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,

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