Monday, August 29, 2016

How I would shoot the picture of the day

I started encouraging The Orion editors-in-chief to start assigning a photo of the day a couple of semesters ago. Getting photographers to capture an image every day and post it on home page, I explained, was a good idea for a bunch of reasons:
• It would push the website to provide more coverage of campus events because a photo and cutline could tell a story an editor might not consider newsy enough for a word story.
• It would provide as many as a half-dozen images the print editors could play on the briefs page each week to add both news and visual interest.
• It would encourage photographers (and reporters) to be on the lookout for interesting scenes, events and people that readers would like to know about.
• It would provide visuals that would make the website's home page noticeably different every day.

I probably got the idea from my own experience at the Cedar Rapids (Iowa) Gazette, where the editors used to run a full page a photos from staff photographers or the wires on the back of the A section every day, and at the Spencer (Iowa) Daily Reporter, where I had no AP photo service and needed to scramble every Sunday afternoon to find a dominant image for my Monday morning front page on the slowest of news days.

I came away with an understanding that readers really like pictures and the pictures didn't need to be buildings burning or rivers flooding to capture their attention.

The Orion's photos of the day could use a little help. I think photographers who are given the assignment to come back with an image for the website don't quite know what the editors (or the adviser) are looking for. Here's a collection from the past week:

I see almost no action and no interesting angles or use of light. I do see the backs of people's heads and two people simply walking. Most of the photos could have been taken on any day and show action that would have been available any time. On the positive side, the photos do show students and the photographer reported their names in the cutlines.

Here's how I would approach the assignment to make stronger, more interesting and more journalistic photos.

1. I'd find campus and community calendars of events and use my artistic and journalistic sense to pick an event that would yield interesting images.
2. I'd give myself 30 minutes to an hour to wander around and talk to people there, looking for an interesting story to tell that I could convey with a single image or a slide show.
3. I'd make sure I was capturing people's faces, but I wouldn't pose my subjects. I'd look for images that showed them doing something and for facial expressions that showed how they felt doing it.
4. I'd shoot from lots of angles to get a variety of shots. I'd look for patterns, repetition, the interplay of light and shadow, and other elements of photo composition.
5. I'd make sure I always had a camera with me, and I'd be constantly on the lookout for visual stories that would interest my readers, those with high news value and those that were just fun and interesting to look at.
6. I'd ask students if they knew about professors, administrators, support staff members, other students and anyone else on campus who did interesting things at work or away from school. Then I'd follow up to see if those people would be willing to let me photograph them doing it.

Maybe the coolest thing about a photo-of-the-day assignment is that, done well and done consistently, it can provide a historical archive of life in Chico and at Chico State that will engage readers now and  for years to come.