Sunday, December 1, 2013

The Reluctant Photographer: Chapter 1

Some years ago I taught photography to journalism students in the masters program at Western University. My classes took a nasty downward turn in the last years of my teaching as my failing heart weakened my health and the digital revolution weakened my confidence in the value of what I was teaching. I began to doubt myself.

My Santa picture was also taken with a point-and-shoot.
I had come to believe that a reporter carrying a point-and-shoot had no need to know about f/stops and shutter speeds. The camera would take care of all. I was wrong.

Not only do reporters need to know about photography, their supervisors need to know a lot more about a wide range of oh-so-necessary newspaper talents and that includes photography.

Supervisors like the editor-in-chief of The London Free Press, Joe Ruscitti, need an understanding of journalism, of photography, of computer software and hardware, of commercial printing. The list just goes on and on.

Sadly, after looking at the paper, it is clear newspapers are being run by folks ill-prepared for all the tasks, once done by others, that have now been dumped in their laps.

When I was teaching reporters photography, I simplified everything. I knew most students in my class had no interest in photography. If I got too deeply into the art and craft of photography, I knew I'd lose them. I tried to impart a basic knowledge of the craft and instill a desire to take a good picture. I knew most would never buy a textbook on photojournalism and so I wrote my own small text and called it The Reluctant Photographer.

The Lions are a main sponsor of the parade, hence the float.
Looking at the shot of Santa taken by The London Free Press reporter at the annual Hyde Park Santa Claus Parade, I knew it was time to start work on an upgraded version of The Reluctant Photographer. That picture is a classic. It is clearly an image taken by someone with little time for photography and even less interest. It appears the reporter could not even be bothered to keep the lens clean.

As fate would have it, I was at the parade Saturday. I stayed close to the mall where the parade formed before moving onto Gainsborough Road to make its way to Hyde Park. Because of my poor heart, I am unable to walk beside a parade as I once did. Now, I can manage a few steps and then I begin gasping for breath. Reality has forced me to contend with a lot of restrictions as I try to document an event.

I even shoot with point-and-shoot cameras. A big DSLR with a huge zoom lens, plus a camera bag stuffed with more gear, is too heavy for me today. I use equipment today which is very similar to the stuff being used by a lot of reporters.

Still, I believe, I out-shoot a lot of reporters. The word smiths blame the time constraints they work under for the poor quality of their images; They blame the poor equipment they are given; They blame everything and everyone but themselves. These reporters are truly reluctant photographers.

I shoot my pictures using a Canon S90 and a Fuji FinePix HS10. I enhance the images in Photoshop using talents honed while working at The London Free Press.

Check out my images and remember, I was never far from the mall parking lot where the reporter snapped his quick pic. Everything shown in my pictures was taking place right around where the reporter was shooting. And yet the reporter missed everything but Santa's back. Heck, the reporter didn't even get Santa's name right. He put an 'e' on Claus. (I believe The Santa Clause was a movie starring Tim Allen.)

Santa Claus spelled incorrectly below picture and in poll.
Clearly the reporter needs not only better gear, but also more time, and some newsroom support, too. A copy editor. The big corporations that own the nation's newspapers know how to buy newspapers, they just don't know how to run them.

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