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. 

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