Recent forays into photojournalism

About two months ago, I purchased my first “real” camera lens – a Canon 55mm 1.5 – and I am finally getting the hang of the thing. Transitioning to a fixed focal length lens has been challenging in some ways; I find that I still need to bring my crummy old 18-55 lens with me on photo assignments for the paper, as it works better in tight spaces and lets me squeeze more stuff into the frame. But mostly it’s just wonderful.

When we redesigned the paper six months back, our team committed to seeking out better lead cover art and running it big. As I am the primary reporter-photographer as well as editor, it’s been up to me to find great art for each and every issue since we made the change. This has been tricky at times, but my handy 55 mm makes much easier work of it. I have so little formal training, and much of the photo work I’ve done since getting started in the newspaper biz a year and a half ago has been crash course, trial-and-error type stuff. After some assignments, I come back to the officy giddy and thrilled. Other times, I’m hard pressed to find one usable photo out of 50, especially when tricky indoor lighting comes into play.

I have much appreciation for the photographers of the world – they toil immeasurably, often for little financial reward, and the visual record they leave behind constitutes a vital accompaniment to our collective written history. But I do have to say … Having this glorious, glassy, light-gobbling lens has bumped up the quality of what I produce considerably …  Who knew the equipment and not just the user could make such a difference?

I am getting a particular thrill out of portraits. I write lots of profiles and features and it’s just such a blast and a challenge trying to capture people’s personalities in still format. I find people are either thrilled at the prospect of being photographed or absolutely horrified – few fall in the middle. Those who are game make my job easy, as they’ll naturally pose themselves and seek out fun props. With the hesitant, the trick becomes finding ways to loosen them up. I’ve inadvertently developed a bad comedy routine that I run through when I’m shooting photos of such subjects. It involves all sorts of corny jokes and proddings too painful to repeat here, but it seems to work well. I think it’s easy to forget sometimes that adults have just as many neuroses as insecurities as kids do – as journalists, we expect grown ups to arrive at interviews calm, cool and ready to “give good quote,” but this can be dangerous. The Korean have a concept called “kibun,” which involves having the ability to sense where a person is in space, mentally and physically, and to react to them based on those observations. Good kibun is a journalist’s – and photojournalist’s – best friend.

I am shy to post these, as I know so many amazing photojournalists whose work blows mine out of the water. But I’ve been trying to be inspired and not intimidated by the great work my contemporaries are doing, so here goes. A few recent shots.

Photo by Erin J. Bernard

Photo by Erin J. Bernard

Photo by Erin J. Bernard

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