Courtesy photo / © Casey Templeton
How do you view yourself professionally?
I'm a rookie. Big time - just like in everything. I'm down at the bottom of the totem pole now. I completely understand I can't clutch on one award for the rest of my life. I can't always rely on that to open doors for me. I have to understand I'm a small fish in a very big pond now.The image you made earlier this month for The Washington Times of journalist Peter Wallsten has had a lot of play. Please talk about the image.
So, I have to look at myself as a professional who's still learning. I always want to seek advice. I'm also very unsure about the direction I'm going to go as a professional photographer.
I still want to wait and see how Geographic goes and, hopefully, I'll have a chance to show my style to them and prove to them that I can work with them. I think a lot of questions are going to be answered after my internship's over with Geographic. Right now, I'm in an in-between stage.
I'm never going to go portraiture work. I'm always going to be photojournalism.
I just want to go where my heart leads me to go with my photography. I know I want to do photojournalism, but I've just got to figure out in what outlet I want to pursue it. Whether it be newspaper or magazine or a mixture. I really don't know yet.
For any young photographer, walking through the gates into the White House is a whole other ballgame. Everything you've learned in the past just becomes a blur. You're just thinking to yourself, "How in the world am I going to shoot with these White House photographers? How in the world am I going to be able to do anything that can mount up to the kind of work that they're doing?"Was it a ride-along?
I was very intimidated because it was my first time being at the White House, first time being around the President, first time being in a high-security area like that. I told myself early, I said, "You know what, I have to overcome this. I have to understand that I deserve to be here, and that I've earned a right to be here."
I went to watch and learn from the other photographers. But I also wanted to create a different image from everybody else.
President Bush was to give a press conference that day. So, Mary Calvert was the photographer I was helping out that day. She told me to go to the back, try to find a place in the middle for when the President comes out. Just find yourself there.
I was there at first when he came out, and then I noticed there's 30 or 40 photographers in this one area, and they're all getting the same shot. I said, "There's no way I'm going to get a better photograph than any of these guys." So I said, "How can I separate myself?"
I found a spot where nobody else was standing. I went as far back behind as I could - as far as the Secret Service guy would let me - and I just said to myself, "I'm going to be back here in case something happens, I'll be the only photographer that has it."
I kept shooting. I just shot everything that was happening. In that time, I took a photo of President Bush speaking to the LA Times reporter. I just kept going with it, but I knew that if anything were to come up during that day, I'd have a different perspective than the other 30 photographers that were there.
Later that day, we found out that Bush had, kind of, poked fun at a reporter that was legally blind and I said, "Let me look through my shoot and see if I have anything." I did. The Washington Times ran it. It ended up catching on and got onto AP and ended up in several different places.
The basic gist of that is separate yourself. If you see 30 photographers standing in one spot, be somewhere else. I tried to do that, and it paid off.
How did you prepare?
Kind of. I was just doing a week-long internship with The Washington Times. I was there only for the week and that particular day I was to be at the White House. I was meeting The Washington Times photographer, Mary Calvert, so it worked out great.
First of all, I assume you have to have a purpose for being at the White House. So, the director of photography at The Washington Times called in and got me cleared to be at the White House that day.
I had to give my Social Security number, my birth date, and then you had to be screened and moved along with all the other photographers.
[It's important to have a] very clean record. You always have to think about history before you think, "I'm a college kid. I can do whatever I want to do, and it doesn't really matter." You do have to have a clean record. You have to keep your nose clean.
I dressed up. I had nice pants, nice shoes, nice shirt, nice tie. I wanted to be very presentable - very businesslike. You have to approach it just like a business meeting. You can't wear shorts and a T-shirt like you would shooting a Washington Nationals game.What does it take to be successful in this profession?
You have to plan ahead and present yourself professionally.
That's a good question that I wish I knew. I don't have the answer to that yet of course. But, I think you have to be a very hard worker. You have always be willing to learn. You have to take sacrifices.What have you discovered about the profession that you did not expect?
One thing that I'm noticing is that you really have to respect yourself, and photography and other photographers. You have to respect your images. You have to respect the copyrights of your images. You don't want to sell yourself short. A lot of photographers are doing that and it's hurting the business.
Young photographers constantly need to know that it's not going to be easy for you to be successful. No one's going to pave the way for you to be a successful photographer. There's a lot of competition. There's 10,000 other photographers just like us that are working twice as hard as we are. We have to go out there with that mentality.
[Ask yourself,] "How can I make a difference? How can I be different from everybody else?"
If you can offer something that nobody else can, you're going to be successful as long as you don't get a big head, as long as you don't think that you're better than other people. Again, you always have to be a fan of other people's work. You have to be a fan of other people.
Never get ahead of yourself. Never treat people with disrespect.
I haven't been in it long enough to really find out things, but I am noticing just the amount of people that are out shooting the very same thing that you are and how extremely difficult it is to get your images out there and to be seen. I'm just noticing the extent of the competition that's out there, and how many other people are standing in line to take your job if you're not willing to work at a particular level. If you're not willing to put in the extra hours.What's the future of news photography?
You always have to be on your toes. I'm learning that it's a tough business, but longevity and having the mentality of knowing that it’s a marathon and not a sprint. You just got to keep that in mind and never get discouraged.
Don't get discouraged when things don't go your way or you've had a slow month or that other people are out there doing work that you think is so much better than yours. Don't get discouraged by it.
Sadly to say, I see newspaper photographers coming at a very big disadvantage. At many newspapers, including like The Dallas Morning News, they're pulling still frames from video and they're using them in the paper. That's not necessarily a bad thing because a lot of the staff photographers are learning video and are out there shooting it.Someone must acquire images for the wire. Is it important to shoot overseas?
I think that storytelling is very important and I think it's great for the Web, but people that have cell phones are producing images that are print-quality for newspapers. People that drive by an accident, like in the London bombing, most of the photos we saw from that were from cell phones. They ran on the front pages of every newspaper in the world.
Where were the photographers then? They weren't necessarily there, so they got beat out.
I see more and more downsizing at newspapers. More and more newspapers [are] running images from cell phones and still images from TV. I think a lot of newspaper photographers - just from me being a new person in the business - I can see it's not a great position to be in. There's a lot of nervous newspaper photographers out there as well as magazine photographers.
I'm sure I'm just preaching to the choir, but there's a lot of changes that are going to be made. You have to prepare yourself for it. You have to constantly be willing to learn new things just to be able to survive.
Flexibility is important.
I graduated college without a degree in photography, but I learned Web site design. I learned multi-media. I learned to shoot and edit digital video. I learned how to put all of this on the Web and to design it.
I understood that I couldn't just rely on my eye and photography. I had to be able to present myself as being very well rounded as a journalist, not just a photojournalist.
You have to look at the newspaper as a business. If the business isn't doing too well, you got to cut your risks. You can't blame anybody for doing it. There's huge changes going on.
The information that's being presented is online and through wires and things. Sometimes it doesn't make sense to send a reporter or send a photographer. You can just save money and have the story that somebody has already sent somebody there to do it.
I don't really know much about it, but I can see newspaper business is a scary place to be right now. I think you're going to see a lot of newspaper photographers stepping out of the business and going to work for themselves. They're starting to have more respect for their images and more respect for their time as a photographer. They're trying to get more respect.
I think that's a good change for individuals.
It's extremely important. Not just as a photographer, but in general - in living. You have to get out of this country just to see how the rest of the world is living.How important is it to be technically proficient?
Once you leave this country for any amount of time, you'll come back, and you'll appreciate it so much more. For a young photographer and a young college student to be able to travel across the world is going to help you not only in your photography, but also in your education as a young citizen.
It's very important for these photographers to get out there and go across the world.
Everybody - including every college student and young photographer - should leave the country and try to find stories. They're going to leave, and they're going to appreciate more the U.S.
It's just very important for people to travel. But, one big thing to understand about that is never get discouraged if you cannot leave the country.
With me, I saw people from previous competitions and CPOY that had gone to India or had gone to Africa or gone all over the world. I thought to myself, "Man, I'm not going to be able to win this competition unless I leave the country and find some exotic story to work on."
Then I realized, I won't be able to leave. So I had to make provocative images around where I am. That was a new challenge to look at your local county or your local state as being somewhere exotic. Look at it as a possibility for images.
In my portfolio for CPOY, they were all done in Virginia, except one or two were from up north somewhere.
Never feel like you have to travel to make great images. Make it happen around where you are.
Very. With digital photography, you can never loose track of your technical skills. A lot of times people are shooting in RAW because they say, "I can fix it in post."How important is it to be proficient with flash or studio lighting?
You have to be able to nail it. You have to be able to understand your camera. You have to be able to understand your settings. You have to be proficient in your post-production work. That's something I'm always struggling with is my editing.
With your camera, your technical skills are priceless. When you can use your style and find your style of shooting, but also have great technical skills that's when you're really starting to make things happen.
It's very important because you can't always expect to have great lighting wherever you go. So you have to be able to create great lighting. Using your flash and doing great studio work on location is priceless. It's something that will help pay the bills in the future.How did you learn it since you didn't have extensive photo classes?
With me, my lighting is very different. I shoot with a very minimal amount of equipment. I just use two Canon 550s. If you can make things happen with that on location, and you can travel lightly, then it's going to help you in the long run.
With the MACRoCK images, I wanted to use a very high aperture and fast shutter speed and use my flash zoomed in as far as it could go to make some different, dramatic effects.
There's not much editing there. If you can nail it in your camera, it's going to help you in your post.
I learned it from playing around. Taking pictures of my family and my friends. With these digital cameras, it's a huge help to be able to learn your flash work because you can try something and see how it looks automatically on your camera.How's the job market look for you and your peer group in general?
I did a lot of playing around. I took a lot of pictures of my family and set out to try to do something I hadn't seen other people do.
I just learned it by playing around and taking bad photos. After enough bad photographs, you're going to start catching on.
I think a lot of young photographers like myself are going to have to start realizing that they have to start looking at shooting more weddings or shooting more things that aren't editorial. You're going to have to start branching out.Anything to add?
You can't expect to live off assignments for Newsweek or Time or Life. You have to think realistically. You have to start being open for different outlets to do your photojournalism.
For young photographers and peers of mine, I think we all have to start being more open to shooting more weddings and shooting more non-editorial work to make a living. You have to be very broad. You have to be skilled in a lot of different areas.
Sometimes with shooting weddings, a lot of people frown on it, but these days, you're still doing photojournalism. You're still creating stories. You're still finding moments. There's no shame in that.
Every wedding I go to, I get better with my lighting. I get better with my camera. I learn more technical skills and practice them. There's no shame in doing what you love to do and actually getting paid the money you deserve to make.
I think that's going to be some of the new changes in people my age and people who want to start respecting the value of their work.
One thing to add is I love to help people out. I love to learn from other people. I love to answer questions. I love to see other people's work. I can make a promise that anybody that contacts me with questions or contacts me with their work, I will be overly happy to answer them and to keep in touch with them.Is this because of your university's lack of a photography program?
I just love hearing from other photographers and other people. I encourage everybody to e-mail me or call me because I want to hear from everybody.
Absolutely, that's exactly why. [At JMU], I had to do the same thing. I had to e-mail editors. I had to e-mail other photographers. That's why I try to open up as much as I can to other people.Enough for now,
That's what helped me learn. That's what helped me get to where I am. I just love hearing from other people.