The assignment I refused

   One of New York City’s three dailies had called offering an assignment - and I turned it down.  What was wrong with the proposed assignment?  In a word, everything.
   The New York Post wanted me to interview the back-home-here-again wife of a top New York politician in a headline scandal and write the story - for $200.  The offered payment alone was a dealbreaker; I explained to the editor or whoever had called that my day rate for NYC dailies was $500 - and I’d already had such gigs and payment from their competitor, the Daily News.
   The story practically would have written itself; anyone familiar with the 5 Ws and 1 H could easily do it.  Surely some J-school student in Charlotte - far closer to the wife - could have been found; the opportunity for a tearsheet from the front page of an NYC daily alone would have been a big opportunity.  So did they want me - or was everyone nearer the wife’s home refusing?
   One problem - their adamant insistence on $200 as payment - alone ended it.  Going nearly to Charlotte and back would have made the gig very minimally profitable.  
   But the real problem is that day rate would have meant I’d never get more from that paper - and quite possibly have my day rate with the Daily News “renegotiated” soon after.  I explained to the person at the New York Post that one of my photos - sold through an agency - already had run front page on a top story in their paper - and that the Daily News was paying my day rate - and, with that, the call ended.
   Later, I did a photo assignment for the New York Post - a top story - at a reasonable day rate: the just-fired executive editor of the New York Times was commencement speaker at Wake Forest (below).

Shot on assignment for the New York Post:
Just fired as executive editor of the New York Times,
Jill Abramson gives 2014 commencement speech at Wake Forest.

Your photo ran. Now what?

Your first news photo ran paid.  Congratulaions - but now what?
First - assuming you shot it digital, now near-certain - you need to set up a filing system if you haven’t yet.  It’s very easy for digital - unlike extremely difficult for film, which is why it took Dirck Halstead months to find that iconic photo he’d shot of Monica Lewinsky dreaming in Bill Clinton’s arm as a crowd stared.  (Time ran that photo as its cover - assuring Clinton’s impeachment.)  Set up folders and subfolders for each story you shoot.
But - most of all - keep any photo you submit, much less every photo that actually runs; I don’t care on what story.  That scrawny high-school football player really may make the NFL some day - or run for president; the latter has happened at least once - with the incredibly scrawny guy becoming a serious contender, not just a candidate.
My first photo to run paid was shot on film in the early 1980s - a badly wrecked high-dollar small plane.  It ran the next day with credit - and, now, neither the Greensboro News & Record nor I can find it!
So - when your first runs, no matter what it is - get it printed 8”x10” and framed and hang it somewhere.  It may cost much of what you get paid.  But - years later - you’ll be glad you did.

My first news photo to run in an a NYC daily.
Kodak files bankruptcy.
Ran front page that morning, New York Post.

The digicam where non-dSLRs got taken seriously by photojournalists

   At some point, Canon made a truly fantastic non-dSLR compact digicam - to the point photojournalists began shooting stories with it; it was the G15.  Truly great usable very high ISO capability, very fast lens across entire zoom range, 28-140 zoom lens easy exposure compensation in the field,easy switching between shutter priority and aperture priority plus automatic mode, seemingly endless battery capacity.
   And word that it really could do most all work previously done only with heavy, bulky dSLRs percolated fast among shooters.  A shooter was reportedly covering Afghanistan with a G15.  During a private phone call, my first industry contact told me he’d shot stories for the big daily he was director of photography for with his G15.  For my part, I sold news photos on top stories I’d shot with my G15 (below) - and told that photo director that.
   The G15 was ideal for indoor work where you had to be inconspicuous - like the package I sold at the height of the Duck Dynasty controversy over their remarks against same-sex marriage.  I shot a display of their stuff inside a retail setting using mine - and it ran.
   It also was the very-capable camera you always had with you - not in a bag full of gear out in your car.

Shot at height of Duck Dynasty dispute - and ran.

The first truly great non-dSLR digicam

   The first digicam - other than a dSLR - that was semipro was Canon’s G9.  It was where the industry started getting it altogether - started to.
   It was rather easy to hold - though lacked a good grip; no problem, some prior shooter made a home industry of making knurled grips or cast ones with a similar knurled-like finish backed by self-adhesive back that seemed just part of the camera when installed!  (See in photo below.)  It had a great, moderately-fast zoom lens.  Mode control was easy with dial atop camera.  ISO easy to set with dial atop camera - to very-“optimistic” 1600.
   What it lacked: easy exposure compensation control in the field - a thing Canon would fast fix on later models (and much better ones) in the G series, roughly analogous to the rangefinder 35mms so many of us started on (but with far better lenses than any film rangefinder had).
   Price was quite good as a compact backup digicam - if bought used off of eBay or used from Adorama’s used division.

Canon G9 that I had.

Covering a political fundraiser

   It was 2014, a law-school classmate was running for District Court judge - and he invited me to shoot his fundraiser at our alma mater, UNC-Chapel Hill.
   I arrived to find locating the place very difficult.  When II finally found it, he immediately told me flash wasn’t allowed - due to all the paintings around the room.  No problem - as I was used to shooting at very high ISO for available light.  But the next problem couldn’t easily be fixed: the room was painted a color many of the older guests and the host had for hair!  I shot those photos against a dark bookshelf - and found that worked fine.
   Then it was time for the billed musicians.  If Tom Maxwell makes it big in music, here’s a great photo (below) of him playing that fundraiser back when he was a “nobody.”  And I own it.

Will Tom Maxwell make it big in music?
Here, he plays Matthew Martin’s 2014 fundraiser at UNC-Chapel Hill.

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.