My first industry contact

     That first portfolio review got me my first industry contact as well as a bunch of suggestions to improve my news photography.  I followed up with that director of photography - ultimately calling him monthly.

   We discussed photo tips, photo gear - and, of course, any staff jobs he knew of.  He never knew of any - until he himself got caught in a big downsizing of mid-tier people at his daily; he then learned from former colleagues that they would soon need another shooter!  I immediately applied.
    He kept me up to date on latest industry happenings and tidbits.
    Though that daily never hired me - yet - I ultimately got freelance gigs on top stories for the New York Daily News, then for the New York Post, to add to my portfolio and resume.
    I do still check in occasionally with the one-rank-higher manager at that daily where I got that portfolio review - and my first industry contact.
    But I’d still love a staff job at that first mid-size daily where I got that portfolio review and my first industry contact.

My most productive half hour - portfolio review

   I’d lucked out.  The director of photography at a mid-size daily had agreed to review my portfolio.  I brought along a resume.
   Back then, I had an unchanging portfolio - that I’d had printed by a full-service photo store.  Photos were about 8”x10” each; the thing was hardbound.  Of course, the disadvantage of that format was it simply couldn’t be updated without considerable expense.
   Anyway, I gave him the resume - which he took notes on.  Evidently, he was at least somewhat impressed;
   He made suggestions to me on how to shoot better news photos - and I left with a sort of “assignment.”  I saw that his suggestions would have made many of the photos in my portfolio much better.
   I shot the “assignment” - which he agreed was considerably better.  Following his suggestions in all subsequent packages I shot, I got much better.
   My portfolio very soon was on CD-ROM disc - for inexpensive editing ability  And, soon after that, on the Web.  It would be the Web edition that got me on-assignment work from places I’d never heard of.
   Too bad his paper soon enough was downsizing large numbers of staff - which ultimately included him.
   It was the most productive half hour meeting I ever spent.

One of best photos in that original printed portfolio:
Alamance County sheriff Terry Johnson (right) speaks with local woman at Tea Party rally, Burlington, N.C., June 19, 2010.

Covering the Bill Cosby trial?

   Are you covering the Bill Cosby trial - or planning to?  I’m not - at least not unless a client calls and sends me a plane ticket up there and back plus agrees to a day rate.
   But here are some suggestions from the trial that provided my breakout work - the John Edwards trial:
   Work from a shot list - your before-arrival daily group of photos to take.  That’s what I did daily at the Edwards trial - and I didn’t write it down, but mentally recited it en route to the trial daily.  In that case, my shot list was: Edwards; Edwards and his eldest daughter Cate; Edwards’ parents; Edwards and his parents; Edwards’ mother; Edwards and his mother - particularly the first four.
   Use a 70-200 f/2.8 pro-grade lens if at all possible; 70-200 will be essential for many of the best photos.  And a pro-grade one will be weather-sealed.
   Sure, shoot photos of “other” things there that other shooters don’t seem interested in - like various cops of various agencies, other journalists, etc.  Easy way to identify a journalist, of course, is to shoot a zoomed-in photo of his press pass!
   No matter whether Cosby wins or is convicted, this trial is a great opportunity for someone in its vicinity wanting to shoot breakout work - even if without a client yet.

John Edwards walks his mother down the stairs at the end of his trial, May 25, 2012.
Six days later, the trial was over - and he’d won.

Yes, I can also write

   Yes, I can also write - though I’m really a shooter.  I know the “5Ws and 1H” - and they’ve served me well on a variety of stories I’ve written.
   For instance, I pitched the editor of “Shotgun News” on a story on being profitable as a dealer on the gun show circuit - and, incidentally, on whether many, let alone most, dealers at shows were in 2004.  The research I did - not surprisingly - by going on the show circuit and observing!
   “Shotgun News” required both text and photos; evidently, they had neither much photo staff nor budget to hire freelance shooters.  So I shot a variety of photos at shows I set up at - and even at a local Wal-Mart to show how other places were undercutting dealers at shows.
   I fast came to the conclusion - simply by observing how many tables typical dealers each rented and how much stuff they sold - that most all dealers lost money at shows, but supported it by income elsewhere in the same way that many farmers support farms by jobs in town or pensions and stay in farming as a “lifestyle.”  However, if he did it right, a show dealer could make a small profit at each show.
   The story ran Dec. 10, 2004 - and I got paid $300-350.
   I’d previously had stories I’d written - and shot photos for - run in the ham radio magazine “CQ” on antenna design.  That was good preparation for the much-longer “Shotgun News” story.

My office in my smartphone - the Jill Abramson story

   Jill Abramson was in the news.  She had just been fired as executive editor by the New York Times - and was scheduled to soon be commencement speaker down here at Wake Forest University.  I saw an opportunity.
   I called various potential clients - starting with the New York Daily News, as they paid good day rate and I’d shot on assignment twice for them already.  But they - and the other dailies - all were either using wire photos to save money or sending their own staff shooters.
   I went out to eat.  Suddenly, I got an idea: the other competitor of the Times - the New York Post.  I hadn’t thought of them when pitching the story earlier that day - because they’d once tried lowballing me on a proposed assignment as a reporter rather than as a shooter.  But I thought of them now because they’d been where my first photo to run in an NYC daily had run - Kodak’s bankruptcy, a photo they’d bought through a news photo agency.
   I got out my smartphone - which has lots of press contacts in it - and called while awaiting my food.  The photo editor and I agreed on a (better) rate.  
   I hurried through dinner - and went home to arrange credentialing with Wake Forest’s press office and get directions.

Jill Abramson gives commencement speech at Wake Forest Univ., May 19, 2014.

Cops going encrypted? What to scan for stories?

   Are your area’s police now encrypting their radios - or about to?  Then will you still be able to chase the scanner for stories to shoot?
   Police nationwide have suddenly become scared of ambushes ever since last year’s anti-police “Black Lives Matter” riots and subsequent attacks on officers.  Even in small cities like here, they are scared; while that’s the last thing any cop would admit to, they do that when they ask City Hall for more paramilitary gear - including encrypted radios.  So can you still chase the scanner?
   Yes.  Face it, traffic stops - and 99% of police work - never made great news photos, anyway.  It’s the “other” stuff that did.  So put different channels in your scanner: the local volunteer fire departments, the ambulance channels, the local airport - and the ones that will get you most of the best cop-action photos anyhow: ham radio.  Put the local two-meter and UHF ham radio hangout channels in your scanner - not only the local repeaters, but also the nonrepeater channels locally favored.  Here, that’s 146.520 and 147.525; such channels are favored in power outages - and can guide you to operating gas stations in a power outage!
   After all, big fires, storm damage, and the occasional wrecked small plane make the best photos in most areas anyhow.

This inexpensive used Bearcat 800 XLT scanner gets this stuff here.

My great scanner

   My great scanner is in the next room.  It’s a Bearcat 800 XLT - receiving VHF-Low, VHF-High, UHF, and aircraft band.  I got it for $40-$50 from eBay.
   It scans either 20 or 40 channels - as chosen by user.  If you only are using 20 or less, it scans them faster if set for 20.
   I programmed it with the local police, volunteer fire, EMT - and local aircraft - channels.  I also put in area ham-radio frequencies - including the favored nonrepeater ones.  That worked fine - until the local police went to 800 MHz digital; though it receives 800 MHz, it doesn’t receive digital.  However, anything serious gets rapidly onto the ham-radio channels - sometimes before the “official” police channels.  It thus gets a lot that the scanner app on a smartphone can’t.
   I plugged it into a magnetic-mount antenna atop my “ground plane” - a radiator by the window.  Reception is great.
   Downside?  Well, the display is hard to read - unlike earlier Bearcat scanners which had displays you could read from anywhere in the room.  And squelch gets “buggy” at times - apparently when a storm is in the area.

Bearcat 800 XLT scanner.

The time I screwed up - learn from it

   Yes, I screwed up badly once early on - but I also learned from it very fast.
    When a college student, I got a Bearcat 210 scanner.  It was one of the two earliest scanners you entered channels by calculator-style keypad  I loved that thing.  10 channels - and being programmable kept the costs of adding channels nil.  I had it in the kitchen during the day - and took it upstairs to my bedroom at night.  I soon had all the area police, fire, and EMT channels in it - even the unpublicized police channels not in books of scanner frequencies.
   One day - while in the kitchen with my mother - there was something unusual on the scanner that I’d never heard anything up there with: a wrecked small plane at the tiny local airport.  I took my camera, shot photos, and sold the undeveloped film to the area daily for $30.
   The next day, it ran with credit.  Soon enough, the paper sent me the check - and a print along with negatives.  I just put the envelope with the print and negatives in a shoe box full of photos and negatives.
   I was thrilled with the payment and photo credit.  I therefore didn’t think of any orderly filing system for photos and negatives back in the film era.  And now neither I nor the Greensboro News & Record can find that photo - even though a plane with $250,000 damage to it from a botched taxi test taking it down a steep rocky slope at the end of the runway was a memorable story for the paper.
   Of course, I learned very fast.  Ever since going digital, I save all photos I upload - and all other “keepers” - in well-organized folders and subfolders and back that up off-site.
   Do you?

Another photo of Mitt Romney’s son Tagg campaigning for him ran atop three stories the day after - but I archived all photos of that campaign event, including this one that didn’t run.  Burlington, N.C., Oct. 17, 2012.

Shot for the Jumbotrons - Part I

   At any story I’m shooting - particularly anyone with possible future real prospects - I shoot at least some photo(s) shot for the Jumbotrons.  That means nil-depth-of-field for a movie-poster-style image emphasizing the subject and nobody else - and especially blurring any “inconvenient” other person(s) as much as possible.  This is especially my goal with any potential future political superstar.
   Such photos - of potential superstars back when they were “nobodies” - have the highest potential payoff, as very few shooters then were shooting them with any gear capable of producing images that could run a half-page of a magazine or a large photo in a daily newspaper.   Yes, you can find photos of a serious presidential contender back when he only was a high-school football star - but not that could run as Time’s front cover!
    My favored settings for this are shutter priority 1/6000, automatic exposure bracketing; this gives me my choice of the best of three nil-depth-of-field images by forcing maximum-possible-open aperture.
   Here’s an example.  After his father’s presidential campaign imploded in 2012, Tagg Romney was urged to run for Senate.  He’d campaigned for his father’s failing campaign - which is where I ended up covering him.  So far, however, he’s shunned any interest in politics.
   Note how the yard signs he’s autographing conveniently work as reflectors!

Shot for the Jumbotrons - Tagg Romney

Industry trends - the latest

   Recently, yet another major industry trend has become quite evident - “mini-APs” forming among dailies and magazines sharing common ownership.
   Gannett was first to do this - sharing inserted USA Today packaged content as a regular part of each of the other dailies it also owns.  More recently, Gannett openly names this the ”USA Today network” - with USA Today itself using content from the other dailies Gannett owns and all the associated dailies running each other’s content when appropriate.  For its part, Gannett is quite open that a main goal is to reduce costs.
   More recently, Warren Buffett’s chain of dailies Berkshire Hathaway more recently bought has done the same thing - with “BH Media” openly used as the byline on content from another BH daily or even possibly from BH corporate itself.  This has been quite visible in the Greensboro, N.C., News & Record.  BH Media now is a substantial chain of widely-scattered dailies - allowing each to stay quality even as BH Media continues downsizing large numbers very recently from its newsrooms.