Going in with fresh eyes

Prompt: How has the photo work you’ve done so far affected the way you see the world?

I’ve said it once and I’ll say it again: taking photos is hard. There’s a lot to focus on, and even though I’ve been trying to be more aware of backgrounds and distracting elements, I still miss things.

During a shoot for an upcoming assignment, however, I did find myself thinking about the subjects differently when scouring the room for detail shots. I tried to imagine what different angles I could take, where in the room I could stand to get a different shot or focus on a specific detail. I hadn’t approached an assignment that way before, so some of my better shots were more due to luck than my own skill. I was more focused on capturing interesting movement than anything else. I can’t say I walk through life now constantly thinking about how I could make a picture of that moment, but I am especially paying more attention to light and composition when I see an interesting scene.

I think part of thinking differently about taking photos is thinking about what experience I bring to the subject — as a dancer, I can anticipate certain moments, to an extent, because I have taken hundreds of dance classes. I know the poses that typically end a grand allegro and how to use the music and counts to figure out when someone will jump, turn or land. As I have been photographing dancers, I have to be very aware of those moments because they often make the best images.

I can also be a lens (literally and figuratively) into a world that not everyone has access to. What about a dance studio have people not seen before that might interest them? Perhaps it’s a girl nonchalantly lifting her leg over her head. Or perhaps it’s a cubby stuffed with scuffed satin pointe shoes. To me, those things might not seem so odd or unusual, but to others, they could be strange or make them inwardly cringe.

Whatever the specific subject, I’ve had to have fresh eyes when entering a world that is already familiar to me, and that has ultimately done the most to change how I approach photography.

And in the fifth week, I created sound.

Prompt: What have you learned from doing the short audio assignment that could be applied to longer, radio-style audio feature work?

Whenever I see examples of new work, my first thought is usually, “Oh wow, I could never make something like that,” or I just begin to imagine gargantuan amounts of work I have to do, pretty much overwhelming myself in the process.

Such was the case last week when learning to audio in class. Reuben showed us the steps, but I still couldn’t quite bridge the gap between what I’d already collected the night before and the polished finished product in front of me. There are just a lot of adjustments and factors that I don’t have control over — or rather, things I don’t think to control for when I am in the moment.

It’s intimidating enough to go out and have to interview someone for any reason, whether you know them or not. Add in a bunch of equipment and very specific parameters on noise and sound, and you have a whole other animal. Remembering not to move too much or talk or “mmhmmm” or shift my feet around or knock the microphone connection is distracting enough, but I also have to engage my subject and listen for good quotes and try to keep the interview going in general. Even when I’m my most pleasant, engaging self with a subject, interviewing is hard and uncomfortable. It’s hard to put into practice all the skills and techniques I’ve learned and be attuned to how everything sounds.

I’m used to interviews being part of the process, not the product. For my next assignment, that will be a big thing I have to focus on. I need to be even more on my game and sure of how I want to lead the conversation so I can project confidence and knowledge to my subject. I noticed that the more absent-minded I felt or the less complete my questions were, the less complete his answers were. In just a spoken interview, I can meander a little and lead a subject back on track by slowing working up to a question or sharing some personal information to warm things up. For audio interviews, this is harder because I’m looking for more precise words; I might be able to paraphrase in text to get at the heart of what someone meant or help connect their ideas, but I can’t do that with sound. It’s a much more “pure” form of an interview, so to speak, because I play much less of an interpreter role as a multimedia reporter than I do as a text reporter.

In short, I need to:

  • Have more straightforward, open questions at the ready
  • Make sure my mic is close enough to my subject without being obtrusive or awkward
  • Gather a better variety of natural sound
  • Learn to affirm and guide an interview without verbal cues
  • Translate my text interview skills to audio interviews — be confident, curious and engaging while still getting appropriate audio material

As cool as it as and as much as I think it adds to the user experience, I’m still trying to get over the inconvenience of carrying, setting up and using extra equipment. However, based on how well I think this first try at audio reporting turned out, I am not dreading round 2 as much as I expected. Inconveniences and discomfort aside, I forget how much I really enjoy radio-style journalism, and it’s fun to be able to learn to create that.

The benefit of critiques

Prompt 4: What specific ideas from class discussions and assigned readings will you incorporate (or have already incorporated) into your work on the upcoming 3-photos and slideshow assignments?

Moments: From looking at the POYi photos from the readings and the other decisive moment photos in class, I want to do better at finding moments to capture. This means taking more photos and getting more involved with whats happening with my subjects than what’s happening with my camera.

Backlighting: During critiques, a few of us had problems with our subjects being too dark and backgrounds being to bright. Although I think I’m getting better at judging light through the camera and making it responsive, I need to do a better job at judging the light outside and how it pertains to my subjects (where it is coming from, how it affects the face and background, etc.).

Backgrounds: Every time I take a photo, I feel like when trying to incorporate what I’ve learned so far, I inadvertently leave something new out. In the last assignment, I included some distracting backgrounds without realizing it. I need to train my eye to see everything in the shot.

Although it makes me a little self-conscious, I like the opportunities we’ve had in class to critique each other’s work. Just like with writing, I get protective about photos I’ve taken, perhaps even more so because I am far less certain of myself with a camera than I am with a pen and notebook.

Just like I’m learning to let go of that desperate protective feeling with writing, it’s becoming easier to let go of it with other types of journalism, too. I just have to remind myself that the collaboration is what helps me learn. I might be a person who likes to recharge alone, but I have to work with people. I need to talk things out and brainstorm and grapple with ideas. So no matter how uncomfortable it is, the class discussions and critiques have really helped.

 

Photojournalism is hard, and other things I learned this week

“Patience,” my father says, “Is a virtue.” Any unfortunately, it’s one I tend to lack. So of course it’s also the virtue I’ve needed most so far this semester in J7802. Which leads me to this week’s topic:

Week 3 prompt: What have you learned from doing the Seeing Red assignment and the related discussions in class?

Words are fast. Explaining things in words is easy (for me). Photos…less so. It’s slower. More deliberate. Composition in photos requires you to do all your work on the spot as it happens. Composition in words can be done after the fact, once I’ve had time to digest and react.

In the seeing red assignment, I was most focused on not screwing up my lighting and using the camera correctly. What I’m learning is that I need to focus more on composition in the moment. Less guess and check, more do. In my first semester of reporting I was told that what I produced was more important than what I tried to produce, and I’m seeing that’s true in all aspects of journalism. If you can’t produce a good photo, you need to get yourself into a situation where you can, no excuses.

During my work for subsequent assignments, I’ve tried to be more aware of composition, but it’s a lot of moving parts to keep track of at once. I need to get over the fact that some things are beyond my control and just try to work within the situation to get photos that don’t have distracting elements or are off-kilter in some way. It’s going to take patience. And practice. It’s going to require that I be confident in my technical skills so I can focus more on the content. And in time, those things will come.

My short term goals would be to do more thinking of composition in the moment and more careful editing after the fact to consider anything that I can fix to strengthen my photos. I’m used to editing for text; there’s a mental checklist I use with every story so I can make sure I’m not leaving stones unturned.

I don’t have the same comfort here yet. I don’t know everything to look for or what common pitfalls are. I have a teacher and classmates to guide me, but it feels a little like going in blind. It’s been a while, relatively speaking, since I had to learn how to report something from scratch, and I had forgotten how off-putting it felt to be completely new at something and still have to perform like a pro. It’s a little irritating to have to develop a new system, but it’s helpful that at least for text I already know the process I’ll need to go through.

TL;DR: be patient, Shaina. No one mastered photo composition overnight.

Priorities for a multiplatform reporter

I’m at the end of week 2, and multimedia journalism is slowly seeming less scary. Part of that, of course, could be my unbridled excitement at learning the basics of using a DLSR camera. I was that journalism kid sitting on a bench on the quad on Tuesday taking pictures of the grass.

And at the risk of sounding super nerdy, I kind of loved it. Which leads me to…

Prompt 2: Based what you are learning so far and your own experience as a news consumer, identify what you believe are the three or four most important priorities for a multiplatform reporter and explain why each is important.

Story: At the heart of all journalism is the ability to tell a story. This is no different for text reporters, photojournalists or multiplatform reporters. But because visual journalism (at least for me) isn’t instinctual or natural yet, it would seem to me that being able to find a story that especially lends itself to that medium is important when you lack some of the resources text reporters rely on. I’m a go-to researcher, but research does me little good visually; it can’t tell my story. Prioritizing story is a must for any reporter, but multiplatform reporters especially must have a strong sense of story so they can find the right visual elements to tell it.

Patience: When you are working with a lot of (literally) moving parts, you can’t rush the final product. Being able to make light, subjects, audio, video, etc work together in the right way takes not only an eye for composition, but the patience to let it happen. This is definitely something I will have to work on. It’s easy to get into the habit of churning out notes and taking in information, but combining many elements doesn’t always make that kind of workflow possible. A good multiplatform reporter does work that shows he/she took the time to think out each part and make sure they all marry well together.

Technical skill: Of course, the tools don’t really make the reporter. But when you are working with equipment that demands a certain prowess, you obviously can’t do your job well unless you know what you are doing. I think one of the first ways you can spot bad multiplatform reporting is through easily-fixed tech mistakes. It’s hard to focus on doing good journalism when you are hung up on the specifics of a camera or recorder.

We turn in our first assignment this week, and though it certainly isn’t anything to call home about, I can’t help but be proud when I learn something new.