Saturday, November 28, 2015

In Praise of True Photographers

An MMU student taking photos for the Mount Mercy Times, a channel 9 videographer and a Metro Sports photographer. And me, but you can't see me. Photographers all in dark, MMU AD in white behind them.

These days, the existence of cell phones means that most people are always carrying a camera that can shoot both still images and video.

But, just as having a PC with Publisher on it doesn’t make you a graphic designer, neither does your iPhone make you a photographer.

I was thinking about that this on Saturday in the Hennessy Recreation Center at Mount Mercy University. The university is on Thanksgiving break now, which means few students are around, but the Mustangs had a men’s basketball game that afternoon.

So, I bicycled to campus to grab a newspaper camera from the closed library building (where the paper office is and to which I have a key) for a student to borrow.

And I stayed for half the game to shoot some images.

I don’t know if basketball was the original sport that I shot years ago with my Minolta 35 mm camera. I know that the Calumet at Muscatine Community College had a basketball team, but I don’t recall where they played (there was no gym on campus) nor whether I shot any images of their games (I was one of the editors of the student newspaper at MCC back in the day).

Anyway, I know that I shot some basketball games at Marycrest College, as well as some soccer. At the time, the longest lens I owned was a 135 telephoto—no change in focal length.

My favorite shot of over 120.
At the game this weekend, I had a much nicer camera, my current Nikon D3100. Yet, most of my photos aren’t any good. I shot over 120 images, and consider only a few of them passable. Some samples are on this blog post, a few more can be seen in a Facebook gallery.

These days, as traditional media contract, one endangered species is the news photographer. It’s too easy to give a reporter a camera and tell her to shoot her own images, or depend on the kindness of strangers and their many photo-taking devices.

But I think the really good news or sports photographer is a rare breed worth preserving.

In this day of YouTube and instant photos and videos, we’re awash in images. That doesn’t mean we’re awash in good journalistic images—ones that really tell a key part of the story, that communication the action and emotion of a key instant.

And that kind of image is not easy to capture. Granted, I wasn’t using a really good camera—while my Nikon is an SLR digital camera and came with a 70 to 200 mm zoom, neither the camera nor the lens are the best for this kind of photography.

I can’t blame my low “hit” ratio on the camera, however. I’m a decent amateur photographer, and in my newspaper days, my photo skills did serve me well—but I was never primarily a news photographer.

A metaphorical tip of my imaginary metaphysical hat to those who are news photographers—you preserve instances of history in a way that writers like me should respect and recognize for the artistry, difficulty and skill level that good sports or news photography requires.

A picture is worth a 1,000 words—but only if it’s in focus, well composed and dramatic. And that’s not easy.

I know not much is going on in this image, but I kind of like it anyway. Under Armour vs Nike. When I left, Under Armour was out-scoring Nike about 4 to 1.

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