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.

Other stories to shoot - II

   Yet what other stories do you shoot when the election’s over, no “money sport” is playing, and when nobody’s doing big protests?
   You can shoot photos for the doctor’s offices and other business places.  Whether they will be zoomed-in-tight photos of wild animals or birds - or macros of flowers in bloom - they can sell to the many doctors who decorate their offices with all kinds of things.
   A look on Facebook finds many shooters seeming to specialize in wildlife photos or floral macros.  The wildlife photos obviously are shot with telephoto lenses or telephoto zooms; the floral macros are shot with more-general zooms.
   Such photos offer the prospect of paid work when the financially troubled newspaper industry now has largely quit giving on-assignment work - even on big stories.

Azaleas, Burlington, N.C.  Shot with Canon 24-70 f/2.8 “L” USM

Scanner on the cheap?

   Fortunately, yes it’s pretty possible.  While it may not have all the “secret” frequencies of local police that you have on your full-size scanner that cost you hundreds of dollars new, scanner apps for your smartphone can deliver amazing results - either free for tempter versions or for about $3 for the unlimited version.
   Trying a couple different apps here in Burlington, N.C. found major differences between different scanner apps.  Briefly, 5-0 Scanner Police Radio is far and away the best; its audio is great - unlike others I tried - and sounds as good as the Bearcat full-size one in the next room.
   You may have to use listed scanners other than those specifically designated for your city or county - as here, where some local police departments actually are dispatched on the radio system of a neighboring county.  Your results will depend on volunteers sending the feed from their full-size scanners.
   Downside?  Scanner apps eat battery charge fast if the channels scanned are active.  A photojournalist in NYC says he keeps his turned off except when something’s going on - to save the battery.
   But it’s a lot less expensive than the cigarette-pack-size handheld scanners Icom sells - even used - and about $100 less than Bearcat’s cheapest handheld scanners.

Smartphone with 5-0 Scanner Police Radio installed.
Smaller than any scanner - and $100 or more less expensive.

Other stories to shoot - I

   The politicians aren’t in town - and you’re not into shooting seasonal sports.  So what other stories are there to cover - especially now in the spring?
   This is the season of bad weather in many areas.  Bad weather producing damage that distant big-city newspapers will want photos of.  And producing small-plane wrecks for pilots who apparently never heard the saying that “there are no old bold pilots!”
   A severe storm here in the Burlington, N.C. area several years ago produced memorable photos for me to shoot - rather than a large tree limb on somebody’s roof.  One of best news photos I ever shot was of the top quarter of a utility pole - snapped off by high wind and left hanging by attached wires (below).  Power poles snapped a quarter of the way from the top and supported by attached wires were common from that storm - and one of such a pole standing in a major street I only couldn’t get a great photo of due to poor background.
   But the sky made a great background for photos of the broken-off tops of poles hanging by attached wires.

Top quarter of utility pole hangs by attached wires after severe storm, Burlington, N.C.

Aftermarket batteries for your dSLR?

   Aftermarket batteries for dSLRs - much less expensive, but are they good?  The right ones work as well as Canon’s - but how do you pick the right ones?  The bad ones are a bummer.
   Here’s my experience; go to Adorama’s online store - and read what prior buyers say.  You’ll fast learn - as I did before buying batteries for my Canon 7D - which aftermarket batteries are as good as Canon’s, and which only cost less.  And the differences are stark in terms of what prior buyers say.
   Adorama’s online store has detailed ratings from prior buyers for aftermarket batteries - and for all sorts of products, whether those of a big-name camera maker or aftermarket.
   Don’t bet on one brand of aftermarket batteries to work equally well for all cameras; so check aftermarket battery ratings for your particular camera before buying.  
   One thing is for sure; you really can save a lot of money by buying aftermarket batteries - if they’re the best ones.

Battery grips - worth it

   Battery grips for dSLRs - are they worth it?  Having used them for years, I say yes.  There are - at least - four things they can do for you:

1) Allow you more battery capacity - as they take two batteries at a time.  However, this rarely is an issue - since typical-size cards run out long before the battery.

2) Allow you to use ordinary batteries.  They typically come with an adapter for “AA” batteries - or it can be bought inexpensively; this can be essential if your story is in some area without power.  Sure, some chargers will run off your car’s cigarette lighter - but charging that battery pack will take an hour.

3) Balance.  They really do help a lot balancing a long or heavy lens - and in keeping it still.  It’s a lot easier to hold a 70-200 f/2.8 “L” IS USM steady when the dSLR has a battery grip on it.

4) Vertical photos.  Most - if not all - battery grips have a second shutter release positioned to make shooting vertical-format photos easy.  They also make shooting vertical photos steady - unlike the camera’s own shutter release.

   My recommendation - based on experience - is to buy one that the camera manufacturer sells.  Sure, it costs more - but they are available used in excellent condition from the used division of Adorama.

Another essential part of your kit

   In the below photo, notice that the Greensboro News & Record shooter covering an April 2012 Tea Party rally in Greensboro, N.C. is wearing glasses - whether needed for vision or sunglasses or whatever - and they are held on his head by a piece of rubber tubing.  I used a thing from Wal-Mart’s fishing department to hold my glasses on my head - and it’s inexpensive and floats.
   Stories you will shoot will have you dealing with real live idiots - even if only drunk guests at a wedding!  Rallies may degenerate into riots without notice - regardless of the ideological orientation of the rally; one counterdemonstrator throwing something may - if by accident - hit you in the face.
   So - even if you wear contact lenses or don’t need glasses - get real glasses or sunglasses made by a local eyewear place, with large thick lenses (unlike the shooter in the photo) to maximize protection.  The lenses should be polycarbonate - the eye-doctor industry’s name for the Lexan used in bullet-resisting shields - so it won’t break into little pieces that end up in your eye.  Major benefit: such eyewear can keep you shooting that story even if your eyes wouldn’t have been injured at all.

Greensboro (N.C.) News & Record shooter covers Tea Party rally, April 14, 2012, Greensboro.
Note eyeglasses and tubing holding them
on his head.

What do you shoot when nothing’s happening?

   What do you shoot when nothing’s happening?  When nobody’s protesting or rioting, when no politician’s campaigning or making an appearance, nobody’s having a formal wedding they want you to shoot, and no promising athlete is playing?
   My answer is everything and anything - as in the bewildering assortment of logos; yes, such photos do sell.  Companies later make news - if not at the time - when one buys out another; I sold a photo of the stylized front of a major area supermarket chain (below) when it later was bought out by a national chain.  Carmakers may later make news - for all the wrong reasons, such as their make being discontinued in the U.S. market.  Photos of spinoff products based on TV series people may sell - as one based on “Duck Dynasty” did for me when that show made news for its characters’ views on gays and lesbians.
   Ideally, you place such photos with an agency - but, if the agency you used goes out of business, you will have to find another or market the images yourself.

A photo of this major supermarket chain’s stylized decor sold when the chain sold