Tuesday, December 23, 2003

New images on DMN


Mark M. Hancock / © The Dallas Morning News
Chaps, hats and lassos greet diners at the Texas Land & Cattle Company in Dallas on Saturday, December 20, 2003.

I posted some newer images on my DMN Most Recent Work section. I also took a little creative license and approved some holiday-themed images for the main spotlight area. :-)

Enough for now,

Why not firecrackers?

As expected, celebratory bullets went up in Baghdad and came back down. People were hurt and a gas truck was struck and exploded. Why doesn't this happen as often in America? Firecrackers.

I asked Fayrouz if they have fireworks in Iraq. She said they had public shows, but no personal fireworks because they were controlled by the government.

The Washington Post has a story about how easily weapons can be purchased in Iraqi cemeteries. I read another story somewhere (I can't find it now), but it stated hand grenades are sold in a Baghdad market for $0.25 (4 for a $1).

In yet another story I heard on NPR, a drunk individual decided to throw a concussion grenade for fun in Baghdad. Why? Because he could.

I'm sure there would be similar treatment of concussion grenades in America if it was legal. Instead, America allows its residents to purchase relatively safe (at least compared to grenades) firecrackers and other fireworks. Where and when they can be sold and fired is another matter, but let's stick with the premise for now.

On special occasions, many young Americans play with these minor explosives and other harmless fireworks (sparklers are still very popular). It's how we celebrate. It also teaches us a little about responsibility and improves hand-eye coordination (or how to treat minor burns - take your pick).

The point?

It would be a great idea for the CPA to have a fireworks-for-bullets trade. The Iraqi folks would get a package of sparklers for each five bullets (an example) they turn in. They could opt for a pack of firecrackers for 10 bullets instead. Or, they could have a whole pack (brick) of firecrackers for a grenade. Maybe a gross of bottle rockets or 50 Roman candles for an AK rifle.

If they find a hidden weapons storage area and do trades by the truckload to resell in the market - FINE. Let them do it. The end result is the desired result: less weapons on the street, less rounds falling from the sky, safer and happier drunks at 3 a.m.

Enough for now,

Monday, December 15, 2003

A happy day for our household

It is a happy day in our household. All our teams won this week: the Stars won, the Mavericks won, the Cowboys won, and - most importantly - Fort Hood won!

Fayrouz and I are so proud of the Fort Hood soldiers who captured Saddam. I was at Fort Hood a few weeks ago photographing one of the units training to go to Iraq. It means more to see these professionals bringing such honor to their units, families, our state and nation. Huah!

My wife, who is an Iraqi-Australian, keeps singing "It's the most wonderful day of the year" to the popular seasonal song with similar lyrics. I was on the Berlin Wall the night it officially fell and experienced freedom firsthand. Today means the same to her. She has been calling her family around the world wishing them a happy "Saddam Captured Day."

Enough for now,

Tuesday, December 09, 2003

Reflecting on success


Mark M. Hancock / © The Dallas Morning News

Southlake Carroll football players Todd Bondy (No. 84, bottom) and Adam Boydston (No. 85, top) reflect upon the past successes of the team in the Carroll High School fieldhouse in Southlake on Tuesday, December 9, 2003.

Monday, December 08, 2003

Two issues of American democracy

If anyone wants to accuse me of having a hard head, they're right. I had a hockey puck bounce off my skull during a game I shot this week. It came to hit me between the eyes, but I saw it in time and reacted. Unfortunately I pulled a leg muscle at a previous assignment (a parade), so my body didn't react at its normal speed.

Bad, bad, bad old body.

We're going to look into my brain today. I know it's a scary place. However, I want to discuss some basic issues of America. Since Fayrouz is preparing for finals, somebody has to vent this stuff to the outside world.

I've done a few general news stories this week. During the holiday season, reporters tend to lean on standard stories. These let the frantic readers/shoppers know the world is OK and the government doesn't function like the shopping mall (a big relief). From this week's assignments, countless elections and police ride-alongs in drastically different cities, I want to discuss two topics in relation to American democracy.

Topic 1.
American democracy starts in Kindergarten (pre-K or day care actually). From a very young age, children are taught to vote for what they want. They also learn to take responsibility for their authority.

Yes, everyone wants to be the leader - until they are the leader and are responsible for the actions (or misbehaviors) of others. Once the child is voted the daily leader, they're suddenly the responsible party in the room.

If the pint-sized elected leaders are good politicians, everyone behaves themselves and the leaders make it through the day unscathed. If they arn't politically savvy kids, then they get the blame for everything. Either way, they learn about the system and they live to tell about it another day.

The voting system of kindergarten is simple. Everyone places their head on their desk and closes their eyes. They raise their hand for what they want (of teacher-mandated options). The votes are counted and the losers are stuck with what the majority wanted. Better luck next time.

The process seems fair to the majority of the children. It continues this way with increasing levels of responsibility until adulthood.

The adult political system tends to start with the PTA (Parent Teacher Association). I've covered politicians for several years and many of them start their political career at the PTA. A parent wants the best for their little kindergartener and decides to run for office in the elementary PTA. This leads to running for president of the school PTA.

Now, the person has a political base to begin work. People know and can trust (or later remove) this person in other elections.

If the person is a good PTA leader, the logical next step is the local school board. This involves the formal political system with an actual voting public and governing laws. Because it's the most grass-roots campaign, it's actually one of the most critical. Whomever is elected at this level WILL affect the future of the area's children.

Politicians at this level learn to raise money and advertise. More critically, they learn to get people into the voting booth because these races typically do not get a high voter turnout.

Again, if they do well in office, they may choose to advance to another level. City government is the next election step and so forth. This is how a majority of elected American leaders evolve. They weren't necessarily the best person for the job, but they were the person willing to accept the responsibility to lead. They also had the most people in the polling place on voting day.

If a voter votes for them, good for the winners. If a voter votes against them, better luck next time. If a voter stayed home and didn't vote, shut up and take whatever YOU (the apathetic voter) let happen.

The children learn the process from hearing about it from the parents. Political opinions are cheap and plentiful here.

Topic 2
The other issue is code enforcement.

Each normal-sized city has at least one code enforcement officer. S/he isn't a police officer and carries no weapon. Instead, s/he carries a clipboard and writes down code violations from the safety of a pickup truck.

Newer housing developments often don't have any codes (or dangerously sub-standard codes). It's the city government's job to create a set of local codes (mini-laws) for the safety of residents.

For these codes to work, they must be enforced and create an adherence through bad example and subsequent punishment (preferably on one of the local "untouchables" to show fairness). Examples of codes include how high a city allows grass to grow, how close to the property line a building can stand, or how large amounts of garbage are to be handled (reconstruction or tree trimmings), etc. ...

Once a city has the codes, the officer identifies the violators and sends them a notice to repair in the mail. After a specified amount of time, the code officer checks for code adherence. If the code is still in violation, the city normally makes the repair and levels a fine against the property owner and possibly attaches it to the property deed. The point is to have the code violation fixed and to have a punishment compelling enough to deter possible violators.

Through all my ride-alongs with police, I've found the same people who flagrantly violate city codes are also the ones who violate other major laws. Those who tend to follow all the city rules also tend to follow the big laws. There are exceptions, but it's a good benchmark when rolling into a neighborhood for a shoot.

Enough for now,

Thursday, December 04, 2003

Parade Bug


Mark M. Hancock / © The Dallas Morning News

Members of a Volkswagen club participate in the annual Grapevine Parade of Lights on Main Street in Grapevine on Thursday, December 4, 2003.

Saturday, November 29, 2003

Rocketman


Mark M. Hancock / © The Dallas Morning News

John Carmack works on a private-industry manned rocket at the of Armadillo Aerospace research and development facility in Dallas on Saturday, November 29, 2003. Carmack is the founder of id Software, the Mesquite company that makes the popular Doom and Quake video/computer games.

Friday, November 28, 2003

Cool toys of the job


Mark M. Hancock / © The Dallas Morning News
Large lenses like the one on this Nikon D1 digital camera need a tripod to prevent camera shake and photographer fatigue.
Ironically, I was using a D1H on a newer tripod to make this image. It really confused security at Fair Park in Dallas.

I have a cool job. One cool part of the job is the toys.

Toys?

Yes. I have some of the coolest toys on the planet. Other people call them tools. To me, they are my toys, and I get to play with them daily.

I have a cell phone, two high-end Nikon digital cameras and a Mac laptop with a WiFi card. In real terms, I can shoot, remove the microdrive or flashcard, pop it into the laptop, edit and color correct my images in Photoshop, write a caption and then wirelessly transmit images around the globe at lightning fast speeds.

It's cool.

I feel like James Bond sometimes. The down side is the rare immediate deadline (shoot anything and transmit it, then try to get something meaningful). Those moments could make me feel like a remote-control monkey, but they are extremely rare and normally involve dead people just before the Metro deadline.

My big fear is to one day have a live feed from the camera to the editor. If this ever happens, I fear the value of the individual photojournalist could be lost. We might become nothing but photo monkeys with an ear piece to do whatever the desk says at the second it dictates. Yuck.

I really shouldn't worry about it too much because when the desk would be most inclined to do any hands-on instructions, we are normally out of touch.

I was covering a tornado in Fort Worth a year or two ago. I got into the middle of the aftermath while people were still digging out of the mess (before the police and all else arrived). I was getting frantic pager notices to call the office.

I couldn't because the tornado had destroyed all the cell towers and land lines in the area. The pager worked, but it was a one-way communication and the desk didn't know if I was actually receiving the notices (or alive).

If I was just some remote-controlled camera operator, then I might have simply stood there and tried to make contact with the office rather than doing what I am trained to do.

I can write more about my concerns some other day. Today, I am just happy I have my job and my toys.

Enough for now,
 

Wednesday, November 26, 2003

Happy Thanksgiving Y'all


Mark M. Hancock / © The Dallas Morning News

A bale of hay becomes a roadside turkey off U.S. Highway 175 near Kemp on Wednesday, November 26, 2003.

Friday, November 21, 2003

How to prepare and submit a press release to media

Many people were never taught what editorial content is. They want to promote a legitimate news event or topic, but they don't know how - or worse - they wait until it's too late.

If you are confused: A ribbon cutting is NOT critical news. There is NO such thing as a fast-breaking spectator sport. I can NOT photograph something that happened yesterday. If you weren't a participant, would you read a story about what you're promoting?

If the previous made you nervous, relax gentle readers. I'll explain how to get proper information into the right hands at the right time.

I wrote a huge entry about various journalistic justifications as a prologue to an explanation of how to submit a press release and get the media moving on something of interest to average readers/viewers. Luckily, it was eaten by a technical glitch before I saved it.

So, I'll go back to my original plan and simply state what the media people need to report a story (good and bad) to help or share joy.

5 Ws & H
First, the reporters need to know the five Ws and H. These are:
1) Who (specific names and correct spellings)
2) What (brief but specific description in two sentences)
3) When (time, day, date)
4) Where (exact address and directions)
5) Why (what makes this story worth covering)
6) How (any addition information to hook the reader/viewers)

This information can be given to the reporters via e-mail or a press release (flyer). Although the information could also be called into the office, lead or follow the call with a fax or e-mail to make certain no misunderstandings or mistakes are made because of language variations (being pissed in England is far favorable to being pissed in America).

Keep the information simple, accurate and factual. A press release isn't an English essay. It's "just the facts." Keep the entire release below one page of text.

Contact information
Next, reporters need any and all telephone numbers, e-mail addresses, Web sites, and physical addresses involved in the story. Although most submitters don't want to do so, it's best to include this information for the opposite side of the story as well. By doing so, the reporter can get the full story without much additional research.

I must explain a part of journalism here. For there to be a story, there must be a conflict. The three major conflicts are (please consider "man" as gender neutral for "mankind"):
1) man vs. man
2) man vs. nature
3) man vs. him/herself.

Almost all stories from world wars to make-up tips fall into these three broad categories. By considering these conflict options, news tips are more compelling to reporters.

If the person submitting the story idea presents the conflict and contact information for both sides of the story, the reporter's story is easier to write. Since most reporters create at least one story per day (if not five), it's best to feed them the story. If the story info is easily obtained, the reporter is most likely to write the story to complete the daily quota and save reporting time for more complicated stories.

Check accuracy
Above all else, be absolutely certain each word is spelled properly, each number is correct and every fact is verifiable. If any of the above is incorrect, the source will always be viewed as questionable.

Journalism is a profession of accuracy and trust. The public trusts journalists to state the facts correctly. If this trust is violated, we lose credibility and the trust of the reader. This is completely unacceptable in this profession.

Get it to the right person
When submitting a story idea. Make sure it goes to the correct person. This requires a minimum of research before submitting the story idea. Look at the publication or listen to some newscasts. Who is the writer or editor?

Once you determine a name, call to verify the info is correct and get an exact mailing or e-mail address for the press release. Reporters and editors are more likely to respond to information sent specifically to them rather than "To whatever typing monkey is on the desk tonight."

Actually, they will respond to the latter, but it's not exactly in the most desired manner. :-)

Give plenty of time
Understand timing. Timing is everything in daily news. If enough lead time isn't given to a reporter, the story collapses because reporters can't drop everything for whatever lands on their desks. Most reporters are buried in information daily. Your information must be accurate and easily understood to rise to the top of the pile.
Give as much time as possible for the reporter to research the topic and acquire interviews with key subjects.

This extra time also allows the reporter to talk with the photo department and arrange the best possible images to accompany the story. I may as well note here that the bigger the story is, the more likely it is to have photographs or informational graphics. The "art" quickly draws the reader to the story and helps it land a prominent place on the page.

With this in mind, remember that PJs can only photograph events in the present tense. Tomorrow's shoot can be considered, coordinated, planned and executed (tomorrow). However, there is no way to photograph something that happened yesterday.

Include quality artwork
As mentioned above, big stories get more newsprint real estate. Part of the equation is a graphic element (photos, graphics, maps, etc.). This is also part of a reporter's job to either acquire or arrange for the graphic element.

If a press release arrives with quality graphic elements, the reporter's time was saved. The reporter may reward the sender with a big story.

Graphic elements need to be 1M or larger to reproduce well on newsprint. Obviously, the larger it is (without pixelating), the larger it could run. If the graphic is particularly compelling, it'll get a reporter's attention because reporters also think like readers and react to quality visuals.

Present visual options. Rather than submitting one photo or graphic, submit five and let the reporter choose. However, make sure the images are significantly different (they may run all five if it's a slow day). Otherwise, choose the best one and go with it.

Event organizers should consider hiring a pro photographer to help promote large events. If thousands or millions of dollars are being risked, a few hundred or thousand to get creative, meaningful images is money well spent. There are plenty of folks from around the world on the sidebar who can deliver the right images.

If the image is much larger than 1M and/or several images are submitted, put them on a CD and mail or deliver it to the newsroom. If high-res images are needed immediately, post them online in a secure location for download. They can be pulled down after the image is saved at the newspaper.

Include human interest
A human interest story is one that appeals to readers' hearts. These stories make people say, "Isn't that nice," "That's so sad" or "Wow." If the human interest element also includes conflict, the story may move from the Lifestyles section to Page 1.

If an event is on the light side, consider teasing the reporter with a human interest story. I say teasing because the press release is only meant to get the reporter's attention. It isn't a full-blown story (that's the reporter's job).

If the human interest is compelling, condense it down to as few words as possible and include it somewhere easily found by the reporter. This shouldn't be more than one or two short sentences.

It can even lead the press release to ensure coverage. For example, "Bob Smith will open the XYZ event. Smith lost a leg after he carried a baby polar bear across Alaska to reunite it with its family."

This line would get any reporter's attention. It elicits a long list of questions to hook the reporter. It states a real person challenged nature and himself - at great sacrifice - to save a rare, cuddly-yet-feared animal. It also states he's still alive for interviews. If you include his contact information in the press release and enough lead time, your event may make it onto the AP wire and in newspapers coast to coast.

Annual events
If the event is an annual event, understand it may not get great play the first year it's covered. A photographer will probably be assigned to get some images for this year, but the images are actually for next year's story. Likewise, this year's written story is background for next year's story. As the event grows in community popularity, the story evolves from year to year.

If at all possible, nail down the annual date. It's much easier to remember an event ALWAYS occurs on the 1st full weekend in April rather than on dates that change each year or some strange lunar/solar/tidal/committee cycles. This ensures the event is covered in subsequent years.

Enough for now,

Thursday, November 20, 2003

Goaltender challenge


Mark M. Hancock / © The Dallas Morning News

Flower Mound Marcus' Dustin Kovac (No. 91, left) shoots a puck at Flower Mound's goaltender Ryan Wilner (No. 35, right) during a SBC Metroplex High School Hockey League game at the Valley Ranch Dr Pepper StarCenter in Irving on Thursday, November 20, 2003.

Alone, but not ignored


Mark M. Hancock / © The Dallas Morning News

A grave with a headstone marked "Baby Smith" remains at Bear Creek Cemetery in Euless on Friday, November 20, 2003. According to reports, the grave does not seem to have a family, yet strangers care for it.

Tuesday, November 18, 2003

Toys for Iraqi children

If anyone is planning to give toys to a charity, here is one worth considering. Fayrouz and I donated toys for Iraqi children to a local project.

For those who don't live in the DFW area, Operation Give is a national toy drive and distribution handled by a National Guard soldier who's known as "Chief Wiggles." The toy project is 100 percent volunteer driven (no overhead costs). They have also worked out some deals with businesses to get toys at discounted prices for the Iraqi children. Donors can also collect toys locally and send them to the U.S. distribution center, which forwards the toys to Iraq at no charge.

Enough for now,

Denied

South Oak Cliff's Kaniel Moore (No. 25, left) blocks the shot of Lewisville's Ehis Osunde (No. 20, right) during a basketball game at Lewisville High School on Tuesday, November 18, 2003.

Mark M. Hancock / © The Dallas Morning News

Monday, November 17, 2003

"You just missed it"

"You just missed it."

A standard response -- while smiling as if we are kidding -- is, "Great, I'll leave then." Suddenly, we didn't miss "it" after all. Sarcasm isn't the best way to make friends and influence people, but it keeps someone from thinking you're their remote-controlled idiot.

The "You just missed it" phrase replaces greetings as photojournalists approach some small-time community events from coast to coast. The event or item barely "missed" is typically something we wouldn't have wanted to photograph anyway.

This doesn't mean the people there wouldn't want to have a picture for their scrapbook. It means the "missed" moment is normally not something we need for the newspaper.

Because almost everyone can use a camera, many people feel at liberty to let photographers know what the best shot is in their opinion. Often it's an item (a noun). Sometimes we want to ask if they'd waste their film on this item. We don't, but the thought is in our mind. We also wonder if these people have ever seen a newspaper.

Yes, a duck-shaped alligator dropping may be interesting, but in which section of the newspaper would it run? Furthermore, is this something that one of our readers is going to want to see at 5 a.m. on their breakfast table as they are preparing for their upscale power job? Additionally, didn't we come here to photograph a famous chili chef? The paper only gets one place for a photograph. Should we replace the chili chef with the rare alligator turd? The editor probably won't go for this change of plans.

I took several sociology classes in college. The one tidbit I learned to apply to my daily work is recognizing patterns of behavior. If someone does something once, they'll probably do it twice. PJs look for patterns of interesting behavior. The more frequently a behavior is repeated, the more likely it is to be photographed.

Great photographers like senior staff photographer Erich Schlegel pre-think situations. He plans for and even seeks bizarre situations to make the image he already has in his mind. This doesn't mean he lies to the readers and sets up the image, it means he's brilliant enough to know what will happen before it happens and have a camera there before it ever happens.

He had a great image of a bass jumping completely out of the water near some reeds and catching a dragonfly in its mouth. Nobody can set up a shot like this one.

I asked him how he did it. He said he was actually covering a golf tournament and noticed the splashes near the reeds. So, he focused on a dragonfly and waited. Soon enough a multi-pound bass jumped out of the water and ate the dragonfly he had chosen. He said anyone could do it. Sure.

During the last Winter Olympics, his photographs were highly requested by wire services, magazines and even television broadcasters. He always had "the shot." One of the most famous images was of Apolo Anton Ono falling during the speed skating championship. Erich had the perfect angle. He also had the reverse angle. He used remote cameras to make sure any possibility was covered (I'm assuming - or he really is a magician of some sort).

The point? If a tree falls in the woods and you're not there to photograph it, you can still get an image of a raccoon using it to cross the river. OK, too far out there.

Don't worry about what other people think you should have shot. You can't shoot what's already happened. You can only shoot what is happening in front of your lens. If you plan for it, you'll get it. If you do plan for it and miss it, it might happen again. If it doesn't, make sure you have something better to show the editor. If you don't, hope you get in a really bad wreck on the way back to the office (just kidding on the last part).

Enough for now,
 

Sunday, November 16, 2003

Press pass misconceptions



Mark M. Hancock / © The Dallas Morning News

Euless Trinity's defense tries to hold the line against Arlington Lamar's Derrick Bowman during a high school football championship game at Birdville Fine Arts/Athletic Complex in North Richland Hills on Saturday, November 15, 2003. Lamar won the bi-district championship and advances in the playoffs.

Let's clear up some misconceptions about press passes. For some strange reason, everyone seems to think we have some magic pass that gets us into places others cannot go.

There is no single such pass. It would be a violation of the First Amendment to have such a pass because it would be state licensing (federal) of the press/media. The problem with any suggested programs is that someone gets to decide who is "press."

The answer is: Everyone and Anyone.

All it takes to be "press" is to say you are press. Having said this, there are shades of press and a pecking order, but that changes at the speed of thought anymore.

The Drudge Report comes to mind. Nobody would have given an internet E-zine the time of day five years ago, but now some major publications have gone to online-only publications to save money and trees. Even some regions of the National Press Photographers Association have gone to the online adaptation.

Meanwhile, we get issued passes for various functions. I have one for the Dallas Mavericks, the Dallas Stars, the Texas Rangers, the Dallas Burn, the Dallas Desperados, the Dallas Sidekicks, and one issued by the Dallas sheriff's department if none of the above will work.

When I first started in the field, I thought it was cool to have all these little plastic-coated badges. It didn't take long before I had a huge wad of them hanging off my camera bag in college.

By the time I turned pro, the wad of passes was several inches thick. It was a way to keep babies and bored people entertained. Babies love them because they are shiny. Bored people are ... well ... bored and any break is good.

I was OK with the whole issuing passes until a Parent Teacher Association (PTA) at an elementary school had a pass made for me and expected me to pin it on my vest. It was the final straw. It felt like they were saying, "Here's your dog tags. Now bark dammit bark!"

Garbage.

So, I keep this year's important tags on a cord where I can tuck them into a pocket. The rest are in my photo closet with my ancient film cameras.

At concerts, we get stickers from the bands. Each band has their own material sticker. They try to out glitz one another. As if most news photographers don't stand out from a crowd, they want to stick an orange label on us like a giant banana. Then they will know the person with the 300mm f/2.8 lens on a monopod works for the press and isn't some fan with a $10,000 camera system. OK. Whatever.

At work, all the doors in the photo area are covered with these stickers. From what I can tell, Metallica has the most obnoxious (it is almost a foot wide). Some performance halls have the same sticker for most performances, so once one from the venue is on a door, there isn't a duplication.

Notably missing is Ricky Martin. He killed himself with the American media when he demanded total control of his image. I don't know the whole story, but it was explained to me that he wanted (his team) to preview images before they could be run and various other demands that are completely impossible.

Therefore, he was no longer news and vanished. Hmmm...

Next.

Now I can tell who is in what phase of their career. If they are overly eager and smother the photographer with too many questions, they are beginning. If they are cool and let the photographers do their job without hassling us, they are going up. If they play to the cameras during the first three songs of the concert (because they know we will leave after the first three songs), they are near peak. If they want some kind of concession from photographers and the newspapers who employ them (which they aren't going to get), they are on their way down. If they demand something that nobody in their right mind would agree to do, they are done after this tour.

So far, my favorite band to work with was America. They were a lot of fun and regular people. One of the guitarists is an amateur photographer. He tried out my cameras during their concert. He thought it was cool. :-)

So, I wrote all this to say what?

You don't need a magic press pass to be press. Being press makes you press. The passes are just pieces of paper (or plastic) to control who can't go into some areas.

Personally, I try to get as few passes as possible now. The fewer I have, the more places I can go. Strange, but true.

Enough for now,
 

Thursday, November 13, 2003

Repercussions of a PJ's actions


Mark M. Hancock / © The Dallas Morning News

Trophy Club firefighter Shawn Scott (left) decontaminates the feet of Keller firefighter Brad Daugirda (right) during a procedural practice at Fire Station No. 4 in North Richland Hills on Tuesday, November 11, 2003.

The firefighters are part of the Northeast Fire Department Association (NEFDA) comprised of 14 northeast Tarrant County cities. The NEFDA member fire departments cooperate on bomb calls, hazardous materials (HazMat), fires and training as well as other cross-community needs.


I shot firefighters yesterday. There were firefighters from many different cities training for hazardous materials (HazMat) decontamination certification. I needed to show the firefighters from the different cities were cooperating together.

In our terms, we call it an "overall shot." Typically we make sure to get an overall shot, the normal shot and a detail shot (small, interesting close-up). Once we have these three items, we can start working the actual scene.

Today's blog is about the repercussions of a PJ's actions. This overall shot clearly shows all the participants as they get instructions. Many had their back to the camera while they listened to the instructor, but the shirts had the names of the fire departments to show the diversity. It also makes it easy for their fellow firefighters to identify the participants.

Here is where repercussions, responsibility and a smidgen of ethics comes into play. I forgot until a while later that firefighters have an almost universal agreement in this area to buy ice cream for all the other firefighters at the same fire station if they appear in the newspaper. Incidentally, they must buy steaks for the fire station if they appear on TV.

So, here's a hypothetical ethical dilemma: do you run the photo with 20 firefighters from 15 fire stations to show the overall cooperation? By doing so, you're directly causing 20 firefighters to pay for ice cream for their brethren. If not, you're denying 600,000 readers the total view of the story.

Luckily, I don't make the final decision of what goes onto the page. The editor and I agreed on an overall which included all but two of the firefighters present, a standard image of two firefighters in chemical environment suits and a detail shot of one of the jointly-owned vehicles. The Metro Editor or sometimes the page designer makes the final decision and s/he is probably unaware of the ice cream penalty.

Matt Rourke didn't get the same (fun) situation today. He covered a police standoff, which ended with a gunman and two others dead. Matt was there most of the day and got the shots of S.W.A.T. officers whisking away children of the gunman who had held them as hostages.

The police did their job and rescued the kids. Matt did his job and got the images. The photo editors did their job and chose the most compelling images. Then, it's out of our hands as to what runs in the paper and what doesn't.

They made a good decision and ran the most compelling images of the children being carried away by two officers in battle gear. It's currently on the Web site as the lead image, but it isn't currently repeated in the story link.

Consequently, tomorrow the compelling image will be replaced by some other image and the story will only contain a map and a mug shot of the gunman. I'd imagine the newspaper will have Matt's image as the lead on Page 1. However I don't know if the compelling image will be available for the online world after tonight.

Is it right? Is it wrong? I don't make the decision.

Enough for now,

Tuesday, November 11, 2003

Press journalists are not talking heads

There have been a lot of good comments on the Iraqi blogs. There are some new ones. I would suggest visiting all to get an across-the-board look at the inside of Iraq. You can find links from Fayrouz's blog.

Although I prefer not to mention this, I have read enough "media" bashing lately on other blogs that I should let readers learn something some don't know. Newspapers are not the same as television. Furthermore, journalists (I am talking newspaper, not talking heads) do not come from some cookie cutter school of thought. Journalists run the whole range from ultra right to ultra left. They tend to gravitate toward publications which reflect their views, but some end up in the largest newspaper near their ideal location or newspapers willing to pay them the most without compromising their integrity.

In photographic terms, journalists are many shades of gray. Journalists are not lithographic (black and white).

Now, let me address television "journalists." There are some who have been educated as news journalists. These reporters are instilled with ethics, accuracy and report responsibly. However, many television personalities come from an RTV (Radio/TeleVision) college background.

At my university, RTV majors stayed primarily in the theatre building and were taught by theatre instructors rather than journalism instructors. Since theater is the exact opposite of truth, you can see the immediate problem many (newspaper) journalists will have with many television reporters (talking heads). As if to physically prove the point at my university, the theatre building and the journalism building are on opposite sides of the campus.

With this in mind, I will tell a REAL inside secret of our profession. If we (DMN photojournalists) make a mistake (misspelled name or incorrect fact which requires a retraction or correction), we get in HUGE trouble. How much? We must write a report about the problem, what caused it, how to correct it, and how to prevent a similar problem from ever happening again. Furthermore, this report -- and all the managerial crap that goes with it -- is put into our employment file and will be considered for the next possible pay raise. Furthermore, if we make three such errors IN OUR ENTIRE CAREER, we are fired.

Think about the last sentence.

Now, ask yourself if you would be willing to put your information to the same scrutiny. This is why the photo department has so many safeguards installed (reading names back to the editor to verify problems).

If the problem is something completely out of our control, we are not held personally responsible, however it is still a source of personal anguish. An example of an acceptable "cutline bust" would be a misspelled name on a football roster. There is no way we can personally verify the spelling of all names on all football teams while they are playing, and we are on deadline.

However, if it is spelled correctly on the roster we use (remember the roster is filed with the CD), we are responsible for the error. See above for total rump chewing and blood-letting.

Ask the television "journalists" at FOX News or Al-Jazeera to be held to the same standard. Please.

So far, I have not been faced with this particular torture at The Dallas Morning News (see me knocking on everything wooden in the room because I know it is just a matter of time). I had one near-miss, but I corrected the problem in my cutline and informed the desk who informed the layout desk, who ignored the correction and ran a misspelled name anyway. (Insert choice word here).
As you can tell, I still feel horrible about it even though I did everything I could to prevent it.

Consequently, some darn good shots never get to grace a newspaper page or the web because there is no way to confirm the identity of a particular person. Occasionally, we might fluff something off as "an unidentified protester," but it is so incredibly rare it is not worth mentioning. In sports it is almost impossible.
So, if you are on a football team -- demand numbers on your shoulder pads or at least on your sleeves. If you are on a hockey team, push to be the only team in the world with numbers on the front of your jersey or (at least) on the front of your helmet or somewhere on your stick. (Do you get a hint of screaming over a light table in my past).

This is one particularly great aspect of digital photography over film. I can take as many "follow shots" or "data shots" as I need. With film, I would shoot the play (one to eight shots). Then, I would try to get record the numbers of the two main players or hope they were identifiable by shoelaces or some other difference. Sometimes this lead to a great shot being killed for lack of confirmation (again this is a shoulder number problem).

Now, I keep shooting everyone pulled from the pile. If new volleyball or basketball players come onto the court, I will often shoot the change so I know what numbers are eliminated from the possibilities.

Since I am on the subject, I will make one more observation of use for people who are thinking about going into this crazy job (or simply trying to figure out what we are doing). The reason we often choose the strangest person in a room as the subject of our attention is because they are easily identified.

We record what people wear or some way they do something as to whom is whom. If we walk into a room of business people wearing blue blazers except one who is wearing a bright orange blazer, guess who will be shot. Yup. By being different from the crowd, people actually make themselves the best subject for our images (and our cutlines later).

This makes schools with uniforms problematic. The more uniform a place is, the harder our job becomes. We then rely on shoot order (frame by frame) and other factors, which I do not prefer, to tell the difference between people.

Enough for now,
 

Sunday, November 09, 2003

How the PJ editing process works

Football, pinball and more football for the last two days. You can see one of my shots and shots from all the DMN football shooters in this slide show. We don't get to pick which images go onto the web. I am happy with the image I have this week, but sometimes the selections are questionable if you see the entire take of a game.

I suppose the biggest part of the weeding process of this job is the edit. If you are married to your images when you walk in the door, you will be divorced from them by the time you leave.
I was asked at one of the football games why the DMN didn't post all our images onto the web. I explained that the photographers must prepress each image and in the best of times, it takes about 15 minutes. The man said he thought the camera did all such work. I explained the camera has no idea what it is doing other than looking for the color grey. So, I will elaborate on the painful process we call prepress. This sometimes takes as little as 5 minutes, if someone is breathing down our neck. It can also take quite some time if we need additional cutline information.

Here is how the editing process works. I am only going to write about the office-based system tonight. We all have laptops and can send via Wi-Fi or landline. Some DMN staffers also use satellite and specialized cell phones.
Additionally, please understand our office computers are all beefed-up Macintosh G4 or G5s connected to a server which uses multi-terabyte platters on a jukebox. All of these are on private T-1 lines or satellite uplinks (even in the Arlington, Collin County, and Northeast Tarrant County offices). So, everything is unbelievably fast compared to two years ago.
Let's say a photographer shoots 300 frames at an assignment (not unusual since we are all digital now). S/he (I'll call this "we" for grammatical ease) will take the microdrive to the scanning room with their cutline information. We will input all the information to infuse into each image (who, what, when, where, why, how) and all the codes (news section, story slug, negative envelope, and assignment number). Once this information is inputted, the microdrive is ingested into the Mediagrid system (the grid). Then we cut a CD for the archive.
We can then view the images on the grid in ditcam edits. We then select our favorites and put crop marks on the raw images. Of these, we select the best and put an additional notation tag on them.
At this point, we have narrowed the 300 images down to 10 and further down to about four (unless it was something non-visual and we have it down to one). We then go to the photo editing desk area (8 editors' desks, 4 color correctors, 4 stand-up work stations, banks of televisions on all the channels, pagers from all the fire departments, etc... -- not a friendly place with a lot of screaming people), which is next to the Metro department (take all of the above times several fold with more screaming people). You get the idea: get your edit, get out of the way -- NOW.
We pull up our selects in a viewing program on one of the work stations (all are G5s with Mac studio screens because there is no time for a G4 at "the desk"). The next editor with a little time will ask us what the story is. We condense the story to a 15 second explanation. They look at our selects and choose some. Then they look at our total take if they were not fascinated with our selects (remember many of the editors either have Pulitzers or have been finalists -- it's hard to impress them). They may add a different image to the selects or they may concur we picked the best and then they will give them another look.
Then they copy the ones they want into the selects folder and our edit is done.
If we are on tight deadline (less than 5 minutes), we just fix them there. If not, we go back to the scanning room and prep the images so someone else can get an edit.
To prepare an image for publication, we pull up the image on one of the scanning room computers. We will perform various color corrections and other adjustments to the raw images. Here is where I must note that we are not allowed to move pixels. We can only perform the same functions that we can do to any image in a darkroom. I.e. color correction, dodging (making some parts lighter), burning (making some areas darker), brightness, contrast and crops.
Once the image itself is ready, we write a complete cutline. Our initial cutline is deliberately vague to be applicable to all images on the microdrive. A normal ingestion cutline will begin "people attend" to remind us to replace the noun and verb.
Then, we double, triple, quadruple check our cutline information for accuracy. If it appears correct, we print all the images we have prepared. We take the prints back to the editing desk for a spell check. When an editor is available, we give them the prints and the editor reads the spellings of names while we verbally spell out each proper noun (names and locations) from the cutline. If the cutline is factually and grammatically correct, the editor will sign the print and return it to us. We then file the print in the proper section folders at the photo desk (editing area).
We then can place our CD and all supporting cutline information into the archive file drawers near the darkrooms. Then we can pull down the next day's assignments and make any preparations for the following day's shoots.
Note: we are strongly encouraged not to leave for the day unless we have "turned out" (done all of the above) the entire day's work. We could be dead or in the hospital in 30 minutes -- we don't know.

A normal shooting day will be about three assignments -- often in as many Texas counties. Each assignment creates about 100 to 400 images. Of these, we will prepress about two to 10 images from each assignment. As most can see, it is hard enough to accomplish all this during the eight hour shift. It would be impossible and impractical to post 150 to 200 images per person per day onto the website.
I hope this gives everyone a little insight into our workflow.

Enough for now,
 

Friday, November 07, 2003

PJ is an unpredictable profession

This is a strange job. Yesterday posed an odd set of assignments. The weather changed dramatically from summer to fall in one wet, miserable day. I had assignments to shoot a cross country runner (outside in rain), then a football practice (outside in rain -- thankfully no mud), and finish with the Fort Worth Opera (inside with ... opera folk). What was the opera about? Child abuse.


Miss Jessel, played by Jennifer Kethley, (top) tries to trap Flora, played by Sarah Tannehill, (bottom) during a dress rehearsal of the Fort Worth Opera's performance of "The Turn of the Screw" at Bass Performance Hall in Fort Worth on Wednesday, November 5, 2003.

Mark M. Hancock / © The Dallas Morning News



My most bizarre set to date was going from a 2nd grade invention day to a double homicide (execution style) then to a restaurant review (a steak looks completely different under these circumstances).

On the morning of Sept. 11, it was ominous to make a portrait of the children's hospital head of prosthesis. At the time, I only knew something horrible had happened and I was arranging child-sized arms and legs on a workbench behind a smiling doctor to go with a fluffy story about the future of his business.

At the same moment, we didn't know the future of any business or what the hell was happening anywhere. It was simply too surreal.

Also on Sept. 11, Mona Reeder was on vacation in Florida. She became stranded when the air traffic was stopped and all the things she went to enjoy were closed. Instead, she was reactivated and told to rent a car to photograph a (now infamous) aviation school for deadline while Damon Winter and Barbara Davidson raced up to New York in separate cars. Evans Caglage was already there covering Fashion Week down the street from the World Trade Center.

Such is the life of a photojournalist. If you think you know how your day will go, think again.

Enough for now,

Thursday, November 06, 2003

No time today

I have much to say, but no time today. However, Fayrouz updated her site. Give it a look.

I'll remind myself to expand on the secret Senate vote, the weather finally changed and how strange it is to shoot (in this order) cross country, football the Fort Worth Opera.

Enough for now,

Sunday, November 02, 2003

The difference between news and posed photos

It's amazing when people expect me to capture (in focus, properly exposed) images of athletes doing spectacular things in mid-air at night or police and firefighters doing something dramatic, but these same people will suddenly pose (hideously) if they notice the camera is pointed at them.

If I don't feel a need to pose a flaming person mid-air with a ball on his/her head and a shark attached to his/her rear, I surely don't need to pose a person doing something mundane (shaking hands comes to mind). It is a lie. I am not a liar.

Luckily, by the time most people notice me, I've already shot several frames. I joke with people about my Army training only applying to PJ because I was trained to sneak up on people and shoot them (with a camera).

I honestly don't know if it's because most of the television camerapeople entice this behavior or some subjects just aren't attention deficit disordered enough to live in America. Meanwhile, I appreciate the unspoken game at play. It is: If you ignore me, I can do my job.

I was working two assignments at the same time. One was a standard Friday night football game. The other was a story about some American-style football players from England who came to visit and observe the natives. The Brits would not give me a break and simply be natural.

Each time I focused on them, they would notice and act unusually. They eventually got accustomed to me (or tired of screaming), but I was really angry because my deadline was getting tighter each time they would screw up my shots (by acting differently than normal).

I think this is why I prefer using long focal length lenses. I can be crouched in a shadow and get a natural moment with a 300mm lens before anyone knows I was even there.

I can't say how many times I've approached people to get their names only to hear them ask me what I wanted them to do -- or worse -- they strike some vile pose.
My answer is always a smile and, "I already got the images I wanted. I just need your name please."

I occasionally can sneak up on people with my 17mm wide angle lens, but it takes a lot of skill or the person must really be preoccupied with whatever they are doing. Typically, this only happens in a very crowded place with lots of activity to conceal my movement.

Consequently, I question the honesty and integrity of some photographers with "special moments" shot with wide angle lenses with a little more depth of field than one might expect.

There are truly great photographers who are so well trained and talented they can pull this feat off several times daily, but some are lazy cheaters who set up their shots. My hope is the next generation of PJs will learn the difference between the two and never be tempted to lie to the public.

Enough for now,
 

The compassionate side of America still exists


Mark M. Hancock / © The Dallas Morning News

Emmy Schulz (right) and her daughter Becky Schulz (center, left) pack boxes for soldiers stationed in Iraq with the help of Pam Webster (left) and Kroger employee Beth Bradshaw (center, right) at their home in Colleyville on Friday, October 31, 2003. Emmy Schulz's son, Spec. Christian Schulz, was killed in Iraq on July 11, 2003. She sends care packages to other soldiers in his unit as a form of therapy.

I photographed Emmy Schulz this week. Her son, a cavalry soldier, died in Iraq on July 11, 2003. To ease the pain of losing her son, she has embarked on supporting her son's cavalry unit as a surrogate mom. She collects hygiene supplies, snack foods, writing materials, letters from students to anonymous soldiers and other comforts from home. The most interesting items (at least to me) she gathers for her care packages are small toys.

She said the soldiers put the toys in their cargo pockets, the pockets on the side of their pants leg, and love to give them to children in Iraq. Additionally, the soldiers supply the area hospitals with stuffed animals to give to injured, wounded or just terrified children.

We have similar teddy bear programs at the hospitals here, but I'm happy to see the compassionate side of America still exists in its relations outside of our borders.

Enough for now,

Saturday, November 01, 2003

The trial of God


Mark M. Hancock / © The Dallas Morning News
Senior pastor Frank Harber, a former atheist, leads the defense during a mock trial at the First Baptist Church of Colleyville on Saturday, November 1, 2003. During each service for 12 weeks, the congregation has heard testimony and questioning in a mock trial on the existence of God.

Friday, October 31, 2003

PJ risks are too strange to explain


A vulture flies overhead as officers of the Tarrant County Medical Examiners Office, Fort Worth Police Department and Federal Bureau of Investigation recover human body parts from the Westside Landfill in Tarrant County near the intersection of I-30 and Linkcrest on Thursday, April 10, 2003.

Mark M. Hancock / © The Dallas Morning News

I shot more cute kids in costumes tonight. I didn't post any on the DMN site because kids and pets are considered "too easy." Point, shoot, "Awww."

It's OK to have one or two images in a portfolio, but if a news photographer's portfolio is nothing but cute kids and animals, there is a big problem.

We're required to make insurance changes once annually. My wife and I decided to add some life insurance for her.

Luckily, I'm already covered on everything because it appears I'm a risk. The eligibility questionnaire asks if the potentially insured is considering any of a series of dangerous activities in the next five years. Fay isn't, but if it were me, I would have needed an "all of the above" box. Heck, just from this year, I could've added some activities to make any life insurance agent sweat.

Most situations require too much explanation for a checklist. This is a cellular phone call to my wife:

"Hey honey, I'm going to be late tonight because I'm ankle deep in muck at the landfill while the cops try to find some more pieces of the body. OK. Love you too."

I read that back to her. She said, "Yeah, when they found the body." She is such a sport. I told her people will buy her book once I'm dead. ;-)

Enough for now,
 

Thursday, October 30, 2003

Shooting for file

It's much less physically demanding to sit and blog than to exercise off some of my rapidly expanding fat rump. Guess what I'll do this morning. :-)

Lots of stuff today. I'll break it up into bite-sized morsels.


Mark M. Hancock / © The Dallas Morning News

Dallas Stars' center Mike Modano waits for the puck to drop during a NHL hockey game against Calgary at the American Airlines Center in Dallas on Wednesday, October 29, 2003.

Let's talk hockey. The Stars won. I didn't have an evening shoot, so I shot the game for file. To shoot "for file" means to shoot images which might get used in the future, but aren't for deadline.

The game was assigned to Michael Ainsworth because he rocks. He got to suffer all the paranoia involved with shooting pro sports on deadline (I laugh knowingly). Meanwhile I got to take all the chances because if my images suck -- no problem.

The flip side is that if his camera dies, I'd suddenly be the one on deadline (and he would laugh knowingly).

I shot the first two periods and went back to the office. I put in five images for file. I put the one below onto my most recent page on the DMN site.


Mark M. Hancock / © The Dallas Morning News
Dallas Stars' Aaron Downey (No. 47, right) and Calgary's Krzysztof Oliwa (No. 33, left) fight during a NHL hockey game at the American Airlines Center in Dallas on Wednesday, October 29, 2003.

I rarely know the final score of the games I cover until long after the game is over. When I left the game it looked like Dallas was sure to lose, but they beat Calgary in overtime while I was working in the scanning room. Whodathunk.

Before I close out this entry, I must say I love to shoot at the American Airlines Center. They have great light. It has at least two full stops more light than Reunion Arena (which is still better than most other local gyms and arenas).

Enough for now,
 

Wednesday, October 29, 2003

Restaurant review photographs

Thunderhorse Saloon offers a Double Cylinder Cheeseburger and libations at the saloon in Lewisville on Friday, Oct. 15, 2003. The motorcycle is a 2002 custom Harley Davidson long bike chopper owned by Christina Antee, the saloon's CEO and manager, at the motorcycle-friendly establishment.

Mark M. Hancock / © The Dallas Morning News




Fayrouz had me pull down some of my favorite food photos from this year. She plans to update our site with a food slideshow.

If you check out the new images, you'll notice the hamburger and Harley shot. It was one of the more enjoyable shoots in the last few weeks.



The DMN PJs are given editorial assignments to illustrate restaurant reviews. These assignments must squeeze into our schedule as time allows. Often, we can't give restaurants a lot of warning because we simply don't know what's happening next. So, we'll call and say we're on our way and hope they'll accommodate our need for something to illustrate the story.

It's somewhat of a waste because we shoot images of whatever dish they prepare and hand it back to the owner. Some PJs pay for the food and eat if after they shoot it.

It's not a financial option for me, so I just shoot, return and leave.

I sometimes eat a (cheap) burger elsewhere before I go to the shoot so I won't become a shaking, starving mess while I shoot whatever I face.

Back to the story of the burger though... I called to make arrangements to shoot at the saloon. She said the saloon was open, but the reporter had talked to the manager about having the manager's custom Harley in the shot because she often parked it inside the saloon. She didn't ride the bike to work that day and said she'd do so on another day if we could arrange it.

So, I agreed and it took two days for both of us to have a meeting time available. She and her chef had to arrive two hours before the saloon opens. I had to do another shoot at 10 p.m. the next week to balance it all, but it worked. I'm happy with the bike shots.

So, yes, it's a real Harley on a dance floor in a saloon.

I only have one shoot scheduled for tomorrow. So, I can research a story I'm suggesting. I also need to listen to the police scanner for another story they're working about Northeast Tarrant County firefighter cooperation agreements. So, no telling what will really happen tomorrow after 3:30 p.m.

Enough for now,

Tuesday, October 28, 2003

Most recent photographs updated

I updated photos on my "most recent" page on the DMN site. I've written about several of the images on this blog and thought some might like to see them.

Because we don't have automated Web site updates or a dedicated photo staff Web updater, we're responsible for our own updates. Therefore, none of us update our "most recent" files unless we're working on a photo story for the Web. Then, the "most recent" are actually the images for the story. That's how IT set up the site.

It's strange because I know they use our images on the rest of the site, but the images don't appear in our (photo archive) section. I don't know where those images are stored. It doesn't matter though.

I'd like to update the "most recent" at least once weekly, but I've no idea if I can find the time. This time I did it from home, but it takes a lot longer because of all the firewalls.

On the upside, each time I make an update, they're added into the online archive, so they could (conceivably) be searchable forever.

Enough for now,

Sunday, October 26, 2003

Women's professional football championship game


Mark M. Hancock / © The Dallas Morning News

Dallas Diamonds' Alberta Fitcheard-Brydson (No. 24, right) breaks up a pass intended for Florida Stingrays' Terrell Roach (No. 25, behind right) while Benita Francis (No. 55, left) moves in to help during the Women's Professional Football League NFC championship football game at Birdville ISD Fine Arts/Athletics Complex in North Richland Hills on Saturday, October 25, 2003.

Today was interesting. I covered the Dallas Diamonds professional women's football team as they played Florida for the NFC championship. Florida won.
I got a good shot. I wanted to try to get some on the wire, but the Marlins won the World Series and then there was the rocket attack in Baghdad.

I asked Fayrouz how to spell the city name, and she had to think about it. It's not like she lived in Iraq 28 years (6 of them in Baghdad). :-)

Anyway, getting WPFL images onto the wire was out considering the chaos at the desk. Better luck next time.

The images from the author I covered before the first blog today vanished. The microdrive I used for the assignment fried along with the images. There was no way to recover the images. It was not a critical shoot, so life will continue.
Luckily the shots from Southlake's HarvestFest and Carnival were on a different flashcard and they didn't have a problem. Some of the kids there were darling. They came in their Halloween costumes and made my day.


Mark M. Hancock /© The Dallas Morning News

Lauryn Moore, 1, (right) of Fort Worth watches as her cousin Ashley Thomas, 7, (left) flips in a bounce house during the Southlake HarvestFest and Carnival at Bicentennial Park in Southlake on Saturday, October 25, 2003. Moore was dressed as a princess and Thomas was dressed as a zombie.

Fayrouz and I aren't planning to have children because we would rather travel the world. I threaten that if I ever do have children, they will only wear costumes until they are school-age. Kids are just so darn cute in costumes. Why would anyone dress kids in anything other than costumes? Plus they are so happy. I have an image of one 5 year old dressed as a green furry dragon. He was jumping around and flapping his shining green wings. I'll bet he would have breathed fire if he could. It is rare to see adults as happy (I haven't shot Mardi Gras in New Orleans though).

Enough for now,

Saturday, October 25, 2003

Eschew negativity

I was covering a book signing at a bookstore today. The author said another author told him (paraphrasing), "If you write a book, don't write it about how you were mistreated by others. Ninety percent of the people don't care and the other 10 percent feel you deserve it."

Great advice.

As such, I thought about this blog. I approached it as a medium to let others interested in photojournalism get to know the down side of the field. So, I've vented a little and sniveled a lot as a way to let people know PJ isn't all champagne and caviar.

I know this is true of any job. I personally would hate to be a pop star. It's a 24/7 job with no down time.

So, I'll try (note the word) to move forward talking about the good things. Not particularly how others might see it, but more how PJs might see it.

For example, I'll be shooting the women's professional football league NFC championship game tonight. Some might be excited to be on the sidelines. I want to get a good shot. I'm hoping to get such a good shot that it goes on the wire.

If it goes on the wire, it might get picked up by a magazine, and I might get another venue for my images and a little extra jingle in my pocket next month. If it's good enough to get picked up, then it should also be good enough to compete and hopefully win a PJ contest or two. This would give me legitimacy at the water cooler.

So what did I really say? Just like everyone in the world, I want to know that what I do every day is good or at least useful.

This strikes at the heart of our fears - large alligators… Actually, that's loathing, but they're another story. I'm concerned about my ability to have a cool job. I know others could do my job better. I work with many of them and compete against more of them.

Some who could do my job better than I have rejected the low pay and chose to do something else with their life. I can't knock them for taking the route most paved with gold, but they can't claim victory for being better skilled at my job. They aren't doing it each day.

Some say, "Those who can: do. Those who can't: teach." Obviously, several teaching jobs would pay better than this field because many retire from the daily grind to teaching jobs. Luckily, I'm at a flagship newspaper, so I get fair pay (compared to the industry – which is horrible).

This explains why the DMN has so many shooters with 10+ years of experience. Once a PJ has suffered through this many years and won a number of awards, they're hooked for life. I've seen a PJ follow his wife to a new market in a different state. I've also seen one quit to make more money as a wedding/commercial photographer. The rest are all here trying to make the best possible images they can each day.

Me, I don't plan to quit. If Fayrouz gets a SUPER high paying job in another city, I'll need to rethink my plans, but I'm actually happy with my job and where I am.

Enough for now,

Friday, October 24, 2003

How I started PJ

While its on my mind, I'll explain how I got into this field. I took a test.

I returned to college after four years in the elite US Army OPFOR (Opposing Forces) regiment and a few years as a business collections coordinator for General Electric Capital.

One of my first classes was a "Master student" course. It basically teaches students how to maximize their education. I strongly suggest it and psychology for everyone.

Part of the coursework involved coming up with an educational goal. They gave us a test to see our likes, dislikes and abilities. Once we took the test, we got a set of letters to compare with a list of 17,000 possible degree-required jobs.

My letters were ACS (or some combination thereof). The letters stood for Artistic, Clerical and Social. Once I had the skill set, I wrote down the jobs available for those skills. Then, I rearranged the letters and checked for secondary jobs which have the same skill set.

For these three letters, there was only one option. I double, triple, quadruple checked, but there was only ONE job. Photojournalism.

Hmmm... a fairly compelling sign.

So, I started on this path and have not turned back. It helped me understand everything in college. Because in this field, everything is literally important.

I never know to whom I shall talk (isn't this just a lovely awkward sentence). Therefore, everything we learn will eventually be useful.

Last week, for example, I photographed a retired geologist. I was able to hold a discussion with him because I had taken historical geology in college as an elective.

Enough for now,
 

PJ time relativity

Before I get too deep into blog-world, I suppose some clarification rules are in order. I will post them as they come to mind, but the first is the relativity of time to most news photographers (especially the vampire crew).

Today is today until tomorrow starts. Tomorrow may start with or without sleep depending on deadline. Yesterday is generally unimportant because we can't photograph yesterday. However, tomorrow is critical because we don't know what will happen.

If you're nodding your head in silent understanding, I'm sorry.

Therefore, if I comment about yesterday (in the blog, not in hard print) it could actually be several days ago depending on the last time I slept, or if I took a nap. It can also get a generic meaning. "Yesterday" begins to mean "sometime in recent memory since my last day off."

If you're confused, don't worry. In short, because all cutlines are in present tense, so are PJs. There's now and tomorrow, but the past has passed.

With this understanding, I'll continue my pile of information.

Yesterday (see rule one -- could have been anytime this week in real-people talk), a darling young lady approached me while I was shooting football practice to ask me about photojournalism.

I feel badly about not being as civil as I should have been at first. I was inside my head at the time and didn't expect a pleasant person on a testosterone-laden football field. I think I recovered fairly well and gave her some information to get her started along her path.

If you haven't read "What is a Photojournalist," you might want to read it now so you can understand what I'm about to say. It's old, but it still applies to anyone starting in the biz. Go ahead, I'll wait.

I'll go make another cup of coffee while you read. Be right back...

Ok, I'm back, yummy.

Since you read it, you understand the first thing I suggest to any aspiring photojournalist is another field. This isn't a job you choose to do. It chooses you. It must be a mission of sorts, or it's not worth the time, trouble and stress. There are far better ways to make the same amount of money - pizzerias are one such option. Almost everyone likes pizza. :-)

Enough for now,

Congressional race to the raise

Congress members gave themselves yet another raise. They will now earn $158,000 per year.

"How can Congress give itself a $3,400 pay raise while nearly 9 million people are unemployed, and 2 million have been out of work for more than half a year?" asked Sen. Russ Feingold, D-Wis.
With the latest increase, Congress members have received five consecutive pay increases totaling more than $21,000. This amount is more than most starting photojournalists earn annually.

Enough for now,

Thursday, October 23, 2003

Visit Healing Iraq

If you have not visited the Healing Iraq, I would highly recommend it. The blog is done by a young, well-educated dentist with a moderate view. He takes a realistic and sometimes humorous view of Iraq and the events happening there.

Fayrouz likes it most because he is the most "real" Iraqi blogger to her. The others each have one issue or another which make them less desirable as a blog news source for her. She reads them all to get a balanced look at the situation, but Healing Iraq seems to be the best at the moment.

Enough for now,

Monday, October 20, 2003

Dueling sitars


Mark M. Hancock / © The Dallas Morning News

Ravi Shankar (left) and his daughter Anoushka Shankar (right) play sitars at SMU's McFarlin Auditorium in University Park on Saturday, October 18, 2003. Ravi Shankar is the biological father of Norah Jones.

No sick days for PJs

I had a spot of the flu and haven't had much energy this week. A strange aspect of this job is the requirement to arrange sicknesses for days off. Yes, we get "sick days," but when can we take them?

We get our assignments the day before we shoot. If we wake up sick, tough. I've literally coughed up blood and was still standing on a railroad track in the winter to shoot a business assignment. BTW, I was also working on my POY (Pictures of the Year) contest entry and didn't have time to sleep for three days.

Jim Mahoney has been a DMN staffer for more than 25 years. He said he has yet to take a sick day.

I tried to call in "healthy" at Richardson once, but I was told I couldn't. I wasn't lying, I was ahead on my work, there were no assignments and it was a really pleasant day. They should have let me have the day off. Nope. I think I cleaned the darkroom instead. I would've much rather flown a kite.

Since I mentioned it, I love to fly kites in the spring and fall. I don't have a fancy one, but I still like to watch it whip around in the sky. It's like a colorful form of fishing without hurting fish.

I also like soap bubbles. They are momentary, but pretty and simple fun. I had a battery-powered automatic bubble gun until my niece's Great Dane ate it. I probably should get another one since they make me so happy and don't cost much. :-)

Enough for now,
 

Monday, October 13, 2003

You can't see what you shoot

Most people think it must be cool to shoot the pro sports, concerts and such. It has its ups and downs. It looks a lot more glamorous than it is.

There's a technical situation most people don't realize: PJs don't get to see a single decent play with both eyes during the game (if we're doing well).

We see the game with one eye jammed against the eyepiece of a single-lens reflex camera. When we look through the eyepiece, we're actually looking at the light bouncing off a mirror and sent through a pentaprism. When we shoot, the mirror flips upward to allow the light to pass through the lens and onto the CCD (or film) to record the image.

In practical terms, this means our view goes black for every peak moment in the game. If we actually see a play though our firing eye, then we missed the shot.

PJs don't see what actually happened during the game until we ingest digital files and view the images later on a computer (or chimp - look at the camera display). Since sports are normally shot on deadline, we typically don't see most of what we shoot anyway since we look for specific types of images (a frame with at least one person from each team colliding together while the ball/puck/whatever is visible). If PJs do our job, we miss physically seeing the most visual moments of an event.

The other reason most PJs don't get to "enjoy" an event is because we're working. We're looking for not only a document of what happened, but a unique image which conveys some of the emotion or something "extra" from the event. Hopefully we find something the audience didn't notice during the event.

Not only do we need to find an interesting image (because we'll face the wrath of a photo editor very soon), we need to get names, verify spellings and collect other journalistic facts.

With slower moving events, this isn't a big problem. In fast-action situations with limited access, this is a major problem.

Here's a quiz for example: what's the correct name and spelling of Pink's tour drummer.

Maybe this question is a little hard. OK, who would be a defensive player for the Dallas Diamonds pro football team whose jersey has a number 2 in it, but the other number is obscured by an opponent?

With this problem in mind, remember there is a six-inch hole on the section cover of Sports or Overnight waiting on an image. The hole must be filled within one hour of the moment we take our last shot. Sometimes, we might only get to shoot one song at a concert. BTW, the office is 10 miles from the concert venue and the highway is under constant construction.

No stress now...

The photo editor (this is a little hypothetical because I'm combining parts of all the editors into one hypothetical example) won three Pulitzer Prizes and has 30 years in the biz. He's waiting on you to deliver a "fresh" image (something he has never seen in any of the billions of images he's already examined). His dinner came from a vending machine down the hall. There's a nuclear accident on the other side of the planet that blew Page One's design. It's also his wedding anniversary, and you're the last image he needs to put the paper to bed.

BTW, do you have enough gas in your truck? Just checking...

OK. If you're still reading, you're just sick. So, there you have it. Maybe it isn't as glam a job as some think.

However, once a PJ gets beyond the above obvious shortcomings, we really have a cool job. We go places and do things few others ever do.

Personally, I like shoots which make my heart thump a little hard. I've flown in MiGs, hot air balloons and a stunt bi-plane. I almost got to barnstorm in a B-17, but the rain stacked up the paying passengers and messed up my ride. Better luck next time. :-)

Enough for now,

Mavs delay of game

I didn't follow-up last night because I didn't make it home until after 3:30 a.m. I shot the Mavericks vs. New Orleans pre-season game at the American Airlines Center as an extra assignment. It threw my schedule off.

Dallas won the game and got to evaluate most of its new players. Because the Mavs scored more than 100 points, the fans also got passes for free chalupas (an open-faced Mexican taco) from Taco Bell.

It was my first time to shoot a Mavs game although I had a shooting pass last year, and the organization was a freelance client many years ago (before Mark Cuban bought it).

Someday I might write about how I got the freelance gig, but the short story is that I had no idea who any of the players or coaches were (didn't care at the time). I had to ask everyone's names. Nelly was very cool and patient with me. They seemed happy with the images each time I shot for them, but I digress...

Enough for now,

Congrats for the twins

Congratulations to the doctors and everyone else involved in the separation of the Egyptian twins here in Dallas.

Mei-Chun Jau and Kim Ritzenthaler have been thoroughly documenting the twins since shortly after they arrived. I'm certain both will win many awards for their excellent images. The images and stories are posted on the DMN site.

Saturday, October 11, 2003

Roughing the Raef


Mark M. Hancock / © The Dallas Morning News

New Orleans Hornets' Jamaal Magloire (No. 21, top) comes down on Dallas Mavericks' Raef LaFrentz (No. 45, bottom) during a NBA pre-season basketball game at American Airlines Center in Dallas on Saturday, October 11, 2003.

LaFrentz was traded from the team later in the season.

New batteries and a Mavericks pass

I shot high school football tonight. Colleyville Heritage played at Keller. I always must leave during half time, so I never know the results until after I turn in the images. When I left, Keller was doing much better. It was a good game though.

I got two treats at the office today. First, I got some new batteries for my digital cameras. It's just in time because the two I had are really on their last charges.

I can't use the new batteries until they finish conditioning though. To condition a battery, I must discharge and recharge the battery at least three times. Each cycle takes about 12 hours. I'll have one ready by the time I start shooting tomorrow and the other two will be ready for use next week.

The second goodie was a photo pass to the Dallas Mavericks for this year. As with the Stars, I want to shoot them whenever I can this year.

In previous years, I didn't want to shoot the pro teams too much because we have someone assigned to each game. I didn't want to step on their toes. However I was shooting the Dallas Desperados along with John Rhodes. It allowed me to take bigger chances with my images because I knew he would have something if the play didn't go as I hoped.

So, I'll try to be a second set of eyes. The Mavericks play tomorrow at American Airlines Center, so if I can finish my assignment relatively early, I'll go shoot some of the game.

I'm tired today, so I'm not going to get too detailed tonight. Tomorrow, I have a restaurant review and an assignment about a family-owned business in Northeast Tarrant County. It has undergone some interesting twists to adapt to the new role of Southlake (from farming to bedroom community). The business was once a feed store. Now it is a BBQ (barbecue) restaurant.

Enough for now,

Friday, October 10, 2003

Colleyville sandwich


Mark M. Hancock / © The Dallas Morning News

Colleyville Heritage's Tyler Henley (No. 12, center) gets sandwiched between Keller's Greg Trent (No. 40, left) and Shawn Jared (No. 22, right) during a high school football game at Keller ISD Athletic Complex in Keller on Friday, October 10, 2003.

Cars must be legal at all times

I got the horn on my truck fixed. Now I need an air filter and some new tires to pass inspection. I know it's odd to freak about inspection, but PJs are always around the police. We don't have the money or time to be paying preventable tickets.

Occasional speeding tickets are a different story. Luckily, technology is helping with the need for speed because we can transmit distantly. Formerly, we needed to travel several counties to deliver images in a short time. I'll explain how we transmit some other time.

Enough for now,
 

Nothing new

Nothing much new today. Shot the other nephew's football game. It ended in a 6-6 tie. My nephew started on both offense and defense. It was a cloudy daylight game, so the images should be nice. I didn't get to try to light it though.

I go back to work tomorrow. I have a restaurant review and a football game in addition to a snapshot portrait.

The big boss sent me an e-mail and said he has some new EN-4 batteries for my camera. YEAH!

Enough for now,

Wednesday, October 08, 2003

Shooting the family football players

Today I shot my younger nephew's football game. They lost miserably. It was painful to watch.

Nonetheless, I shot it so he and his little buddies look like they are battling for ground. As long as nobody asks them for the final score, they can hold their heads high with their photos.

For those wondering about technicals, it was a night game on a field with poor light. I shot 1600 iso on f/2.8 at 1/200 with fill flash. Yes, there will be occasional red eye, but photojournalism ethics allows red-eye elimination for sporting events. The justification is it's "possible" to eliminate red-eye in the darkroom by burning down.

In reality, if you only adjust the red saturation in PhotoShop, the remaining colors are correct and it isn't a big deal.

I still would rather light the entire stadium, but I never have time. Since I've thought about it, I might need to try it at my other nephew's game (if it doesn't rain).

I normally light entire arenas for basketball. I use directional light for boxing. And, I use a softbox for volleyball. I used two softboxes to light a rodeo earlier this year. I had outstanding results. These can be seen on my portfolio.

Enough for now,

Tuesday, October 07, 2003

Vacation with confidence

I have tomorrow off. Sometimes days off are questionable because of newspapers' needs. Luckily, the paper has the full staff around, so as long as I'm back to work by Friday, I won't be particularly missed.

This is one of the nice/bad things about different-sized newspapers.

At The Richardson News (my previous, smaller paper), I was the entire photo staff. When I asked for vacation, it was an elaborate dance to find a "slow week" for me to leave. When I returned, I was actually missed and the editors and staff members were happy to see me return. Then life got back to normal for everyone.

At a larger paper, we can take vacation almost any time. However, we sometimes feel like small cogs in a large machine. If we're there, we're useful. If we're not there, it's not a major problem other than budgetary (each PJ is still a deduction from the staff budget, but there's additional strain on the freelance budget).

Similarly, technology has isolated photo staff members. With a WiFi laptop and digital equipment, we can pick up my assignments and submit images from any location. If we want, we could avoid seeing any co-workers on most days. This is a major change from the old darkroom days where most of the staff had to process and print in the office.

I moved downtown post-darkroom. Even then, we needed to process and scan images downtown (color negative film).

Even though the newspaper has a large staff (more than 30 photographers), I sometimes may not see one of the other PJs for a few months because we're on different shifts or one of us miss the monthly meetings.

I dreamed of this situation many times in college when my fingers were getting wrinkled from too much time in the darkroom, but I miss those days a bit now. This feeling is probably similar to missing being poor or hungry. It's much easier to think nostalgically of something while removed from it and no longer suffering.

Anymore, we don't have anything to complain about. We make OK money for doing a cool job. Deadlines and some events are a little stressful, but it keeps us happy at the same time.

Enough for now,