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,

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