Thursday, March 03, 2005

In the Groove

Finding your groove, getting in the zone, achieving a shooter's high - whatever they call it, those who squint through a lens for a living all acknowledge its existence. Though frightfully hard to explain, I feel compelled to try. It's that...magical spell you fall under when everything you point the camera at falls into place. Images self-compose, nat sound breaks out left and right and happy accidents abound.

I remember an early morning in Kinston, N.C., standing on the edge of a convenience store parking bathed in warm sunrise light. In my viewfinder broken glass and a covered body filled the screen, pudgy detectives in short sleeves and shoulder holsters chewing tobacco over a busted cash register took up the frame. Sunk deep in my eyepiece, I whipped from one scene to the next, bagging one defining shot after another, building an in-camera vignette that would tell the story better than any reporter track. As I lined up one perfect shot after another, I remember thinking 'this is the most beautiful crime scene I've ever seen...'

A strange to think certainly, but looking back - I realize I was merely 'in the zone', laser focused on the one inch screen before me, half-listening to some off screen voice as it tells me where to next aim my lens. Soon instinct follows reason and experience fills in the next blank as I follow my mind's eye from one steady sequence to the next. Before long all peripheral vision melts away and I become one with the camera, deep under the influence of a most delicious case of tunnel vision...

Man, if I could bottle that feeling, I wouldn't be sitting here talking to you. I'd be churning out my magical elixir, making TV news better for all mankind. While I was at it, I'd whip up an antidote for that other cameraman malady - Shooter's Funk.

You know, that maddening malaise felt when you roll up on a breaking news scene with everything you need but your magic photo-mojo. Even if every piece of your gear is working fine and the action is happening on cue, you can't line up a satisfying shot to save the worn Leatherman on your hip. If you're not careful, the funk can set in so deep, you can't even shoot a decent courthouse gang-bang interview. As your performance falters, your confidence plummets - and then ALL IS LOST. Soon you're falling victim to brackish light and bad white-balances, tripping over one rookie mistake after another until you slither back to the Live Truck in a fallen photog walk of shame, knowing that somewhere, someone who doesn’t even know how to pull the trigger will critique your on-screen mistakes with savage abandon.

I hate when that happens...

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