My first really good camera

   I’d had a camera of my own before - for a short while: a bottom-model Instamatic a paper-towel company (and likely also Kodak) was giving away for proof-of-purchase seals from rolls of paper towels plus a nominal postage fee.  But I very soon moved up to a really-good rangefinder 35mm camera as my parents’ incentive for placing near the top in a Scout troop’s competition.
   I’d had my eyes on a mid-range Instamatic with auto-winding and also having photocell like my mother’s that she still occasionally used instead of her SLR -but they were more practical.  They “suggested” me towards a rangefinder 35mm - either Konica like her SLRor (when the Konica had to be returned due to malfunctions) a Minolta Hi-Matic 7S.
   They saw a need for even hobbies that would eventually potentially pay - as opportunity even then in the early 1970s was vanishing, and my father had just been dumped as a professor, despite teaching a field short of faculty and his having three graduate degrees in three math-oriented areas few studied.  So my reward would be that camera - not the typical kid stuff like go-karts or minibikes.
   That camera was light-years above the giveaway Instamatic - with a fast f/1.8 lens, a photocell, and settable for any film speed from 25 to 800.  Readout in viewfinder told EVnumber - then settable on lens with calculator scale built in - a huge step up from any Instamatic.  Shutter speed was up to 1/500.  Sure, the lens was fixed and wide-angle at 45mm - but took filters easily, and I came to keep an UV filter screwed in for protection at all times.
   I quickly graduated to developing black and white film myself in various home darkrooms - and then enlarging the negatives.
   That’s the camera I shot the first news photo I sold with - a wrecked small plane at the tiny local airport, I heard it on scanner, went, shot photos - sold the film to area daily.  Area daily ran it next day with credit.  Plane sustained $250,000 damage; I got paid $30.  I was in college then - and hooked on photojournalism.

Online portfolios - which one?

   There are various templates for online portfolios - and I can suggest two, both of which I’ve used.
   One is the National Press Photographers Association - through its membership.  NPPA has improved it a lot since first offering it to members; each  thumbnail lets viewers click for a caption.  And the easy advantage of NPPA’s portfolio - as a benefit of membership - is that NPPA’s members are easily searched by state, which is how I got my first on-assignment work.
   But nothing beats Format - previously 4ormat - for professional-looking Web portfolios that your name or business is the Web address of.  A Format portfolio is very easy to build - and very versatile, allowing blogs like mine here; see my Format portfolio at  
   Any Format portolio is easily tagged with tags such as your state, your city, what kind of photo work you do.
   Of course, you can always put together a redirect to take your choice of Web address to a NPPA portfolio you have.

Advertising - inexpensively

   How do you advertise - inexpensively? Certainly not the Yellow Pages - whose rates are expensive.
   One way is an online portfolio.  One method is the National Press Photographers’ Association - which now allows a quite good portfolio.  Another is Format - which also allows a quite good online portfolio, easy to set up and with your choice of name for Web site’s address.
   With Format, tag your portfolio’s Web site with words and phrases that lead potential clients to it - such as “photojournalism”; “photography”; “news photography”; and your city and state.  Also your name - and any business name.
   Either way, caption each photo in your online portfolio - both as to what it was and what publication(s), if any, ran it.  Emphasize top stories - not just great-looking photos; see my portfolio at
   Another inexpensive advertising method is to leave a business card on the table every time you eat out - or do anything else out.  Also, don’t forget to put business cards on bulletin boards at convenience stores, restaurants, etc. - especially if you also are willing to shoot wedding photos.  Get great business cards done by a local printer - rather than freebies obtained online - if you do this.

The two essential lenses of photojournalism

   Sure, Canon (and Nikon) make a long list of top-end lenses - but, in reality, only two are needed for over 95% of photojournalism.  And there is no substitute for either; both of the Canon ones are weather-sealed.  They are the 24-70 f/2.8 “L” USM and their 70-200 f/2.8 “L” IS  USM.
   “Weather-sealed” means I’ve shot stories with each in the rain - without trouble, without damage to the lens or dSLR that it was on.  This is essential if you have a top story to cover and cannot put it off until the storm ends.
   That wide maximum aperture means you can achieve nil-depth-of-field effects for movie-poster-like photos that the subject seems to pop out of - with the subject in razor-sharp focus and even very-near objects a blur (photo below).  That’s why the 24-70 f/2.8 “L” USM is the go-to lens of wedding photographers.  It also means you can shoot in dim conditions without flash - essential for weddings, as many churches ban flash.
   Used, each is available at large savings.  So save up for one of each - and scrimp on anything else, including the dSLR body itself..  A 7D works fine with those two lenses - and a life-size 20”x30” print shows it, looking just like the subject is in your living room!

Marine veteran at Memorial Day commemoration, 
Graham, N.C. 2013.
70-200 f/2.8 “L” IS USM  lens used.

Shopping for photo gear at a pawn shop

   How do you shop for top camera gear at a pawn shop - and get great deals?
   You can either start at the pawn shop’s business and business model or with a specific item in mind - but the end result is the same:
   1) Pawn shops - even of major chains - have a rather-typical method of deciding how much to lend on an item or buy it for: usually eBay to see what the item sells for used.  Adorama and other deep-discount photo distributors with used-gear divisions are beyond their mindset - as they see eBay as their real competitor if a loan defaults or anything they bought is to be sold.
   2) Evaluate the item carefully before buying - as usually it is a cash sale with no return.  Major pawn chains now only take cash or debit cards - not credit cards, which offer recourse for buyers - for this reason.
It is far easier to evaluate something you yourself forfeited to the pawn shop when you were much worse off!
   3) Upper-end items are much likelier to have stood up before the pawn shop got them than low-price knockoffs or worse.  Regardless of the pawn shop’s own practices, anyone with a $2,000 Canon “L” zoom lens handled it a lot more carefully before losing it to the pawn shop or selling it to them than someone with a bottom-end camera.
   4) Shop the case at the pawn shop that their pricier camera gear is kept in - at least weekly.
   5) Finally, you need to know the “market” used price on any item you’re considering before buying from the pawn shop - or especially to negotiate with it!  Shop the used-gear division of Adorama or even see what the item goes for on eBay - and you know what a good price is on that item.

Getting top gear cheap.

   How do you get top gear cheaply?  One obvious answer is eBay.  Another is the used-gear departments of top deep-discount retailers such as Adorama.  I’ve had good experience with both.
   But nothing beats a pawn shop for deals.  My first good digicam - a Canon A60 - I bought used from a local pawn shop that was holding a going-out-of-business sale.  I had one of their people put batteries in it - and tested it in the pawn shop before buying.  Price was great.
   Today, I did  much better.  I saw a Canon 70-200 f/2.8 “L” IS USM in the display case of the pawn shop I’d lost it to when times were hard - stickered at $550.  They told me it was the one I’d brought in.  That particular lens cost me $1,500 from Adorama used.  I negotiated it down to $350, tax included.
   Pawn shops just want money - fast.  They are willing to make real deals - especially now that they are full of stuff they can’t sell that they lent on or bought.  Pawn shops are now full of all kinds of stuff - an indicator of the real economy.
   I love that lens - as it can produce real shallow depth of field effects.  See the photo below.

Cate Edwards walks alongside her father John at his trial.
Notice how - even less than a couple feet from her - he’s blurred enough to pretend he’s unrecognizable, while she’s in razor-sharp focus!
Shot with Canon 70-200 f/2.8 “L” IS USM.

Which lens first?

   Which lens do you get first - other than, of course, the kit lens your dSLR probably came with?  It depends on what you’re shooting.
   If you’re shooting weddings, Canon’s 24-70 f/2.8 “L” USM is about essential - as many churches won’t let you use flash inside during the wedding.  It’s been the go-to lens for wedding photographers for some time.  It’s also weather-sealed for outdoor events.  Sure, it’s expensive - but you can make it up on a wedding or two; buy used and version 1 - and save big.
   But for news shooters?  For sports, Canon’s 70-200 f/2.8 “L” IS USM is about essential; it’s also about essential for some news stories.  It’s also expensive, heavy, and large - but substantial savings possible on version 1 and used, and the photos that older version produces look fine printed 20”x30” and will look like the people really are in your living room.
   That leaves the intermediate zoom to buy - and your choices there are Canon’s 24-70 f/2.8 “L” USM, Canon’s 24-105 f/4 “L” IS USM, and Canon’s 28-105 f/3.5-4.5 USM; unfortunately, while all are fine lenses in this wide-to-moderate-telephoto category, only the first two are weather-sealed.  If it comes down to skipping meals out for a while, the 24-70 f/2.8 “L” USM is well worth it.  Otherwise, the 24-105 f/4 “L” IS USM is a fine choice and costs much less - and, if you just can’t afford the others, the 28-105 f/3.5-4.5 is quite good and is quite affordable.  Buying used on any of these - and version 1 on the 24-70 f/2.8 - saves a lot of money for results that very few will notice were any less.  Any will produce photos that - printed 20”x30” - really do look just like the people are in your living room, showing every hair on someone’s head like a movie poster as in the photo of Mitt Romney’s son Tagg campaigning for him (below).
   But - if it came to which one to buy first - I’d buy the intermediate zoom, then save up for that 70-200 f/2.8 on an as-soon-as-possible basis.

Mitt Romney’s son Tagg campaigning for Mitt, Oct. 17, 2012, Burlington, N.C.
24-70 f/2.8 “L” USM lens used.

Using social media effectively

   Many - possibly most - journalists now see social media as a nuisance part of their job, where their employer requires them to tweet “teasers” of their story that will run on the evening newscast or in tomorrow’s daily paper.  That, however, is far from its most-effective use for the journalist - as, in today’s economy in which freelanced gigs are rapidly displacing jobs, it can be where you find work.
   Sure, you get gigs by your NPPA membership allowing you a “mini-resume” and a portfolio - and, of course, by Format’s easy portfolio development.  But Twitter and Facebook are far more effective than hoping that some editor or reporter needs a shooter in your area and looks for one in NPPA’s listings and portfolios.
   Here’s how it works: follow journalists on Twitter or “friend” them on Facebook - particularly ones at “national” dailies and newsmagazines; with any luck, some will follow or “friend” you back.  When a story possibly needing a shooter comes up, direct message one of these contacts, pitching an idea - and hopefully either get a gig, or it retweeted.  Hopefully at least, some of your Twitter followers will be at top-level publications - with lots of followers, both inside their publications and outside.
    Recently, this worked for me.  I pitched via Twitter direct message a top reporter on a story that might need a freelance shooter at their top-level daily - and she retweeted it to her far-larger Twitter following than I have, complete with a link to my portfolio, undoubtably including many not only at her daily - but also many others at many other dailies and other publications.

New way of sourcing stories

  By today - if not before - it was clear that a new way of getting sources has evolved in addition to the classic combination of detective work and/or hoping for a “walk-in” tipster to contact the journalist: crowdsourcing.  
   In crowdsourcing, either the journalist throws out on social media an idea of what he wants and hopes somebody, anybody, replies with information that can be verified fast - or people for whatever reason of their own use online forums that the journalist has access to in order to piece together the skeletal details that can enable the journalist to flesh the story out.  The second type of crowdsourcing is especially possible if the subject of the story is hated by a large group of others.
   An example of that independent type of crowdsourcing - which again made the news today as the Raleigh, N.C. News & Observer detailed how its series unraveling a sports scandal at the University of North Carolina came about.  Whether or not today’s story mentions it in detail, its start was in independent crowdsourcing - by alumni of UNC’s archrival, nearby N.C. State Univ. on an online forum for State’s sports fans as people using code names such as “WoofWoof2” (State’s teams are called the Wolfpack) in turn independently used Google etc. to find that the term papers of UNC’s football or men’s-basketball players were obviously plagiarized.  The Raleigh News & Observer - Raleigh being where State is located and the daily paper for where UNC is in a nearby county - then picked it up, leading to NCAA disciplinary action against UNC and probation from UNC’s accreditation agency.
   Also today, another top N.C. daily had a Facebook request made by one of its editors - for any information anyone could give regarding a story she was planning - as an example of that other form of crowdsourcing: the journalist-initiated kind.
   Of course, one disadvantage of crowdsourcing is that your competitors may well also pick up the story!  So - unless it’s a strictly-local story - asking for replies to be by email or direct message is best!

The TV crew murders - observations

   Late August’s on-air murders of two WDBJ-TV journalists has a lot of lessons for all journalists.  Besides mental illness, the two were victims of a pattern of copycat incidents of dares and self-dares that their killer - a fired colleague at the TV station - surely was aware of, taken to its logical ultimate extent.
   “FHRITP” taunts of on-air women TV reporters had been a growing pattern for a year or two - an obscene taunt hoping to provoke a reaction that would get those young males dared, or daring themselves, into some variety of on-air coverage during a live shot (a common TV news practice of airing live on-scene news productions nowadays).  Surely, the murderer - a TV journalist himself, if one fired by two stations - was well aware of such incidents; it’s hardly much to say he just took them to the ultimate possible extent.
   The murders rocked Twitter at the time - if largely because, while journalism in the U.S. had become riskier in recent years with high risk of on-the-job robbery in some “bad” locales and police no longer respecting working journalists according to longtime norms (as documented by the National Press Photographers Association) - it was probably the first time any TV journalist had been murdered on-air, let alone by a former colleague.
   Thanks to Twitter and other social media, a portrait of the murder quickly emerged - that he was mentally disturbed, fired by two TV stations for “anger management” problems and quick to allege racial discrimination without cause.
   However, police work provides lessons.  In police squad rooms, there commonly is a poster listing 10 (or 12) mistakes killing experienced police officers.  And two stand out as applicable to the WDBJ murders.
   One is “tombstone courage.”  The poster asks officers to consider calling for backup on risky situations.  TV stations doing stories in Oakland, California - where robberies of on-the-job TV crews have become common - are avoiding that by sending out armed guards with the TV crews.
   Another is prejudging calls.  Just because your story is in a good area - as the one where the two WDBJ journalists were killed in - hardly means you can’t end up in someone else’s mess.  Ask yourself if the story of armed volunteers out front of the Burlington, N.C. military recruiting office (below) couldn’t have had journalists covering it caught in someone else’s firefight had anyone trying to replicate the attack on recruiters in Chattanooga driven up - even though it was in a “good” neighborhood.
   In other words, get your story done and leave fast if it looks risky - and news organizations with problem ex-employees may need to send out guards with current workers.
   Be careful out there.

Heavily-armed volunteers guard Burlington, N.C.’s military-recruitment office, July 22, 2015.
This was in a “good” neighborhood - but risk to journalists covering this was obvious.