You can do a lot of things with a TV news camera on your shoulder - chase cops and robbers up crack pipe stairwells, do the one-eyed backpedal as a Governor glad-hands his way through jam-packed ballrooms, grab for balance as your small boat scrapes the roof of a flooded school bus, we’ve ALL been there.. God knows when I started lenslinging, I wanted to do just that; strut up and down the crime tape with badly-scratched battle-axe atop my station freebie fleece. But the older I get, the more I find myself parking my one-eyed beast on a tall tripod and turn on its cloaking device. What? Never heard of the Invisible Switch? Oh yeah - we got one. It comes in damn handy at heated hostage situations, fallen hero funerals and those goofy outdoor dramas...
Of course, every shooter worth his or her sticks knows the worth of the proper perch. Be it small-plane crash or bigwig visit, TV lensers do their best work with all five feet firmly planted on the ground. It’s a hard concept for young shooters to accept, who doesn’t wanna shrug up and swashbuckle at age 23? You can slam-dance in the camera pit of life but for so long; eventually you’ll realize your three-legged friend in the back of the car can bag far better shots than you or your shoulder. County Fair midway, one-way glass stake-out, pissed off polar bar watch - it doesn’t matter where. Someday those with a zoom lens in their life will wrap their arms around their static rigs and embrace the power of the Still Side. Only then can they begin rendering themselves into the distance.
Crowds can help, as can loud noises and the deafening silence of recent grief. Mostly though, laying low behind the lens requires slow, deliberate motions. Act like you’re only babysitting the camera until the real guy gets there. Putter about like you’re supposed to be there and life forms from all walks of life will grant you unthinkable access to their inner selves. Both casual passers-by and shackled defendants assume that, like a still-camera, you have to look through the lens to capture an image, Untrue. Even before the advent of flip-out color screens, real photogs everywhere were fluent in low-key recording. How else you gonna get the good juice at the courthouse squabble?
Cop a squat, frame a shot, hit the record button and tie your shoe. While you’re lacing up the finest in photog footwear, you trusty weapon is committing all that passes through its tractor-beam into digitally pixilated full-motion memory. I cannot tell you how many times this simple technique has landed me the catch of the day, be it a handcuffed dentist mouthing curses at my camera, a construction worker falling off a three story scaffold or SWAT team members dropping a shotgun-wielding hillbilly on his front porch. So here’s my advice to all those shoulder-happy rookies with thoughts of COPS in their heads: Bring your three-legged friend, mark his territory and get to know the outer reaches of the zoom lens zone. A million vistas await the patient. Be persistent and you’ll learn to shoot whole epics from a lone camera-position. Unless, of course you’re following a troupe of break-dancing midgets through an old folks home. Last time that happened, even I had to ditch the sticks and live a little.