Friday, December 26, 2008

Funny, he doesn’t look like a photographer…

[Reprinted with permission from the NPPA's News Photographer Magazine.]
Somebody at the NPPA slipped up and gave me an award for photography: a second place in the TV News Feature photography category in the Best of Photojournalism contest in March.

Slipped up, because I'm not a photographer. I'm a reporter.

I could count on one hand (if I had six fingers on that hand) the number of stories I've shot in the past 20 years.

And I photographed my entry with a $250 point-and-shoot still camera.

WHEN I GOT my first TV job in Colorado Springs, CO, I didn't know television. Because I didn't own one. So I bought a 12-inch B&W pawn shop special.

And I learned how to be a TV reporter…from photographers.

They taught me how to edit. How to write to picture.

And occasionally at the end of a shoot, I’d ask to pick up the camera and try rolling off a few shots on my own. Just for kicks.

This proved helpful one Sunday morning when the weekend photographer, having celebrated a little too much the night before, failed to show up for work to cover the big story of the day, the Shriners parade. I grabbed abn RCA TK-76, "go" cable and ¾ inch deck and ran after a bunch of middle-aged men with little cars and funny hats.

I left the market with a crappy television and that sense of interconnectedness words and picture. I had the idea that a photographer should be a reporter with a light kit and that a reporter should have maybe not a photographer’s camera, but his eye. And that both should know how to fit all the pieces together.

That's why at my next television station I was surprised when I sat down in an edit bay and the photographers looked as if I’d just shot Bambi’s mother. It wasn’t a union shop, it was just something that reporters didn't do.

I didn’t dare even think about touching a camera.

But I continued to edit.

In my head.

And I continued to shoot.

Without ever rolling tape.

LATE IN 2007 half the photography staff at my present employer was across the state covering a mine disaster. What was a feature reporter to do?

I drove home and rounded up an ENG package: a Canon Powershot A-610 still camera (that shoots video) and a cheap digital audio recorder.

And I shot a story about cheap plastic cameras with a cheap digital camera.

I MacGyvered it.

For a time lapse shot, I used a cable release bracket fabricated from a Home Depot wood construction connector.

I created a filter holder with duct tape and a toilet paper tube.

My soft box was made of foam core.

And for a macro trucking shot I borrowed my two year old’s wooden blocks.

The result earned awards.

And gave me a good laugh.

I don't call myself a photographer.

I'm slow.

I couldn't follow focus to save Bambi's mother's life.

But understanding light helps me figure out where to conduct an interview.

Knowing how to sequence helps me craft a script.

Give a reporter a few pointers about shooting and editing and he might even win an NPPA photography award. With a cheap point-and-shoot camera.

Or he might just become a better reporter.

Rosen also won this year’s NPPA Best of Photography Special Award for Reporting and two television editing category awards.

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