The following is a column I wrote that answers some more frequent question I get on the job as a photojournalist. It ran in Tuesday’s print edition.
I’d like to think it’s my Dalai Lama-like aura or towering 5-foot-6 frame that draws the attention of a crowded room. But, in reality, people are probably looking at the two huge cameras and the array of lenses I have wrapped around my neck.
As a photojournalist for The Post-Crescent, I’m approached on the job a couple times a day with questions about being a professional photographer.
Getting a chance to talk with people is one of the coolest parts of what I do. Photography enthusiasts like me can attest: We love talking about photography as much, if not more, than actually taking pictures.
Some questions are odd, like the young man at a Wisconsin Timber Rattlers baseball game, who pointed to the long lens on my camera and asked, “Is that a hot-dog launcher?”
But for the most part, the questions are pretty common. Here are a few of them:
What station do you work for?
I don’t work for a TV station. I’m a still newspaper photographer for The Post-Crescent. TV photographers use one huge camera. We use two smaller cameras.
Did you go to school for that?
Yes. Even though I’m “just” a photographer, I occasionally have to read a little and write a coherent sentence or two. I know of no working photojournalist who doesn’t have a four-year college education.
Do you shoot just one particular subject, such as sports or news?
No. We have six photographers on staff. The assignments we get depend on what shift we’re on and what particular event is going on during that shift. The other day, I went from a soccer game to a pow-wow. The next day, I shot a portrait of a doctor, then went to the Outagamie County Fair. It never gets boring.
Do you use film or digital?
What’s film? Seriously. We stopped using film around 2001. I’ll never look back.
Why do you take so many pictures?
I take a lot of bad pictures to take a few good ones. Trust me. Some of the ones you don’t see aren’t fit to be published on toilet paper.
How much does all that gear cost?
A lot. Enough to by buy two gently used 2002 Buick Le|Sabres with low mileage. Why? Are you thinking about robbing me? My monopod turns into a bayonet. So watch it!
Do you have to buy your own equipment?
No. The company foots the bill for all our gear. Since we went to a digital format, the cameras are considerably more expensive. In the film days, we were responsible for purchasing all our equipment and got a monthly allowance to help with the cost.
Why do you have two cameras?
Let’s say, in a rare event, I open my passenger-side car door while the camera is anxiously waiting to spring into action. In its enthusiasm, it leaps from the seat just short of my waiting hands, causing it to tumble to the ground. Now that I have a very expensive paperweight and an embarrassing story that’s sure to amuse my editor, at least I have a second working camera to use as a backup.
When both cameras are functional, it’s also convenient to have one camera fitted with a longer zoom lens for close-up shots, and the second body hosting a wide-angle lens to shoot scene-setters or large group shots.
Continuously exchanging different lenses on one camera body wastes time that could be spent capturing the moment. It also causes unnecessary wear and tear while increasing the chance of dust entering into the camera.
What kind of camera should I buy?
You can get one like I use, unless you’d rather make a nice down payment on a home or pay for a year of college tuition. Otherwise, there’s a whole world of digital point-and-shoot cameras that come in all shapes and prices.
Figure out how much you want to spend and let the research begin. In any case, and this is very important, buy extra batteries and a digital card that holds twice as many photos as you think you’ll take. The loss of either makes all cameras worthless.
So if you happen to see me on assignment and have a question or two, I’d be happy to oblige. Unfortunately, unless technology makes some serious advancements, I won’t be firing any Ball Park Franks into the air with my lens.
It’d be cool if I could.