Sunday, December 05, 2004

Shallow Water in the Camera Pool

Camera Pool: When physical space or strict guidelines permit only ONE camera at a news story, forcing the rest of the media pack to make copies and gripe about it.

I've been in ALOT of pool camera situations - from V.I.P. funerals to high-profile court cases to presidential visits. It's always a headache, no matter what position you play. But when you're the one peering through the viewfinder, it's time to get it right.

I'd barely been shooting six months when I covered a local child molestation trial that was attracting national attention. After shooting walk-downs and throwing frisbees in the parking lot for a couple of days, it was my turn to man the pool cam.

Fraught with boredom, I spent much of my morning behind the court camera daydreaming, not really aware a room full of crusty news veterans two doors down were critiquing my work as I shot it. When I finally did duck my head in the crowded press room during the lunch break, a table full of journeymen photogs and reporters looked up from the field record-decks and gave me a collection of long sour looks.

"Dude, use your glass", said a portly shooter with a bad ponytail. "You can't just park it and nod off. Give us some cutaways."

Feeling like a complete rookie, I slunk back to my camera position for the rest of the lunchbreak and re-evaluated my latest career choice. I had just about decided to pursue professional bowling when I noticed the defendant scanning a newspaper someone had left on a bench. As she picked it up I quietly pointed the camera toward her and rolled tape.

The defendant, a female employee of a child care center caught in a firestorm of accusations, was facing charges following the sex-abuse conviction of her boss. His particular fate had consumed the media and when a jury found him guilty of multiple charges of child molestation, the headlines screamed the news.

Including the newspaper the female defendant was now leafing through. When she stopped to read the front page, the top of the sheet folded over into view, as if heavy from the bold face screaming details of the newly convicted child molester. Her forehead wrinkled with concern that she might soon join her boss in ther big house, and as she chewed on her lip nervously, I slowly zoomed in.

Suddenly camera flashes popped all around me as the still photogs got in on the act. The female defendant looked up and gave all us media jackals a glaring sneer for the ages. In the distance, a muffled whooping sound rang out from the pressroom.

It was only a fleeting moment but the shot of the defendant sneering at the camera graced the front of the state paper that day. We TV types preferred the footage of her grimacing at the headline, and it soon became an over-the-shoulder graphic for at least two stations' continuing team smotherage.

Of course my stock shot upward in the pressroom that afternoon and I learned a thing or two about staying focused when the Big Show's in town. In the years since, I've endured a myriad of other pool-cam histrionics, but I'm always hesitant to give some rookie grief for not meeting my lofty cinematic standards.

Unless they're a tool about it. Then I'm relentless.

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