Industry trend - “outsource” it all, Part II

   The Washington Post’s “outsourcing” photo work on at least one top in-hometown story recently (see Part I) was the canary in the coal mine - showing that even deep-pocketed dailies like one owned by billionaire Jeff Bezos now want to use stringers on assignment wherever possible, rather than hire employees with all the non-wage costs that are high and now soaring: unemployment insurance, workers comp, Obamacare, paperwork, equipment, etc.
   But nothing shows this trend more than the decision by dailies owned by the man who symbolizes “rich” - Warren Buffett - to do the same thing.  Very recently, Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway has bought up a slew of mid-size dailies - in the South and possibly beyond.  And very recently, at least one of them has downsized a bunch of reporters and a photojournalist, a substantial percentage of newsroom people - making the same decision, even as that daily did quite well at getting back its longtime good display ads and added back content - backed, of course, by being much better capitalized by Buffett than its longtime owner.  That paper had a small - but substantial - photo department.
   Among others downsized at that paper: its longtime director of photography. His being downsized was a significant percentage of the longtime photo department there.  Discussion with him found that the paper is going to “outsource” out much local photo work to stringers in the future - while, up until now, almost all at the paper was shot by staff shooters.  
   Again, bottom line is that nobody now wants to hire employees - with all the non-wage costs of a full-time, middle-class employee - not even someone as rich as Warren Buffett.  Other than bailed-out industries, nobody wants to be a chump for the government.


Industry trend - “outsource” it all, Part I

   The handwriting was on the wall in the media industry, at least publications, a year ago, when the Washington Post “outsourced” a photo assignment on a top story to stringer(s) - in D.C. itself.  It’s now clear that the industry wants to “outsource” any possible work - and not to hire staff employees unless needed, even to the point of cutting existing staff and having stringers do the work they previously did.
   For a long time, USA Today ran US Presswire - really only an agency for managing stringers on sports stories in-house.  US Presswire’s story has been long reported in News Photographer and elsewhere; in no sense was it either a wire service or a photo agency - as US Presswire photos seemingly never ran outside of USA Today.  USA Today’s owners since expanded that concept by turning USA Today and other Gannett properties into a “mini-AP” in which content from any one might run in any other.  
   Now, the Washington Post itself is repeating that pattern - with the “Washington Post Talent Network” to manage its stringers and (likely) also sell their services to other clients.  The Talent Network just was started by the Washington Post.
   Sports Illustrated - in the past year - downsized all its staff photographers, openly saying it will hire out its considerable photo work to stringers.
   It’s clear that the costs of calling somebody an “employee” - even to shoot stories in your own city - has reached the point that nobody wants employees: unemployment compensation, workers comp, paperwork, Obamacare, equipment, whatever.  Not even deepest-pocket-funded top dailies like the Washington Post.


Covering a campaign? What else to shoot?

   Are you covering one - or more - of the campaigns now gearing up for next year’s elections?  Sure, you’ll shoot photos of any candidate who does a campaign appearance - or even stops - in your area.  But what else to shoot that a newspaper or magazine may be interested in?
   One thing - of course - is the crowds coming out to hear the candidate, as has already been seen by overhead photos of the crowd at Hillary Clinton’s official launch of her presidential campaign.  But another is all the “stuff” - as in buttons, signs, banners, whatever; photos of that “stuff” do run - if shot tight.
   When covering the 2012 Mitt Romney campaign - and the short-lived Newt Gingrich campaign - I shot the signs, buttons, etc. as well as Newt Gingrich and Mitt Romney’s son when they did appearances here.  For the Romney campaign, I was particularly struck by the desktops of campaign items that this county’s Republican Party organization had in GOP headquarters - and shot various photos of it - the buttons, bumper stickers, etc.
   Below is probably the best of that group - a photo of a glass bowl full of Romney buttons for sale.



Romney buttons for sale, county GOP headquarters, Burlington, N.C.
Oct. 22, 2012.


Not quite an “L” lens - but pretty good

   You can’t afford Canon’s 24-70 f/2.8 “L” USM - or you had to sell yours to pay some big bill.  So what’s much better than any kit lens - yet is affordable?
   Canon’s 28-105 f/3.5-4.5 USM is both quite affordable - now running about $150 with lens hood and UV filter on eBay and at deep-discount photo outlets - and damn good.  It’s a lens Canon made that’s way above their kit lenses in performance and build quality - yet much more affordable than even a used Canon 24-105 f/4 “L” IS USM; for instance, this lens has a metal mount - just like their “L” lenses.  Focusing is by ultrasonic motor - just like their 24-70 f/2.8 “L” USM - and fast and quiet.
   Downsides?  It’s not as fast as their 24-70 f/2.8 “L” USM, of course.  And - unlike their 24-70 f/2.8 “L” USM - it’s not weatherproof, either. 
   It is far lighter and far more compact than their 24-70 f/2.8 “L” USM.
   It’s an ideal walkaround lens - if you don’t need a weatherproof one.
   This lens was discontinued - but is widely available now on eBay and in the used-gear department of deep-discount photo places such as Adorama.
   It did great shooting through window glass for a package I shot on the nail-salon industry - which now is the subject of a regulatory crackdown after a New York Times series on its extensive violations of wage-and-hour laws, workplace-safety rules, and immigration laws.

Shot through window glass with 28-105 f/3.5-4.5 USM.


Covering today’s economic depression

   The 1930s depression made for iconic news photos - most famously perhaps the bread line or soup line under a billboard boasting that the U.S. had the world’s highest living standard - but today’s economic misery is largely hidden by social programs making it “invisible,” notably food stamps now being on debit cards just like everyone uses.  Food pantries instead of bread lines also get today’s continuing depression off the street - and out of view of lenses.
   But some aspects of today’s continuing depression can be shot - if today’s photojournalist keeps his eyes open and thinks, as in thinks like a woman; for instance, that even supermarket food prices now can’t avoid dropping on basic foods.
   Most of all, though, the unconcealable reality of today’s depression is that so many jobs now pay nil - reflecting a current U.S. in which almost half of workers are paid $15 hourly or less, as reported last month by Fortune.   And the careful shooter can find plenty to cover in that - if she keeps her eyes open.
   The inability of today’s U.S. to create middle-class jobs in anywhere near sufficient numbers is reflected, of course, in the ability of nil-wage employers to be able to find adults desperate enough to work for poverty wages - and that’s today’s shooter’s opportunity.  When I find such potential story photos, I shoot a package and upload it to a news-photo agency - as of this one of the large numbers of “new jobs” now that are at tipped-wage restaurants and fast-food joints here that I shot this week.

Restaurant jobs now are much of the total job market - but pay little.
Shot May 17, 2015 in Burlington, N.C.


The big profitmakers - the famous back before they got famous

   “And maybe one of the bands would make it big someday, and they you’d have the exclusive photographs of them “in the beginning,” back when no one had ever heard of them, and it could be your cash cow.”
      -News Photographer, April 2015 issue, p. 6
   

   And so the National Press Photographers Association says it: the photos with the real high payoff aren’t of, say, the Beatles after the Beatles were the most famous group in the world - and every shooter shooting them - but of the Beatles back when they were nobodies.  In its editorial this month, NPPA’s magazine says that those who became its staff shot countless “nobody” music acts that would let them shoot their photos - hoping that one would make it to superstardom.  I realized this long before that NPPA editorial - and planned accordingly.
   Sadly for the editorial’s writer, it didn’t work out; though he shot John Cougar Mellencamp, before he was famous - back in the film era - he lost the negatives!
   The general theme of the editorial, though, is correct: if you want to have the “before they were famous” exclusive photos - or, better yet, the photo that made a superstar world-famous, you shoot second-tier people in their field.  It doesn’t matter whether that field is entertainment, sports, or politics.
   And if you don’t think the author of that editorial’s sad mistake can happen to you, place your photos of possible coming superstars with a photo agency.  And back it up offsite.
    I specialize in politics. - and shot years ago, and own rights to, photos of two people touted for top political careers.  One so far has shunned urgings he go for politics.  The other is going for it with gusto; my photo was what made that one world famous.




I only wish this photo made Newt Gingrich world famous.
Here, he campaigns for president, Greensboro, N.C., April 14, 2012.


The best $10-20 investment for photojournalists

   What’s the best inexpensive investment a photojournalist can make - and that’s near-essential for some photos?  No doubt it’s Sto-Fen’s Omni-Bounce flash diffuser - which runs about $10 at deep-discount outlets such as Adorama and about $20 elsewhere.
   The Omni-Bounce is easiest described as a Tupperware-like cap that fits a specific flash unit.  It’s apparently made of the same plastic as Tupperware and one-piece - making it rugged and foolproof.  Unlike some other diffusers, it is compact and doesn’t protrude much at all from your flash.
   While the instructions feature it used for bounce flash, it also works well for direct flash; that’s why you often see it on Capitol Hill - where some congressman might gripe if a flash hit him in the eyes.
    But - used for bounce flash - it can solve a lot of difficult lighting problems very simply.  It’s easy to always keep it in your bag - and takes only a couple seconds to put on your flash.  I used it when the New York Daily News called me on very short notice for a package of the parents of New York Giants rookie star David Wilson at their Virginia home - and it produced very good results with no complex lighting.  One of those photos ran the next day.

Shelia Wilson, mother of New York Giants star David Wilson, shot with Omni-Bounce.
Shot on assignment for New York Daily News.


Teleconverters - are they worth it?

   Teleconverters - also known as telecouplers and tele-extenders - are “in-between” optical gizmos that multiply the effective focal length of the lens attached to their front.  They offer the promise of a much-more-telephoto lens for far less expense than an additional lens - especially a long telephoto.  Now, they generally come in 1.4x and 2x variants.
   My introduction to teleconverlers was back in the film era - when my mother was offered a 2x one by a neighbor who shot weddings as a sideline; the price - back when the only electronics that my mother’s Konica SLR and the lens had to communicate with each other was aperture - was simple and the price tempting.  So she bought that doubler - and, used with the f/1.4 normal-length lens that she’d gotten with the camera - results were great. 
   Teleconverters now must do far more.  In the dSLR era, that starts with the camera’s autofocus system - which is one weakness of today’s teleconverters.  Another is that a teleconverter reduces light passing on to the camera; while that may never have been noticeable with that f/1.4 normal-length lens on my mother’s film SLR, those who’ve tried doublers now find the loss of two stops very noticeable - and manufacturers warn that autofocus systems may only function with certain-aperture lenses or wider.  
   A 1.4x teleconverter reduces lens aperture by only one stop - but a 2x teleconverter reduces it by two stops.  Depending on what lens you attach to its front - and what dSLR you use - this plays havoc with your dSLR’s autofocus system.
   Teleconverters only work with specified lenses - on a list the manufacturer includes.  Others may physically interfere - and damage - optical elements of the lens, the teleconverter, or both.
   Finally, need it be added that - if at all possible - a longer “real” lens produces better results?  If you can zoom out your zoom further, don’t shoot with the teleconverter unless it’s already attached.
   Teleconverters are perhaps most suited to photojournalism - where their small, lightweight aspects that makes possible much longer focal length can be a godsend.  Some dailies actually put one in every photojournalist’s bag.  One famous use by a press photographer was in getting a photo of the rifle abandoned outside a Colorado movie theater after a mass killing inside; the teleconverter allowed shooting the photo from an upper floor of a nearby building.
   Of course, you get what you pay for in teleconverters - as in everything else; Canon’s are weather-sealed, but the “everybody else” aftermarket ones don’t appear to be.  And Canon’s are substantially-built - while the “everybody else” aftermarket ones don’t appear to be what you want your  $3,000 lens anchored by.
   I’ve experimented with my Canon 1.4x - which I bought for an impending story - and results are great.

1.4x Canon telecoupler - now about $220-250 used.


24-105 f/4 "L" IS USM - or 24-70 f/2.8 "L" USM?

It’s a question that occurs to every serious photographer with a dSLR getting his first pro-grade lens: should I get the 24-105 f/4 “L” IS USM or the much-costlier 24-70 f/2.8 “L” USM? And the answer depends on you - and what you plan on shooting.
Both are fine lenses - drastically better than any non-“L” lens. Both are dust-resistant and weather-resistant. Both are very-well-made in ways that non-“L” lenses aren’t. Both cover the range from wide-angle through some degree of telephoto - whether on a full-frame dSLR or an APS-C one.
I’ve had both - and now have the 24-70 f/2.8 - and here are my observations from extensive use of each. As a walking-around lens, the 24-105 is compact and lightweight - while faster than most similar zooms in the film era; it shoots great photos - in decent light, but really isn’t suited to no-flash photos indoors or to edgy camera settings to create special effects. But - for either special image effects depending on edgy camera settings or for indoor no-flash shooting - the 24-70 f/2.8 is almost essential.
That means that - if you plan to shoot weddings - get the 24-70 f/2.8, as many if not most churches prohibit flash inside. If you plan to shoot movie-poster-like photos, the 24-70 f/2.8 again is about essential - even in bright sunlit locations. Otherwise, you’ll enjoy the 24-105.
Worth noting: the 24-70 f/2.8’s first version shoots fine photos even with edgy camera settings - and made a lot of money for a lot of wedding photographers.

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


Your “Rolodex” for pitching stories

My first on-assignment work came to me - by clients finding me as a photojournalist in this area through the Web portfolio I had in the National Press Photographers Association’s own Web site. Literally, my first on-assignment work for a daily paper came when my cell phone rang when I had it in my hand as I was getting ready to go eat. But - to seek out potential gigs - you need something organized: a listing of contacts at daily newspapers, magazines, wire services, and possibly other possible clients.
And this “Rolodex” really has to be computerized - as you want it to have records of your contacts with these people on what kind of stories, and of what any that hire you paid. Having records of what a paper paid last time on what story will not only be a “reference” when dealing with that paper in the future - but will help you avoid getting lowballed on rates. Doing this in a desktop card-type Rolodex really would be inconvenient at best - as you will constantly be updating it as people at publications come and go, you have newer stories you covered for them or pitched to them, and possibly even phone numbers change. So do it as a text file. You can’t keep all this information in your smartphone, either!
For each publication, you want the name of the:
Director of photography
Phone number of director of photography
Email address of director of photography
Phone numbers and email addresses of
others in the photo department there.
Mailing address.
Stories you have worked for that paper.
Stories you pitched - and when.
Rates offered or paid.

Paula Broadwell’s sons with neighbor and another kid.
Shot on assignment for New York Daily News.