Lessons learned after a solid 3 months of shooting

1. The Power of shooting RAW and using levels

Many times, my stories would take bring me into situations where there would be a lot of activity and very little natural light. The lens I shoot with is a 28-135mm, 3.5-5.6; a relatively slow lens. Using raw opens up roughly six stops of latitude and enables me to get decent exposure, even with poor lighting. Using the levels in the edit also helps bring out the detail the mid-tones and opens up a shot.

2. The story is in the face

I was trying to get a great panning shot, I had everything dialed in, I had the movement down, a slow shutter and a fast lens with a wide-open shutter. After several attempts at trying to get a decent panning hockey shot, I finally go a frame I was satisfied with, the only problem was the player had his back turned to me. This shot has decent motion, but has no story. A photo’s narrative is transmitted through the eyes and facial expressions of your subject, the back of their head says very little.

3. Back Lighting is Awesome and sometimes you have to get dirty to get cool shots

This frame was captured during the lawnmower race on November 16. This was one of the racers dismounting his racing machine after the first race heat. The corral where the drivers were parking was full of dirt, so as they all pulled off the track, they began to kick up quite a bit of dust. This provided for a nice texture that, when paired with an epic pose and a strong backlight, produced a pretty cool frame. My only wish was that I had a slower shutter to let in a little more light.

4. Photos need context

I shot this photo while experimenting with the strobe. Unfortunately, this was one of the best photos I walked away with. It’s a decent frame, but has very little in the way of a narrative. There is nothing tells the viewer where this is; skate park, city, dirt jump? There is also no indication of height, how much air is this guy getting? Even though it’s decent exposure, the photo gives the viewer very little story.

5. Always bring spare batteries, stobes die quick

I was shooting portraits all afternoon, chasing the sunset. I was relatively pleased with the results, but as I prepared for that evening’s shoot, I was limited in what I could shoot because I burned through the flash batteries. Like any good photojournalist, I reached into my camera bag and found an empty container of batteries—night over.

6. The moment is fleeting

Shooting action sports is difficult, which can be compounded by a slow lens. You need to study your subject before you begin shooting. Get an understanding of how they react in their environment so you can anticipate their moves. If your subject is a BMX rider in a skate park, watch how he sessions a particular obstacle and gauge how he will it the next time, this way you will be prepared the next time he rolls in front of your lens.

7. Spend time with your subjects

People are cool, spend time with your subject. When shooting a photo story, you need to understand who your subjects are. Gong and following them for a day, and documenting their daily routine isn’t enough, anyone can do that. The function of a photojournalist is to take an ordinary story, or life, and find the special moments. The only way this is achieved is by knowing the person, or people you are following. Ask questions, spend as much time with them and genuinely care. If you find that you don’t sympathize with your subjects, drop the story because it won’t turn out well.

8. Watch out for eye contact

As a photojournalist, you are functioning as an observer, building a window for viewers to briefly peer into someone else’s life. There is great controversy over the notion of eye contact, but subjects looking down the lens have always troubled me, unless it is a portrait. This action recognizes the fat that there is a camera documenting a story, and can separate the viewer from the narrative.

9. Video compositions don’t always translate into still photos

I captured this frame while traveling to Washington DC with a group of undocumented students. The situation was very stressful and there was a lot of visual stimulus. The project I was working on was a video documentation of their trip. My background was video, so I was capturing the ‘moment’ with ease. As I began to snap still photos, I was still thinking video coverage and had difficulty translating moving composition into a dingle frame. When thinking for video, you are constructing a scene, using multiple frames to depict the action in a scene. When shooting for stills, you have on exposure to tell the same story—not easy too do!

10. Back up everything in multiple places

This one was a hard lesson to learn—again. 

Nick Oza: In the Field

Over the course of the fall semester, I had been trying to follow Nick out into the field and watch how he approaches an assignment. Due to the busy nature of both of our schedules, we were unable to link up.

I bean to work on a story about a group of undocumented students who were planning a bus trip to Washington DC to protest in front of Rep. John Boehner’s office. I had an opportunity to follow them to Washington and document their trip.

As the bus traveled through Oklahoma, I was talking to one of the group leaders who was coordinating press coverage for their arrival at Boehner’s office in the coming days. She mentioned that the Arizona Republic was sending Nick Oza to Washington to meet them and that he was going to travel back to Arizona on the bus.

I finally had my opportunity to work with Nick.

As the trip progressed, I began to sense friction between myself and a select few members of the group’s leadership. They attempted to use my being there as an opportunity to populate their facebook page, and were questioning my motives for the shots I was taking.

I did my best to brush this aside and remain focused on my task, produce an accurate reflection of the events that were about to unfold.

We finally arrived in DC and met up with Nick in the hallways of Boehner’s office building.

We exchanged pleasantries then began to work. I was primarily shooting video, while Nick quickly switched between video and stills.

After I got all the coverage I needed, I began to follow Nick. The group spent three days praying in front of Boehner’s office, which limited our opportunity for visuals.

I spoke to Nick about the issue I was having with the group. Nick told me I needed thicker skin, and to remind myself why I was there. I was there to tell a story, not be their friend.

Nick Oza: The first meeting

My first meeting with Nick Oza happened in the middle of the week, late in the afternoon near the beginning of the semester. Like most journalism students, I was undecided about what I wanted to do or where I wanted to work and was looking to a weathered veteran for words of encouragement and hard-luck advice.

I met nick as he was pulling out of the Arizona Republic employee parking structure. He stopped in the middle of the road and yelled out to me from a partially lowered window. Nick, who had promised me an interview, was between assignments and was planning on picking up a friend at the air port. Nick informed me that he only had a few minutes, but he wanted me to ask him whatever questions I had.

I reviewed my questions carefully scribed on my yellow legal pad: “How did you get involved in photojournalism,” “How do you approach a subject bout getting their personal information,” etc. 

As I began asking my questions, Nick pulled his car into a Circle-K convenience store and instructed me to follow him. I kept trying to ask questions about aperture and lens section , but I didn’t know that I was ging to walk away with something so much more valuable. 

I patiently waited in line with Nick as he purchased a new pack of cigarettes. watched as he unwrapped the Marlboros’ and perched a fresh stick on his lower lip. We went outside and stood near the front of the convenient store, surrounded by the homeless, the wretched and the forgotten.

“I belong to the streets, man” he informed me. I like to tell their stories.

I have been fascinated by Nick’s work,  the stories he captures following gang street violence and families torn to shreds by drugs. He gets so close to his subjects, but still tells a startlingly accurate story.

I felt when I asked him how he got so close to his subjects, I was asking a magician how they cut someone in half. But he was very open and immediate with his response:

“I just do…stories don’t happen from nine to five,” you have to follow your story, and be there when it happens. Maybe you will get lucky.

Nick told me that he told stories of humans and he didn’t like to incorporate elements such as flash and lighting. He liked to present an accurate transmission of what happened.

I quickly abandoned my generic list of technical photo questions and kept asking him questions about ‘story’. Where do you look for good stories, how do you follow a good story, when do you know you have a good story? 

He told me the best stories are the ones that challenge you. You can only tell a good story if you change as a person, and learn something.

Before I had a chance to ask him about internships and job prospects, we were back at the Republic building, shaking hands and bidding farewell.

I left our conversation still unclear about where I wanted to work, but I was confident about what I wanted to do.

I want to tell stories about humans.

2012 Filmstock Film Festival selection for Best Sound Design

Dead Man’s Hand 2012, Filmstock Film Festival.

Dead Man’s Hand Sound Team
Erin Patrick O’Connor- Sound Designer, Foley Artist
Alex Quitugua- Sound Mixer, Boom Operator, Foley Artist
Kile Stumbo- Boom Operator

Filmstock Film Festival selection for best sound design, 2012
“Dead Man’s Hand”

Dead Man’s Hand Theatrical Trailer, 2011
film by Tyson Smith, City Morgue Productions