by Dick Kraus
Whenever people at social events hear that I am a newspaper photographer, their reaction is always, "Oh, how exciting that must be!"
They tell me how lucky I am to be able to travel around the world and cover all of the exciting events that occur in our lifetime. I have to explain to them that I mostly cover community news. That means that I rarely visit the White House or travel with the President. I have yet to cover any of the wars that crop up around this troubled globe. I don't often live out of a suitcase and transmit my photos of breaking news events from a laptop computer plugged into a phone. For the most part, I cover local events on Long Island. Things like meetings of the Legislatures in the two counties that make up the greater geography of Long Island. We spend a lot of time looking for weather floaters. Sometimes I get to New York City. Sometimes I travel to other parts of the country and the world. But, mostly I photograph felons who have been arrested as they are being taken to arraignment court from some police precinct. I cover a lot of court cases, but we aren't allowed in courts with cameras these days, so my compatriots and I wait outside in the cold or the heat for a chance to make a photo. I do an awful lot of photos for our Business Section. Which usually means a head shot of some CEO or a shot of the CEO at a computer or phone or desk or whatever. I shoot a lot of "High School Athlete of the Week" headshots. Then there are the hundreds of "headshots" of buildings for our Real Estate Section and photos of intersections where some citizen's group wants a light or a stop sign. Our photo staff sings a little ditty when someone asks, "What did you shoot, today?" The response is "Headshots and real estate," sung to a lilting melody.
And even when we are covering some big story, whether local or away, so much of our time is spent waiting for something to happen. Waiting. And waiting. It's what we do. Waiting for hours and hours. Waiting to get a shot of some crazed individual who killed his entire family and threatens to kill anyone who comes near. So, we wait for hours until the police negotiators talk him into giving up. Waiting and waiting outside the courtroom for a jury verdict. Even on stories that make national headlines. Can you imagine the man hours spent by tv, radio and print journalists and camera people, waiting to get a shot of Amy Fischer or Joey Buttafuouco when that case was in the courts. The lobby of that courthouse was packed with cameras, electronics, reporters, photographers, producers. There would be a flurry of activity in the morning when the protagonists and their families and lawyers arrived. Then there would be hour upon hour of waiting. Waiting. Crews would stretch out on the hard stone benches. Others would sit on the marble floor and read and reread every newspaper that was sold at the news stand. Waiting. And suddenly, people would pour out of the courtroom and we would grab our cameras and spend another hectic fifteen minutes shooting before everyone was gone. Ten hours, perhaps, of coverage. And maybe a half hour of actual shooting. Then we would do it all over again the next day. And the next. Waiting.
Does this sound kind of dull? Certainly. It usually quenches the enthusiasm that fueled the original statement from my fellow party-goers when they told me how lucky I was to have such an exciting job. I try to explain to them that news work is 95% boredom and tedium, but that the other 5% more than compensates for the rest. I have gotten to cover some wonderful and exciting assignments, locally and around the world. But, by that time, the conversation has switched to crab grass and the latest sale at Home Depot.
If that 95% to 5% ratio is real, why then would I have continued in this profession for over 40 years? As I said, the 5% of assignments are challenging, adrenaline pumping jobs. They usually produce some memorable photos.
But, there's more to it than that. As the title of this journal states, photojournalism isn't always about news. Take a look at your local paper or watch your local tv station. There are features that have to be illustrated. At Newsday, we have special sections for Science, Health, Home, Fashion, Food, Entertainment, Real Estate, and Business. Some of these can be fun. Some are challenging.
I enjoy shooting food in our studio, or on location. I love the challenge of making food look appetizing and natural. I love using lighting to create texture and gloss to enhance the look. Fashion can be fun. Especially on location. And, of course, the models are always nice to look at. I've had a great time photographing interviews with some of the entertainment stars. Some of them are actually delightful people. Others are....well, less delightful.
Making photographs for the home section is really an exercise in trying to show the decor and trying to keep the walls from keystoning. We have writers for that section who can't understand why we can't show all four walls in the same photo. One gal was a real pip. She was an older woman and very short. I always work on a tripod when I shoot home interiors and she would always insist on looking through my camera to ensure that I showed everything that she wanted. The problem for her was that I am 6'3" and she was 4' nothing. She would rise on her tiptoes and still be 2' short of being able to see and it would infuriate her. Bill Senft, one of our photographers, always carried a 21mm accessory viewfinder from an old Leica rangefinder camera that he no longer owned. He would hand it to her and say, "Here, Doris. Now you can see what I am getting." She adored Bill. Of course, he might have been using a 35mm lens, but Doris was happy.
I once had to shoot a home that was decorated with framed graphics. There were graphics on every wall. Each one in a glass covered frame. I brought in my studio electronic flash units and set them up to get balanced, even lighting. Then I had to check for reflections in those accursed glass covered graphics. We didn't have the luxury of modeling lamps in the units that would show if there were any reflections from the lights. Nor did I have a Polaroid back. Or now, we have digital Nikon D-1's with LCD viewing screens that allow us to check lighting and reflections. So, I had to fire my lamps and squint my eyes to try to catch any reflections from the camera position. If I found one, I would take a box of Kodak 35mm film and place it behind one edge of the frame to angle it slightly. The film boxes were perfect because they didn't make the angle change obvious in the photo, but they did allow the light to bounce away from the camera. Nice trick. I don't remember which photographer showed it to me, but I am eternally grateful because knowledge like that always comes in handy and has saved my bacon on more than one shoot.
So maybe these things may not sound as glamorous as traveling around the
world in Air Force One. But, for me, the thrill of overcoming the challenges
presented on some of these lesser assignments can be just as rewarding.
I've been doing it for forty plus years and, God willing, I'll keep doing
it for awhile longer.
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