On Personality

Reflections for Visual Journalism

Personality Test (9 Jan 14)
As part of my Visual Journalism course, I just took a personality test.  According to the test, I’m a true moderate:

  • Moderately extroverted;
  • Moderately intuitive;
  • Moderately inclined towards feeling; and,
  • And moderately inclined towards perceiving.

This isn’t that surprising.  I fairly familiar with straddling the line between these groups. I’ve generally always been quiet when I first meet people and but genuinely enjoyed the company of others.  This also explains why I sometimes get a little stuck in superstitions (one example: I’m only shaving once or twice a week now for good luck on Seahawks game days).

As a journalist, it puts me in an awkward space. I think it will be helpful to me to be able to empathize with others, but making that initial outreach or contact could be a little tricky. I’m glad that I did not lean towards judging; to perceive is much more important and will hopefully help me keep biases at a minimum.

Challenges (14 Jan 14)
One of the more challenging parts of this has been being pleasant to people that are not very pleasant. It’s tough for me to brush the feeling of embarrassment and annoyance when you approach someone to introduce yourself and they are abrupt and unpleasant. I’ve had the same problem as a canvasser or phone banker, and even when I worked at a movie theater. It frustrating to see people (especially wealthier people) think that they can sneer at you because your dared to enter their bubble.

I also need to improve my photo ideas and variety. Thus far, I haven’t come up with very distinct routines. My Community Journalism professor tells me to change my routine, So I think that is what I will start having to do. Waking up earlier and/or going to bed later might be a good idea.

Challenges (15 Jan 14)

I continue to have difficulty working with people. My interactions with potential subjects have either gone very well or terribly. I’m hoping that will improve over time.

I feel like a Negative Nicholas writing this, but I have discovered that I despise posing people for photographs. Everything about it annoys me. Photos are literally named after the Greek terms “Photo” (light) and “Graph” (record). Literally translated, this means that a “photograph” is a “light record.” Considering this, I think that its important that the photos we have actually record life the way it is. Imperfect, awkward, painful and fully unpredictable, among a host of other things.

In that light, posing pictures doesn’t seem right.

Reflections (23 Jan 14)

Good news and bad news.

The good news: I’m slowly getting past the awkwardness of taking pictures of other people. More and more, I’m becoming more comfortable with snapping pictures and then getting quotes and information.  I’m still having trouble figuring out whether it’s best ask first or take the picture first. I don;t like asking first because I think it influences people too much; but, conversely, it also feels somewhat wrong to take a picture of someone without asking first.

Bad news: I’m running out of things to photograph. I really like nighttime photos, but at the same time, there are only so many places that you go and some many variations on the same theme that you can do. My new goal is challenge myself and start taking pictures during the day, though at present time, there is not enough time in the day for me to take time to go and photograph for an hour or so. A rock and a hard place.

Thoughts (27 Jan 14)

Had a revelation of sorts today. I was sitting on a flight from Nashville, TN to Denver, CO en route to Seattle, and I saw the setting cast the most beautiful lighting onto the gentleman sitting across from me. I really wanted to ask him to take his photograph, but it felt inherently wrong to do so, considering that on a plane, people really are kind of forced to be with you. Ultimately, I decided that I would ask him anyways, and I ended up with a few really great photos.

So, lesson one: never be afraid to ask.

Lesson two: everything has a shelf life.

A few minutes after I snapped a couple shots, I put the camera away, but kept watching him. A few minutes later, he started fiddling with the screen on the window. As great as the shadow were, I couldn’t bring myself to take out the camera again – doing two separate shoots seemed too intrusive.

Missing Opportunities (3 Feb 14)

The Broncos weren’t the only one’s suffering from self-inflicted injuries this week. On Tuesday, I went down to Olympia to cover a legislative hearing on Initiative 594. I figured that while I was reporting, I would take a few pictures for my photojournalism class. However, I neglected to check the syllabus before leaving and consequently, most of my pictures didn’t meet the criteria for that week’s assignment.

My B-plan was shoot the Seahawks return on Monday. Expecting a similar procession to their departure, I figured that I would get some great shots of fans welcoming home their team. Consequently, on Saturday, I went out with a few friends beers and left my camera at home, thinking I would taking photos on Monday. Sadly, I missed several spontaneous, pre-Super Bowl celebrations in Fremont that night. On Sunday, still expecting a return-procession,  I missed the celebrations in the U-District and downtown only to learn via the Seattle Times that Seahawks would be taking an undisclosed route from SeaTac Airport to their practice field on Monday night, and that the official parade would be held on Wednesday instead. End result – my complacency not only cost me a chance for some great photos, but also left me scrambling, frustrated  and embarrassed on Monday.

Lesson learned: plan better, do your research.

At Long Last (4 Mar 14)

Finishing up. Having just posted the photos and the captions for the major for my first major photo story, I can safely say catastrophe averted. In getting this project completed, I’ve learned numerous lessons – many of them the result of numerous heart-stopping moments as deadlines approached.

The main lesson: Don’t put all your eggs in a single basket. Seriously. Even if a person says that they are going to do something, have a back up plan because if they don’t (or worse – change their mind) on a short time span, then you will be left with lots of eggshells and no yolk, which makes for a particularly squishy situation. In the course of this project, I think at least two people turned me down outright, one person changed their mind and three people failed to get back to me despite having claimed to be interested. So, I’ve learned to be a smarter farmer and diversify my options.

Despite my initial set backs, once I got the opportunity to feature Mohammad Ahmed as my subject, there was not a moment that I regretted. It was awe inspiring and an honor to be allowed to follow someone around with a camera for a week into some very personal moments. I made a lot of mistakes, but he was always very patient and communicative so that I knew what I could and could not do. Being able to work with Ahmed definitely made all the early rejections worthwhile. It was an honor and a pleasure to work with him. 

Missing the Point (11 Mar 14)

This portrait was difficult in two senses. The first is in the subject. Photographing the Mayor was difficult in that I wanted to step away from his traditional image and try something different. I’ve met the Mayor before, and he has a very warm friendly personality. I wanted to take a few photographs that stepped away from his traditional public image of him in his official capacity and him as a cycling advocate. The difficult was showing his personality in a visually compelling way.  The second difficultly trying to make sure that it fit the requirements of the assignments.

During the interview, I noticed that the light coming in from the window was creating a beautiful contrast between the two sides of his face and was very, very soft looking. I thought that this was an interesting photograph that would focus the viewer on his facial expressions completely. I took a few posed photos earlier, but managed to catch him right as he looked up after packing his bag. The other photo I ended up with was a low shot of his bicycle as he got ready to leave. I think that this was very different from the existing photographs in that it gets lower and doesn’t focus on the bicycle.

I’m not sure whether this is the most compelling photograph. At the time, I really liked the image. I felt that it was clean and different, but in my final review — though it was my favorite image — it doesn’t seem something anyone other I would enjoy.

I think the biggest problem that I had was that I spent a lot of time talking with the Mayor during the interview and afterwards to get to know him and make him feel more comfortable. I should have spent more time focusing on setting up a photograph. In addition, I should have probably asked for more access. That probably would have afforded me the opportunity for a more compelling image.

13 Mar 14

The challenge with this smart phone photo assignment was not so much taking the picture as it was taking a good picture. When taking a picture with my telephone, I had a difficult time consciously composing the image. Most of the time, I’m using my phone to grab a moment on the fly with a friend or two and switching out of that mindset was tough. With a larger camera, I’m more aware of the different elements of my image; with a phone camera, I’m still used to just taking the standard “remember this?” shot. Not much else to worry about beyond that.

At Quarter’s End (17 Mar 14)

It has been said that looking back over one’s shoulder is an easier task than discerning that which lies ahead; that understanding the past is easier than deciphering the future. This is true in one sense. It is far easier to question the wisdom of decisions made with the comfort and confidence that new information brings. Yet, to definitively understand the past, one must cast aside biases resulting from new information and examine the issue holistically. Distance not only removes us from the passions of the moment, but also provides a wider vantage point. Standing at the precipice of the quarter, it is possible to gain insight on what has passed.

It’s time for some reflection. First, the biases:

When I first walked into this class, I thought I had a decent grasp on how photographs worked and photography’s role in journalism. I thought photos complimented stories, adding visual information that helped readers better understand the verbal component of the piece. I thought that capturing a moment was more luck than anything else. I did not know how to work a camera in full manual mode. I did not understand what the aperture setting on a camera meant – let alone how to use it. I did know how to frame a photo.

Throughout the class, I was humbled over and over by the work of my peers and the work of professionals. I saw time and time again that stories did not have to be verbally conveyed; in fact, in some cases, they are better told through visual mediums.

The most important day of class was the first full assignment. Using the manual mode on a camera, we were to take 4 photos, each showing mastery of a different setting: short depth-of-field, long depth-of-field, long exposure and short exposure. I did not fully understand these aspects going into the assignment but – worse yet – I thought I did. It was only during the in-class review that I fully comprehended my misunderstanding. The rest of the quarter was spent trying to catch up.

Both Jordan Stead’s and Josh Trujillo’s in-class talks were so great. As a former reader of the PI, I was familiar with both men’s work after the PI’s move to a web-only format. Jordan’s walk through his photographs showed me that – even in a journalistic setting – photos can still take on an artistic format. Walking through the photos, Jordan hinted at what Josh Trujillo later explicitly said: that photojournalism is about showing people things in a way they wouldn’t normally see them. Jordan’s tips about playing with lighting, finding your “special sauce” and about playing games while shooting an event were instructive, showing me that keeping fresh is the most important aspect of being a good photographer. Josh’s story on his business column made it clear that (contrary to my previous belief)  photographs don’t have to be part of a  story – they can be stories in and of themselves. I think their lessons provided me with a lot of inspiration as to how I would approach my own work.

Personally, I have always fretted over fairness, especially with photographs. Trying to be accurate and also trying to be clear is something that I have struggled with. This came to a head when I was working on my photo essay. I was constantly trying to figure out what was fair and what was not when it came to editing, cropping and lighting adjustments. While the in-class discussion was helpful, it wasn’t until I sat down with Erika Schultz, my professor, that I got a clear set of guidelines for this. Getting help before the project on when it was appropriate to adjust lighting and how much adjustment was acceptable was more helpful in this sense because it gave me precedents that I could look back to. It also illustrated how careful editing could clarify a photo’s point.

Perhaps the most important thing I learned was not technical, but personal. When I first started this class, I had trouble approaching people and asking them to take their photos. I also did not know how work closely with a subject, having never done that before. However, Erika made it clear that photography requires planning and careful communication. Good photographs are the result of taking time and getting people comfortable, not just composition and luck. Having this knowledge going into my photostory really helped me connect with my subject and get photos I would have never been able to get otherwise. This perspective also helped me deal with shorter interactions with people. I now know that giving people as much information on yourself, your project and your motivations will help you connect with strangers better in those shorter time periods.

This clearly points out the flaw in the way I approached the course. Throughout the quarter, I struggled with timing. Being a good photojournalist requires one to have an eye open for new ideas at all times so that you constantly have something to consider. Yet, I looked at the coursework this quarter as something that was compartmentalized into a specific period of time. I would set aside time to go look for photographs rather than set aside ideas to capture later. Looking at photography as a completed idea rather than a completed assignment is the biggest thing I’ve learned.

In hindsight, there are a lot of things about how I approached this class that I would have changed. But I would certainly never reconsider my decision to take it. By examining a different form of journalism, I became a better storyteller and got to see a side of the field that I didn’t know I didn’t understand. These skills have not just made me a better photographer, but a better journalist. I hope to continue growing them past this precipice and into the future.