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.

Things to keep in your car

If you’re a photojournalist, you need to have certain small things in your car at all times - and in an organized way. An inexpensive tackle box is best for keeping them available - and organized.
I keep all of the following in a rugged but rustproof plastic tackle box I got at Wal-Mart: nail clippers (shooting photos with a broken nail is tough!); a “clicker” that doubles as a dog whistle for posing pets; a Leatherman multitool; plenty of Band-Aids (you don’t want to bleed all over that dSLR or expensive lens!); cable ties; two Sharpies (one red, one black) for such things as writing my name on gear with or for potentially troublesome events writing a phone number on my arm - and the essential electronic stuff; and earplugs for covering noisy events..
The bottom of the tackle box is where all of the following stay: a roll of fluorescent-color duct tape; chargers for the dSLR and digicam batteries that run on either a wall outlet or 12V cigarette lighter; an adapter for using ordinary AA batteries to power the dSLR; chargers for the smartphone (both wall outlet and 12V).
One other thing I keep in the bottom of the tackle box is an eyeglass retainer - bright pink in case the glasses do get knocked off; it is floating - and I got it inexpensively at Wal-Mart.
Most all of this stuff I got inexpensively - either off eBay or at Wal-Mart - but it’s major brand and dependable. And it’s all in a tackle box the size of a shoe box - and organized.

Do you have a box like this in your car?

Pitching an emerging politician

What’s it like to pitch an emerging politician - one already being talked about for the “big job” itself, though she only recently “all but declared” for Congress? It has to be timed right - and the pitch itself has to be carefully crafted.
In my case, I waited until the emerging politician “all but declared” for Congress last year - despite having shot the movie-poster-like photo that made the prospective congressman world-famous much earlier. I then emailed the pitch within several days - after working out the details.
The pitch itself - emailed to the emerging politician - included: a cover letter with link to my portfolio, which includes photos of various national-level political personalities in political settings and where the photos had run, plus references; a resume; large photos from political and other settings, including that photo that had made the emerging politician world-famous.
Since sending that pitch, “someone” has clicked on the story my photo of the emerging politician ran atop worldwide - and others featuring her, shot in the same style - repeatedly, many times, to get that Google ranking. My guess is it’s one of her top backers.

I only wish I’d had a photo package of Newt Gingrich before he was famous!
Here, he campaigns for president in 2012 at a Tea Party rally.

Why on-assignment work is less expensive

My on-assignment rate for one top New York City daily is $500 per day or portion thereof - and it saves them money every time they hire me.
Here’s why. It would cost them more just to buy airline tickets to and from New York City before one of their shooters even got to whatever they wanted covered - especially when the tickets would almost certainly be on short notice. Rental car would add to the expenses. If the job was for more than one day, hotel bills would add to the cost of using their own shooter instead of hiring me.
That’s aside from the costs of their own shooter himself - a shooter costing salary, benefits, unemployment, workers comp, Obamacare, etc. Plus, of course, their own shooter means their own equipment - and, as in one assignment, a prior shooter had the “star” swing her car door into her lens!
They get top-quality work on deadline - and it costs them less than sending one of their staff shooters would cost.

Paula Broadwell’s kids with a neighbor at height of Petraeus/Broadwell scandal.
Shot on assignment for the New York Daily News.

Covering Election Day 2014

Covering 2014’s actual elections began with the planning. It was apparent from North Carolina’s “early voting” period that turnout was very likely to be slight - as, while the first day of early voting had long lines, the second day had nil. Plan was to shoot a package of photos at a polling place - the one I vote at.
Being that the photos were being shot for stock and foreign news use - not just here - I planned to shoot the same types of images as others covering the election had: “VOTE HERE” signs, signs warning that 2016’s elections would require photo ID to vote under a controversial new state law, political activists working the polls, and voters getting ready to vote. Obvious choice of lens - the 24-70mm f/2.8, since some photos would be indoors and available light, while all would be shot at close range. I decided camera settings in advance - settling on “P” to avoid having to fiddle with the camera settings indoors.
I shot most all the outdoor photos first - the political campaigners and most all of the signs. I then went in - and shot the scene of the voters actually preparing to vote through the doorway of the room where the voting machines were. Last indoor photo: the sign warning about the coming photo-ID requirement.
I then went home, evaluated the photos - and uploaded the package to a news-photo agency.

Voters check in before voting, Election Day 2014, Burlington, N.C.

Covering the 2014 congressional races

North Carolina now has some hot congressional races - but covering them is difficult, as some areas are taken for granted by one party (or candidate) and written off by the other. Nowhere is this as true as the U.S. Senate race - in which Sen. Kay Hagan (D-N.C.) is in a very tight reelection race against state legislator and Tea Party darling Thom Tillis, while this county is seen as hopelessly-safe Republican territory for all congressional races this year.
Contact with a Tea Party source weeks ago found none of the candidates coming to this county - at least not on any significant basis. The Tea Party source - who is at the level that the Tea Party and Republican Party merge - made clear that each candidate had written off or taken for granted this county and significant areas of neighboring Guilford County.
Nonetheless, something to cover in the Senate race did appear this week here in Burlington: signs placed by Tea Party group FreedomWorks (below) tying Sen. Hagan to Obamacare - which is very unpopular in this state. They appeared along major roads - and I stopped and photographed this one, aware that past photos of yard-type signs from political campaigns had sold for me. I then uploaded the photos to a news-photo agency.

A Tea Party-placed sign ties Sen. Hagan to (unpopular) Obamacare.

The economy - a continuing story for me.

Aside from particular big stories in the news - such as Eastman Kodak’s bankruptcy - the economy’s problems overall are a favorite story for me, as it’s a daily reality for the famous “99%.” I see something showing it, I shoot it - and I upload the package to a news-photo agency.
Shooting the economy’s continuing problems - most-recently reported in the Washington Post in an Oct. 2 story on how the middle class now is poorer than it was 24 years ago - has its difficulties now for photojournalists compared to shooting the iconic photos of the 1930s Depression. For one thing, today’s social programs hide today’s poverty; for instance, Food Stamps prevent shooting anything like the bread line under a sign boasting that the U.S. had the world’s highest living standard. Whether or not that concealing poverty is its real intent, it is a major effect of the social programs.
Nonetheless, plenty of images of today’s failed economy abound for today’s photojournalist. Topping the list is the death of the “middle division” car brands - which long sold to the middle class: Oldsmobile, Pontiac, Mercury, and (now overwhelmingly sold in China) Buick. As the long-established sole Lincoln-Mercury dealership here in Burlington, N.C. suddenly collapsed - and then the Mercury brand itself did - the dealership’s location became a story in itself. Despite being on a busy road near a busy interstate, it proved impossible to sell for the longest time - despite a realtor hanging a desperation-size banner on it.
So I shot a package of photos on the then-vacant dealership (below) and uploaded them to a news-photo agency. No Food Stamps could conceal that facet of the dead economy.

Long vacant, the former Burlington Lincoln-Mercury dealership location.

I saw it; I shot the photo; I sold the photo - again.

Although now having shot on-assignment for two years, I still shoot on-spec anything apparently newsworthy - and upload the photos to a news-photo agency. I do this for potential additional sales of photos that I own - and for additional exposure when on-assignment work is slow. And because, simply put, I love photojournalism.
So it was again last March - when, while doing errands locally, I saw a cellular-phone tower. As a longtime ham-radio operator, I was well aware of the “not-in-my-back-yard” disputes that had long plagued the industry. I also was well aware that the industry was hot - and that use for such photos might be significant.
As a shooter, I noticed that the background and lighting were near-perfect. I headed to a nearby place near the tower’s base - and got out my dSLR; the lens I had on it then - a 70-200mm - was perfect for this. I checked camera settings - and shot a small package. I then uploaded them to a news-photo agency.
Over a year later - last week - a photo (below) from that package ran widely on a paid basis in many Russian publications. I’d later learn that was because Russia now is developing its own cellular phone industry.

Cellular phone tower, Burlington, N.C. - run Sept. 16, 2014 in Daily Digital Digest (Russia) and other Russian news publications.