Tuesday, March 30, 2004

CJR offers forces threatening PJ's

Columbia Journalism Review offers the article “The New Forces that Threaten Photojournalism.” It is a realistic look at the difficulties facing photojournalists today and tomorrow.
Future photojournalists must be business people first. Spot news is slowly being replaced by issue stock photography as a freelance meal ticket. It's worth a read for anyone considering this field as a profession.

Enough for now,

Monday, March 29, 2004

PJs are humble

Another interesting PJ quality is humility. Some of the greatest PJs are very humble. When you tell them you like an image, they normally say "thank you" and try to change the topic or talk about the subject rather than the final image.

I do it too. I'm not sure why. I think it's because we all have studied the great photographers and compare our small body of work against the aggregate of great work and realize we have nothing. This holds true for even the greats like Jim Mahoney, Richard Michael Pruitt and David Leeson. They're all humble, personable guys.

We recently assembled a book of prints as a going-away present for our esteemed lab manager. Each PJ was invited to donate one image for the book. Some staffers have 20+ years of images from which to choose. So, almost everyone chose something from the last year (many were less than a month old).

Why? We're only as good as our last image. If each image we make is better than the next, then the best image should be the last one. Right?

We all know this isn't possible, but it's ingrained in us to not settle for less. Likewise, our next shot should be better than something we shot a year ago because we've learned new techniques and polished our craft over the last year. This is why there are annual PJ competitions. The results inspire us to try new techniques throughout the year to expand our visual range.

Something else just came to mind. If someone talks too much about the image-making process, I'd think they set up the image (a big no-no).

To me, I capture the image (portraits and illustrations excluded). I don't really do much other than get myself in the right place and wait for the right time. If possible, I'll light the place (strobe) or the subject (flash). Consequently, when someone talks about an image, I think of it more as the subject because I simply made sure the light and CCD exposure were correct. I get a little credit for timing on the shutter and focus, but not much else.

In this method, a football player is the same as a pop singer is the same as a firefighter. They're all low light - fast action. Focus, shoot, hope, miss, quietly curse, try again. Because I see all the out-of-focus shots and missed moments and viewers only see the one that worked, I suppose it makes me humble. I know I messed up. I should have had the shot of the upside-down soccer player, but it was too soft (out of focus) to run. The viewer never knew this image was a possibility.

Enough for now,

Sunday, March 28, 2004

Invite PJs to your next party

Fayrouz and I have been to a few photo department parties this year. After watching everyone interact and listening to some stunningly interesting conversations, we determined everyone should want to have PJs at your next party.

OK. It's a shameless plug to invite PJs for some free food (most are very poor and need food), but the point is to have a fun party. PJs are a quick fix to a dull party. If the party is mostly PJs, it's an excessively fun party and normally results in at least one good story for everyone involved.

Before I get too far, I must say this invitation must be extended to the person not the professional. The professional doesn't want to waste time at a party. The person does. It'd be like inviting a professional waiter to a party and expecting him to serve food and bus the tables. Most professionals don't have FREE time.
So, you're going to invite the PJs to be a guests and let them know they can bring a guest, but the camera isn't required. Some take cameras everywhere and might want to shoot "just 'cuz," but don't expect it.

So, what can you expect?

Anything. Many PJs are well traveled. Most speak more than one language or have some unusual specialty to separate themselves from other PJs.

Specialties? Sure, ask them about certificates. You'll find PJs who are certified in everything from firefighting to massage therapy. Why? Because our hobbies are professions to other people – just like almost everyone's hobby is photography. Therefore, breaking the ice at a party is easy for us. We say, "So, have you ever used a camera?" Viola.

Why else should I invite a photojournalist to my next party?

Eye candy. Many photographers themselves are attractive (it makes it easier for them [not me] to gain access). However, whomever they have with them (the dreaded significant other) typically is stunning and intellectually compelling – like princess Fayrouz.

PJs are visual people. They're also intelligent and well informed (overly informed on some subjects). So, most of their guests are intelligent and/or attractive. Yet another good reason to have more PJs at a party.

Most drink alcohol and all of them eat like a swarm of locusts – don't count on leftovers.

At DMN photo parties, dogs are normally an interesting addition. I don't know how this tradition started, but everyone brings their dogs and lets them play together if it's an outdoor (backyard) party at a home with dogs.

Since the dogs seldom see their owners (remember our work hours), they're happy to visit with everyone. So, the dogs work the petting circuit fairly hard and clean up any dropped food as the party progresses. This is yet another bonus for hospitable hosts.

Enough for now,

Thursday, March 25, 2004

PJs require a background check

When parents and teachers use their point-and-shoot cameras to make images, they call themselves photographers. When scumbag p*rnographers do the same, they also call themselves photographers. Because PJs use the same tool – a camera – the logic follows that we must also be photographers and therefore p*rnographers.

Consequently, parents and teachers want to shoot the school function and submit the (out-of-focus, poorly-framed, etc…) photos for publication. But, by this logic, doesn't this make the parents and teachers p*rnographers as well?

Never mind the fact that most PJs have college degrees and extensive police background checks. Actually, most of us have Secret Service clearances to cover national and international politicians (presidents, prime ministers and such).

The fact is, PJs are required to be great citizens. They must pass and exceed every social scrutiny test. School board members are held to some (but not all) of these same standards because they're elected officials. Parents, teachers and school administrators aren't held to these same standards. If they were, we'd have a lot less news to cover.

Keep your background clean

In blunt terms:   Those with legal convictions need not apply.

Newspapers have access to perform criminal background checks. They do so for all politicians and all new (newsroom) hires. If a PJ has a felony or even a misdemeanor, their resume is removed from the pile. The same isn't true for politicians.

When a PJ is restricted from certain activities because of previous behavior, the PJ is worthless to a news organization. There are plenty of applicants with clean backgrounds and access to everything. Editorial publications won't waste their time on a PJ with access limitations.

Some young people don't completely consider the ramifications of their actions. Until they're 18, they believe they're legally bulletproof. They're not, but they think they are. Some also think they're immortal and omnipotent, but that's a post for someone else. :-)

However, it's critical for future PJs to keep their police records clean. The easiest way to accomplish this is to be a good person and don't break laws. Feel free to fight to change the laws, but don't break them.

Yes, during emergencies PJs "bend" laws severely, but we don't absolutely break laws on a daily basis. We know it would limit our ability to cover our community. We also understand it's impossible to make deadline in a jail cell.

When was the last time a working PJ actually did something heinous? I don't personally recall anything. I did a quick search on Google for "photojournalist convicted," and I only found links for Hiroki Gomi, the Japanese PJ for Mainichi Shimbun, who caused the death of Sgt. Ali al-Sarhan, a Jordanian air security official, when a "war souvenir" exploded after it was discovered in his luggage on his way home from Iraq.

He was tried, convicted, and sentenced to 18 months in jail for "illegal possession of explosives that led to an unintentional death." King Abdullah II pardoned him and sent him home. He was fired from the newspaper.

PJs cover folks breaking laws. Our images document conflicts. The actions of our subjects don't make PJs criminals by proxy. The actions of the subjects make them criminals to those making the law of the land. Depending on the location, sometimes those making the laws are criminals in other countries.

PJs don't get to determine which law is correct. We must obey the law of the land, fight to correct unwarranted laws, and document those who break and/or enforce the law.

This would be a long-winded way to say most PJs undergo more serious background checks than most elected officials. We also often deal with more substantial issues than those trying to limit our access.

Enough for now,

Tuesday, March 23, 2004

Added new links

I rearranged and added several new links to the right-hand column. I hope they'll keep y'all entertained until I post again (sometime soon). I haven't been posting much lately because I've been swamped at work.

Enough for now,

Saturday, March 20, 2004

High jumper

Mark M. Hancock / © The Dallas Morning News

Trinity Christian - Cedar Hill junior Kenneth Ennis prepares himself for the high jump during a meet at the school in Cedar Hill on Saturday, March 20, 2004. The single-legged jumper won the event by clearing 5'4" on the fewest attempts.

I like this image because it makes people look twice. This is a "new word" image. I wish the left edge was not so tight, but I can live with it to keep the image clean.

Enough for now,

Prom selection

Mark M. Hancock / © The Dallas Morning News

Skyline High School senior Gisela Flores (right) confers with her mother Maria Flores (from left to right), family friend Maria Louisa Luz and aunt Manuela Ayala while selecting a dress for prom at the Latino Cultural Center in Dallas on Saturday, March 20, 2004. In exchange for signing a pledge to avoid alcohol and drugs, pre-selected Metroplex girls were allowed to choose the new clothes for prom. The event was sponsored by the Dallas Police Department, Whatchamacallit Fashions, MADD BuzzFree Prom and AMLI.

Friday, March 19, 2004

The year of the liars

First, I am furious the president of the USA hired actors to play journalists in a taxpayer-paid advertisement for his health care plan and passed it along to TV stations across the country as "news." The original story came from The New York Times, which had a credibility problem this year as well.

Speaking of liars...
USA Today, finalized and released the findings of an investigation (or there wouldn't be an AP story today) about their star reporter Jack Kelley. The Associated Press states, "the newspaper's former star foreign correspondent had fabricated substantial portions of at least eight major stories."

The McPublisher stated, "As an institution, we failed our readers by not recognizing Jack Kelley's problems. For that I apologize."

For some of us, our profession is a calling, not a job. I could list many reasons for other people NOT to choose this career, but I can't imagine doing anything else. I must let people know what's happening around them and why. I must tell the truth - even if people don't like it or it's not very exciting.

After we all work so hard to gain the trust of our communities, I can't understand why so-called journalists blatantly lie. I don't think this year is an indicator of an epidemic as much as it's a purging of the system. Those who fabricate, lie, cheat and steal will be caught and fired.

Journalistic betrayal is particularly saddening to me because I believe in competition. Others could now dismiss competition as driving good journalists to do bad things. Garbage. Bad journalists do bad things until they get caught. If they win an award for it, it's a double tragedy.

I don't believe they'll do it, but after organizations strip awards from liars, they should be upright enough to bestow these awards on those who truly deserved the award legitimately. The Olympics do it, why shouldn't the award committees?

Folks, Yellow Journalism, fabricated stories, set-up pictures and altered pixels (digital liars) are relics of past failures. Cling to them and condemn yourself to the same history.

Enough for now,


One of the staffers asked the scanning room if anyone wanted to go to dinner with her. A freelancer said she was trying to lose weight. A different staffer said, "Everyone here is trying to lose weight." So, they all went to eat Tex-Mex.

The last staffer nailed it. Everyone on staff and most of the freelancers (the 30+ year olds at least) are trying to lose weight.

Why? This job makes people fat.

Why? Because we spend most of our time sitting on our butts driving through traffic jams from one shoot to the next. Meanwhile, we only have time for fast food, and there's no way to keep a healthy meal fresh in a 140-degree car.

This is all exasperated because when we work, we work hard, sweat and burn a lot of calories – we think. PJs run, climb anything available and carry very heavy equipment each day – but not all day.

Those of us who stopped smoking (I still want them), have replaced the stress-related nicotine cravings with food cravings (they feel the same).

So, my dear PJs, here's how fat works and how to combat it. Even if you're a young, sexy PJ at the moment, one day you might find yourself as a pudgy, middle-aged PJ and remember my advice.

The rule touted on talk shows and by government officials is "eat less and exercise more." Ok. We all like this plan. Instead of two-dozen Boston cream donuts, I'll only eat 20. I'll also take the stairs to the 2nd floor today instead of the elevator.

This is one step in the correct direction, but the following might be a little more substantial.

First, calculate your body fat index. Weightlossforgood has a reasonable calculator (as opposed to those designed for 14-year-old supermodels). If you're in the safe zones, have a beer and go enjoy life.

If you need a little help, then you can calculate your daily caloric requirement . This number is based on each person's height, weight, age and physical activity level.

To actually lose fat, a person needs to eat less calories than s/he burns.

Next, understand that one pound of fat is 3500 calories.

For comparison, my calorie requirement is 2907. If I eat 2900 calories (a huge amount), then I'd stay the same weight. If I eat fewer calories per day or workout more, I'll lose weight. If I can keep my intake under 1452 calories per day and don't workout at all, I could still lose one pound each two days.

However, exercise builds muscle mass, which is heavier than fat. So, don't obsess about weight as much as how it feels and how comfortable you are inside your own skin.

Better Homes and Gardens online magazine has a thorough list of foods, drinks, and such along with their calories. Diet Data has a food and diet data search engine . Otherwise, check the package or go to the product's Web site.

First, record your weight each day. This creates the baseline to measure variables against.

Next, record everything consumed each day. Then convert what was consumed into calories. Deduct this amount of calories from your caloric requirement.

If the net calories are lower than the daily caloric requirement, fat was burned. If not, fat was gained.

My example:
2907-1440 = 1467 (net loss in calories after 1440 calorie intake {food})
3500-1467 = 2033 (remaining calories to lose one pound of fat)
2033/3500 = 0.58 pounds lost

Weight can shift around several pounds per day depending on how much roughage has been eaten and not expelled (think about it) or how much salt was eaten (salt makes the body hold water – each gallon weighs 8 pounds).

Lastly, I'm going to suggest something a little controversial. Feel free to direct me toward contrary evidence, and I'll delete this section (soda company representatives excluded from my offer).

From my biology class years ago, I remember fat is comprised of layers and layers of phospholipids. A phospholipid is a hydrocarbon chain attached to a phosphate. I mentally pictured it as a tape worm to pass a test (which is probably why I still remember it). So, the phosphate is the head and the hydrocarbon chain is the body.

All sodas contain carbonated water. This means carbon and hydrogen and oxygen (to use as energy). Most diet sodas – as well as some regular sodas – contain phosphoric acid to give beverages a bite. The diet sodas have 0 calories, but they contain the building blocks of fat (ie. Phosphates, carbon and hydrogen – potential phospholipids).

Furthermore, hydrogenated oil becomes a solid form of fat (transfatty acid). Now, what should be a liquid fat molecule (oil), has the potential to become a solid transfatty acid molecule.

Consequently, I stopped drinking sodas a while back and found it easier to lose fat. It would seem logical to turn oil into water (add oxygen to hydrocarbon chains to break them up and make carbon and H2O byproducts) is easier than to turn a solid form of fat into oil and then into water – which would take more calories as well.
I think most people will find the same to be true. This might explain why the Army provided milk or fruit punch with meals instead of carbonated drinks.

Enough for now,

UPDATE: A study stated carbonated drinks containing phosphates makes women (not men) lose calcium in their bones. A different study suggests calcium will dramatically assist in weight loss. However, magnesium needs to be taken with any significant calcium intake.
Additionally, I have found the inclusion of a daily multi-vitamin reduces the natural hunger for missing vitamins and minerals.

Friday, March 05, 2004

Ginuwine gets some love

Mark M. Hancock / © The Dallas Morning News

Ginuwine performs at Nokia Live (formerly NextStage) in Grand Prairie on Friday, March 5, 2004.

Thursday, March 04, 2004

Tolerance is required

There are many skills a photojournalist must have in the camera bag. One of the most important - but seldom discussed - is tolerance.

Every PJ is placed in uncomfortable situations. Often these situations or an entire environment or culture may be contrary to a PJ's core beliefs. This doesn't allow PJs to demonize the subject. Instead, the PJ must treat the situation fairly with dignity and professionalism. There is no excuse for biased, unprofessional behavior.

The most extreme example I can imagine is a vegan (absolute vegetarian) PJ covering an award-winning slaughterhouse. Although the PJ may find the entire idea repugnant, the assignment must still be handled professionally and the images must still tell the story.

In this example, the slaughterhouse won an award for cleanliness or a beneficial workplace or its community involvement and cooperation. All of these are good for the community. In this one specific instance, this particular PJ's personal beliefs run contrary to the good of the community.

Hopefully this won't happen to anyone, but it's a real-world possibility at a smaller newspaper. Bigger papers with good assignment editors match personalities to assignments (in other words, I would get the slaughterhouse assignment).

This situation happens most often on the religion and political pages, which brings us again to our main topic. Some religions and politicians are intolerant. They find a like-minded niche of intolerants and begin to recruit marginal others. In some countries, these same people may become the de facto government through their total intolerance.

In extreme circumstances, tolerance is the only quality keeping a PJ alive to tell the story of intolerance. By being able to tolerate the prevailing attitude without drawing too much attention to themselves, PJs can return to tell the story. They effectively save their fight for another day.

This doesn't mean a PJ is allowed to ignore obvious societal problems, nor does it mean a PJ may be deliberately biased once safely away from the situation. It means the PJ must be fair to the story and the situation. They must show the situation as it is. Sometimes this is hard.

If there's a significant problem, a PJ must acquire the hard evidence of this problem. If there are rumors of atrocities, then find the action taking place and/or photograph the results. These images are fair. The PJ is making no comment other than, "this happened."

Although I've gone to a more extreme circumstance than planned, I'll share a sage adage, "If you can do something about it, stop it. If you can't, document it." This is how most memorable images are collected. A dead PJ does no good. Additionally, remember almost everyone understands the cash value of the equipment carried by a PJ. If the PJ makes a mistake at the wrong time in the wrong place, it's all gone at gunpoint.

Having said the above, I'll try to get back to my main point. From day to day, community PJs encounter and are required to document people, places and things they don't wish to document. It's the job. Be fair. Be tolerant. Possibly, the PJ learns something new as well.

Personally, I've learned all situations involve people. I approach the subject of each assignment as a person rather than an issue. A person can stand in front of me. An issue is like the air. All I can photograph is the reality of light emission, reflection and refraction. Everything else is a matter of opinion and there are as many opinions as there are people.

Enough for now,

Wednesday, March 03, 2004

SND results released

Congratulations to all the Society for News Design award winners. On our photo staff, Mei-Chun Jau and Kim Ritzenthaler got an Award of Excellence for "Twin Destinies" in the Special Coverage, Single Section Without Ads category. The special section is about the formerly conjoined Egyptian twins.
Cheryl Diaz Meyer also won an Award of Excellence for "Civilian Casualty" in the Photojournalism Spot News category.

The Dallas Morning News is renown for its award-winning female photographers. If any aspiring female photojournalists are looking for role models, there are plenty on our staff.

Enough for now,

Monday, March 01, 2004

Find a new word

Photojournalism shares many qualities with our writing partners. I've already discussed the need for complete visual sentences containing a noun, verb and direct object. However, a journalist must have a certain flare for the language to challenge readers. So must the photojournalist.

When I'm reading a news story, I'm occasionally stopped by a new word. I'll try to reason the meaning of the word from the story context and surrounding words. I'll also consider similar English and Latin words. If this still does not work, I'll finally break out Webster's Dictionary and get the meaning. I enjoy this process and see each new word as a personal challenge.

The same holds true for photography. While readers are scanning the pages or browsing the Web site, we need to stop them with a new visual word. The image still contains all the storytelling elements previously discussed, but it must somehow be new and interesting. We want a normal reader to think, "What the heck is that?"

We want to force the reader to look at the image for supporting information as to the meaning of the image.

If the viewer still cannot understand the meaning of the image, they can read the cutline as a definition for the image. Then, being fully informed, the image has more meaning for the viewer. The image suddenly makes sense.

This is the goal. It is not easy to achieve this kind of image. David Leeson, Smiley Pool and Nathan Hunsinger are extremely good at it.

To make these images, the photojournalist must look hard to find the image. Just as the great writers struggle for the exact word, photojournalists torture themselves to find the right combination of framing, lenses, light, emotion and action for the right image.

When the right word comes to mind, it is a "Eureka!" moment for the writer and photojournalist alike.

I wish you all many new words and eureka moments.

Enough for now,