Trump is an idiot”.
Maybe, the daily grind isn’t a grind at all. Maybe this job and every assignment is ultimately what you make of it. Granted, there are some assignments that will just suck no matter what you do. But you embrace them anyway. You work like hell to find that different angle; that something that will elevate a routine event into something that challenges you. Because you’re not OK with just doing OK…
I’d write more but I have a football game to go shoot.
Before leaving DC to take the staff job at the journal, I told quite a few people of my impending move. While some reactions were positive, a fair amount of them were what you might expect them to be; a grimace followed by an incredulous and confused “South Dakota?”
There are a lot of reasons why I took this job. I wanted to do something that was outside of my comfort zone, working for a small newspaper in an area that I’ve never been to. I also wanted to use my time here to gain experience in aspects of photojournalism that iv’e always had trouble with, such as finding and pitching my own stories, shooting sports, improving my lighting skills, etc.
but one reason in particular stands out. It’s one that I don’t usually share with a lot of people, as its nothing to be proud of. But in this case it might just be the most important.
Not long after ending my internship with the San Francisco Chronicle, I was arrested for a DUI. .11. About a drink and a half over the limit, but more than enough to do lasting damage. My license was taken away for a year. The financial cost was in the thousands (I still owe my parents the money for court fees) and it denied me opportunities that I otherwise could have had.
Instead of building on the progress that I made at the Chronicle with another summer internship, I spent summer 2015 in a three months long DMV program in Ventura to get my license back. Even more damaging was that the DUI also made me a liability to company insurers. As recently as six months ago, I was offered and accepted an internship with a newspaper in Ohio, only to have the offer rescinded a few weeks later because I couldn’t be covered to drive on business for them. I interviewed at another newspaper in Virginia shortly after, and was initially chosen by the photo department before they were overruled by HR for the same reason.
I learned that while there are some exceptions, most HR departments won’t vet you until about three years have passed from the offense, so I wouldn’t be completely eligible for another internship until mid-2017. The thought of sitting on my hands for another year in DC just to become eligible again, and at that point a year out of college (which lowers the pool of possible internships i could apply to even further) was paralyzing.
However, I also applied to the Journal earlier in the summer, and was considering it before a hiring freeze was temporarily enforced for a few months. It wasn’t very long after I had been rejected from the internships that my editor got back into contact with me and offered me the job, despite the DUI.
So the truth is, I didn’t necessairly plan on being here. And just as a matter of fact, i wouldn’t be had I never made that mistake two years ago. But now that I am here, I’m determined to make the most of it that I possibly can. Because this isn’t just a job for me. It’s a chance to start up again after almost two years of having everything on hold.
And Iv’e got a lot of catching up to do.
ps. Don’t drink and drive. Really, if you only get one thing out of this post, I hope it’s the weight of the consequences of doing so.