Monday, February 27, 2006

Mad Skills of a Master Photog

Sure, anybody can point and shoot, but to excel as a television news photographer, you gotta have SKILLS. Knowing which end of the camera to point at the action helps, but if you want to make it behind the lens (and why, frankly, would you?), you'll need to master a discipline of ingenuity not found in textbooks. Since I know a thing or two about not finding things in textbooks, I'm especially equipped to list a few job qualifications of the modern day photog, in exceedingly random order:

SNIPER - Chances are you won't kill anybody, but you will line up your sights on the powerful and the pathetic. If you hope to do so without being harrassed by vagabonds or tackled by Security, you'd better sharpen your crosshairs. A veteran 'tog can track a drunk shriner from across a crowded convention floor and tell whether he just polished off the chicken or the fish - all from the discomfort of an ancient tripod half-hidden behind a plastic fern. Hey, they don't call us shooters for nothing.

AMBASSADOR - That overpayed anchor may be the face of your station, but it's you in the station windbreaker that spends the most time in the public. But with that the free jacket comes great responsibility, as both housewives and district judges will see you for more than you really are. If you want to add to your collection, you'll act like you got some smarts when sportin' the logo - even if that means chewing your food with your closed while the waitress with the moustache yammers on about how your most reviled co-worker is their absolute favorite. I didn't say it would be easy.

CONTORTIONIST - So what does body-bending have to do with baggin' good shots, you ask? Obviously, you've never taken part in a police car ride-along, courthouse camera-scrum or chopper ride to the floodzone. If you had, you'd know how often it pays to be limber. Mastery of the moving image (along with lots of entry fees) will line your mantle with shiny trophies, but if you want MY respect you'll learn how to fold yourself backwards into an unmarked surveillance van for hours on stretch. It's almost as important as knowing how to sleep on command.

Lenslinger at the WheelSTUNT-DRIVER - Sure, careless and wreckless is frowned upon by management far and wide, but you cannot expect to meet the usual litany of unreasonable deadlines if you drive like Mr. Magoo. Thus, I recommend every young photog master the finer points of aggressive driving, then learn to rarely use them. I mean, really - do we need to run grandmothers off the road just so we can be the first person to pin a wireless microphone on the top cookie seller at girl scout camp? Not unless she has a roadmap to Osama's spider-hole. Then, the breakdown lane is MINE!

TROUBLESHOOTER - I don't give a fig how many student films you watched in college; if you've never rescued a day's worth of newsgathering with duct tape and a hair-dryer, you ain't welcome at my crime-tape. I got pals who can field-strip a shoot tape in a sandstorm, fix a bad edit in the back of a bouncing live truck, and re-wire a light-kit in the pouring rain - all with only a rusty Leatherman and a modicum of obscenity. You'd curse too if the entire newscast threatened to crash and burn because of a single, neglected nine-volt battery.

SURVIVALIST - Five Star hotels and all access passes are nice, but any photog worth the weight of his tripod must be an expert at hunkering in the muck for extended periods of time. Be it a Class 3 Hurricane or a just a rainy-ass train wreck, be prepared to be prepared. That means packin' the right gear, from the best bug-spray to bring to a pot-pull to drying lenses with your 1K light to pawnin' off those highly-constipative sat truck granola bars on the competition...a photog has to know his or her limitiations. God knows the desk won't give it a second thought.

There's alot more things to know if you're going to cut it as a news shooter - some that even has to do with lenses and such. But that's the easy stuff! What comes harder is knowing when to roll, when to speed and when to simply nap in the ole news unit. Join us next time as we list other incarnations of lens-longevity, including ACROBAT, GRIEF COUNSELOR and of course, PUPPET MASTER. Remember, this WILL be on the test. That is all.


Luther said...

They have some cool stories today

Check it out

turdpolisher said...

hey slinger,

great post, but you forgot pack mule!

Daniel said...

they should make this post required reading for all j-school grads.

Jorge_Guapo said...

You also forgot 'scapegoat'.

Weaver said...

Chaufuer (sp)
Resume Tape Maker

Carolyn D. said...

You forgot TEACHER.

As an intern in 1987 at WTAE in Pittsburgh, I was often sent out on stories with a grizzled, union photog named Zeke. Zeke taught me a lot. It was the summer of the pit bulls, when there was some hideous pit bull attack every other day. We got a call that a kid had been attacked by a pit bull in a less than safe neighborhood. The desk sent me and Zeke out. When we got out of the news unit, a horde of angry people was across the street, screaming and carrying on. I turned to Zeke and said "I guess we should go over there and talk to them." He said. "You can do that. I can shoot this from right here."

Then there was Ralph. God I loved Ralph. I was working the desk, being harassed by a particularly intimidating exec producer about WHEN our photogs would run the guilty verdict footage from the courthouse to the live truck, and like a panicked ten year old girl, I kept getting on the two way to Ralph, saying "Ralph, what's your ETA?"
Ralph got back to the station after the live shot, yanked me into an edit bay and said "Look. We are NOT out there choking our chickens.Don't do that on the two way anymore - you're just irritating us."
And thus I learned my most valuable lesson. ALWAYS protect and defend the photog.

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