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|| SportsShooter.com: News Item: Posted 2005-09-06
Intern Diaries: Portland Tribune
'Early in my internship it reinforced the idea that it was up to me what quality of work I turned in…'
By Lucas Jackson, Portland Tribune
"Make lemonade out of lemons." That was my job for the summer, as stated by fellow photographer L.E. Baskow on one of the first days of my summer internship at the Portland Tribune.
Photo by Lucas Jackson / Portland Tribune
Members of the 1186th Military Police Company from the Oregon Army National Guard gather at the Jackson Armory in Portland, Ore. for readiness processing as they prepare to deploy to New Orleans, Louisiana.
It was the day after I shot my first assignment, a neighborhood festival in the rain. I had managed to make a couple images that I was pretty happy with and Baskow was quick to notice I had been out "making lemonade."
He let me know that even though sometimes you will be presented with those rare assignments where the planets align and all of the preparation and technical knowledge come together and its possible to make amazing photographs out of an amazing scene, most of the time our job is to make something visually pleasing and intriguing out of everyday scenes.
Early in my internship it reinforced the idea that it was up to me what quality of work I turned in and that while an editor might not actually expect it or notice how hard I worked they would appreciate having better than average material to choose from.
The Tribune publishes every week on Tuesday and Friday and works to cover issues only affecting those living in the greater Portland Metro area. This publishing schedule made deadlines a little more relaxed, which usually gave me the luxury of shooting an assignment for a little longer than I could have otherwise.
Often the extra time resulted in much better images because I was able to absorb more about my subjects behavior and personalities. This knowledge, along with being able to connect with my subjects and have them forget about me being present led to much more intimate images than I would have otherwise captured.
The Tribune also uses photos in a manner most newspapers should pick up on, the paper is great, the color is excellent, and it is not at all uncommon for a lead photo to run 4 to 6 columns wide. Combining these factors with the small staff made it possible for me to get involved in some old-fashioned community journalism.
On almost every assignment I had the subjects or their friends let me know that their favorite paper to sit down and read was the Trib. While the paper went through some serious changes while I was there (including eliminating the director of photography position and a cross town office move) I was still able to shoot a wide array of assignments ranging from jazz and blues festivals to the story I am working on now, profiling a child trauma unit named the "Panda Crew."
In each of these assignments the subjects were often more than willing to let me into their lives to capture their lives on film and to share their experience with the entire city. It was a privilege that I will never be able to repay and I am thankful for each moment that I have captured.
Before I came to Portland I knew that I wanted a summer internship to improve not only my mental game but also my technical abilities. One of the skills I noticed I had picked up is my newly acquired "ninja" lighting technique. These cat-like reflexes and ninja concentration were the result of a beat I had shooting the "Bar of the Week" every Thursday night and the art for a lifestyle section called "On the Rocks."
Both of these assignments had me running around Portland at all hours of the night looking for telling images of the latest and greatest of the city's nightlife. More than once I found myself in downtown Portland marveling over the mating habits of 20-somethings at all stages of drunkenness while attempting to convey exactly what made a certain bar interesting to our readers through photos.
Shooting a bar with a mechanical bull one night and a bar with two people and 3 beers on tap the next was its own challenge but by using anywhere from zero to three flashes I managed to have a pretty good time on these assignments and to take some interesting photos as well.
Photo by Lucas Jackson / Portland Tribune
Nathan James and Amber King share some late afternoon sun underneath the arches of the historic St. Johns bridge during a live jazz performance at the twenty fifth annual Cathedral Park Jazz Festival in Portland, Oregon.
One of these days if you run into me ask to take a peek at the photos of "Strip Trivia" and we can have a good laugh. I swear that a serious background as an anthropologist would have been helpful more than once this summer.
As far as shooting sports goes I received some of my favorite assignments this summer from our sports desk. Because of the community nature of the paper the sports department gives coverage to the actual events as well as the players, coaches, and luminaries behind the scenes which can lead to very interesting assignments.
Shooting UO defensive standout Haloti Ngata for a "Day in the Life of" story, following one of the nations leading baseball statisticians through his home office and while he coaches his son's little league team, and receiving artistic liberty shooting a story about a dilapidated baseball stadium in northeast Portland were all a blast to work on.
Other exciting assignments included shooting the LPGA Safeway Classic, PGA Champions Tour Jeld-Wen Classic, Beavers baseball games, top-notch college soccer, and college football around the state. I learned that golf is more tiring to photograph than it is to play, football is all about field placement, baseball is all about paying attention, and soccer is a blast to shoot, every lesson I learned this summer will help me the rest of my career.
Overall the experience was definitely a positive one and while I sometimes wonder if I was missing out on some excitement by not going commercial fishing this summer I had a great time and know that I grew more photographically than I even thought possible. I look forward to whatever comes next but leave Portland with a bevy of new friends and memories of a great summer.
One of the questions I see more commonly than any other beginning photojournalists is whether they should attend a photojournalism school or head off to learn in the school of "hard knocks."
It is one of those issues that, along with the Nikon vs. Canon debate, have echoed thousands of times through the ears of everyone working in the business and both sides have very valid points. This is my two cents as seen from a student who just finished up his first official summer internship.
I will put it plainly: Without the education that I have received I would not have been nearly as effective as a photojournalist this summer, period. Granted I used little of the specific knowledge that I learned in school in my assignments and I had seen few of the situations I found myself shooting this summer in previous class assignments but here is how my education helped me.
In the classes I took at Brooks Institute of Photography one of the major lessons I learned was that if I went out to shoot an assignment I had to come back with an image, at least one, no matter what. There were no excuses for bad photos, if I did not have a good image to put in that slide tray everyone in the class would see that I dropped the ball and my grade would suffer.
This little truth is only magnified about a thousand times in a newsroom. When you come back with something less than sufficient (not everything is going to win a Pulitzer Prize but you should shoot like it can) you get your editor, other photographers, and basically anyone having to do with the story asking you for a better photo than the one you turned in.
Photo by Lucas Jackson / Portland Tribune
Jim Crawford works in his tractor to remove stumps from the 15 acres of land that he and his family have owned since the early 1970's near the town of Cedar Mill, Oregon.
If you thought it was embarrassing telling your teacher that your best effort fell flat wait until you have to tell your boss. It only happened to me once this summer and while I have a hundred reasons why I didn't nail the assignment not one of them matters when you get back to the newsroom (including memory cards recording nothing but digital noise.)
The photojournalism classes I took also taught me a lesson on getting along with people. I am an inherently shy person, I rarely just walk up to someone and begin a conversation, but with a camera I am unstoppable. Had I not been forced to take photographs of hundreds of strangers because of my class assignments I would be as shy today as I was when I started out. Having the ability to instantly connect with your subject is one of the most underrated skills out there.
While there are times when being the secret photographer does pay off it is much more advantageous to just walk up to subjects, introduce yourself, let them know what you are doing, and then tell them to ignore you. It worked wonderfully for me and after a few minutes they really do forget you are taking photos, it's a beautiful thing.
Being prepared is another lesson that Brooks taught me. Maybe a little less than the other things that I already mentioned but I always tried to have everything ready when I went out on assignment and to not get caught without something important.
Here is a sample checklist, and while some of the items seem no-brainers I still had to go through this every time I left my house, or in the case of charging things, when I got home at night.
1: Fresh batteries for everything that needs electricity
2: CF cards
3: Camera bodies/lenses, flashes, etc. (which ones I would need/use/might need)
4: Relevant photo passes, parking passes, credentials
5: Computer & relevant peripherals
6: Power cord for the computer (don't laugh, I forgot this one day and had to tone faster than I thought possible)
8: Cellular phone
10: Tripod/monopod/light stands (whatever I may need that day)
I suppose that about covers my mental checklist every time I left my house. Having fresh batteries is huge, I also have a charger plugged into an inverter in my car and an extra fresh battery at all times, it really is the heart of the operation.
Photo by Lucas Jackson / Portland Tribune
Club goers laugh, dance, and flirt in the lights and fog of H20 at the popular, smoke free, club in downtown Portland, Oregon. Even with several recent instances of shootings and violence in downtown Portland the club scene has seen little slowdown.
As far as technical knowledge gained in school being used in the real world the skills I used the most were in Photoshop. Taking one full class and having to use Photoshop in every class I took (once classes were digital) was a huge benefit whenever I had to tone images from a tough day in the field.
Even if your exposures are exact, your backgrounds are perfect, and your compositions were exactly what you wanted in the camera the images will need to be optimized for printing. I used several tricks and techniques that I learned from teachers and fellow students almost daily whenever I sat down to tone my images before handing them in to the desk.
Photoshop is the modern darkroom, it is a very powerful program so please use it to its full potential, and if you have to ask yourself if doing something is ethical, chances are it is not. Please stick to traditional "darkroom rules" and when done with a photograph you want to look at it and not see that you have used Photoshop on it.
Lighting was another skill I used quite a bit because of several late night assignments I had. However because each situation was so amazingly different from the one before it and I had no chance of controlling many situations I found myself in there was no real way to prepare for it.
Luckily I had the back of my camera in the dark and dingy bars that I often found myself in and an open mind as to how and where to get light in the scenes I needed to capture. With lighting I found it paid to just have fun and try different things while looking for quality moments (people will even ignore you if you have a pro body with a flash on a off-camera TTL cord in a bar if you just act like you are supposed to be there.)
Hopefully this helps anyone who is wondering what good school is. I can say with 100% certainty that it helped me and allowed me to hit the ground running in this internship.
While I realize that I still have plenty to learn in this profession the simple fact that I was able to integrate myself into a fully functional (and sometimes dysfunctional) newsroom within the first few days of work are a testament to the education I have received. In fact, I would like to take a chance here to thank my teachers thus far for helping me become the photojournalist I am today.
Thanks go out to: James Glover, Brent Winebrener, Greg Cooper, Michael Stern, Anacleto Rapping, Paul Myers, and to Jim McNay for running such a quality program.
(Lucas Jackson is a student at Brooks Institute of Photography in Ventura, CA. To check out some of his work, go to his SportsShooter.com member gallery at: http://www.sportsshooter.com/members.html?id=4074.)
Jackson's member page
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