"Get me a floater."

I had just finished covering a local press conference and had called the Photo Desk to see what else I had. It was 10 AM and my next scheduled assignment wasn't until my 1 PM Business Page head shot. Photo Editors don't like their schedules showing their staffers doing nothing for long periods of time. It reflects poorly on them. So, to fill the gaps on the schedule and possible gaps in the next day's paper (God forbid that we shouldn't have enough news or photos to fill a news hole) we get to go out and look for floaters.

Now floaters mean different things to different people. To a New York City cop, a floater is a body bobbing in the East River that could be a suicide, an accidental drowning or maybe a mob hit.

To a Newsday Photographer, it means photos that can fit anywhere in the paper where there is a hole to fill. In other words, it "floats."

Other newspapers call them "stand-alones," or "fillers." I've heard a few other terms used but they all amount to the same thing.

No matter what paper we're talking about, it means "pain in the ass," "busy work," go be creative," "stay out of the office until you're needed," and stuff like that.

When you are new and anxious to please, you bust your ass trying to come back with several well photographed creations. That ambitious behavior soon evaporates when you find your art doesn't make the paper the next day. Instead, they used a floater of some crows sitting on a scarecrow in some cornfield in Backwater, Kansas. It doesn't take many of those to dilute your piss and vinegar attitude.

© Newsday Photo by Dick Kraus
Skaters in the park. Thank you Momma Nature, for the great clouds. This kind is rare on Long Island.

You are being asked to be creative on a moment's notice. I don't know about you, but my creativity isn't turned on or off like a light. I need something to work with. Give me a simple headshot and I light the crap out of it and make it look like a Yousuf Karsh (1908-2002), the renown Canadian Portraitist. OK, that's a bit of an ego trip, but I usually did a pretty good job on head shots. I should have; I shot enough of them in 42 years on the job.

© Newsday Photo by Dick Kraus
A shot at noon, but at least the subject matter is interesting.

Where was I? Oh, yeah, being creative. Floaters mean going out and driving aimlessly, looking, nay, praying that you'll stumble upon something that will make a decent shot. If it happens to be real early in the morning, or late afternoon or early evening, the long shadows being cast by a low sun can give you an edge and you can use some strong side or back light to make a drab scene jump off the page. It wasn't bad when I worked the 3 PM to 11 PM shift. If I had to get a floater, I stood a chance of getting something in the paper. But, as I advanced in seniority and worked better shifts, those demands on my creativity came in the middle of the day when the sun was almost overhead and there were no shadows to help you out. That really sucked.


Kids and animals were always a good choice. But 8 months out of the year the kids were in school most of the day.And stray dogs and cats don't usually do cute, photogenic things. So, there were always the waterfowl. Living and working on Long Island insured that there was no dearth of ducks, geese, swans and sea gulls. In fact, you had to work hard to shoot a picture that didn't include a sea gull. So, many of us would turn our creative heads toward a body of water, be it salt, fresh or stagnant. There would always be a waterfowl in residence.

© Newsday Photo by Dick Kraus
Gulls are everywhere.

© Newsday Photo by Dick Kraus
When people feed them, they stay and reward you by crapping on your clean car.

After a while, there would be a protest from the Day Photo Editor. We would get a note in our mailbox from Wayne saying bluntly in capital letters in red Sharpie ink, "NO MORE F-----G DUCKS, GEESE OR GULLS!!!"

Wayne came from Texas and had worked at papers in some of the cities there. I guess they didn't have as many waterfowl on the loose where he came from. His experience with duck came from a menu. It might have been Long Island Duck, or maybe Peking Duck if he was at a Chinese Restaurant.

Wayne was a nice guy, and he was pretty new in his current job as Day Photo Editor at Newsday. His family hadn't joined him, yet, so one night I took him out to dinner. I tried to explain the facts of life about floaters to him. At least, the facts as they pertained to Long Island.

"Wayne," I said to him as soon as our drinks arrived at the table. "Wayne, floaters are an anathema to the staff. It's tough to find something with any relevance when the kids are in school and there are no long shadows and you tell us that we can't shoot ducks, geese or gulls. Ducks, geese and gulls are relevant to Long Island. You can't walk across a schoolyard around here without stepping in goose shit."

I thought that I had spelled it out pretty cleverly. Wayne wasn't convinced.

"People read Newsday, Dick. Not ducks, geese and gulls," he said. We need pictures of people doing things beside stepping in goose shit."

Hmmm. He spelled it out pretty cleverly.

© Newsday Photo by Dick Kraus
A New York City floater. A sidewalk = a person.

"Look, Wayne. You came from some city papers in Texas. In cities there are sidewalks. Look around next time you drive to work, and take note of the lack of sidewalks we have on Long Island. We are a bunch of suburban communities, most of which don't own any sidewalks."

I took a breath. Wayne took a drink. I pressed on.

"Where you have sidewalks, you have people. No sidewalks, no people. People with sidewalks use them instead of cars; especially in cities. People will come out of their homes and walk to the corner to pick up a newspaper, or to a deli for coffee and a bagel, a six pack or a ham on rye. On the way, they'll meet someone they know and will lean against a lamp post and gossip. Voila! You have a floater. On Long Island, people go into their attached garage, hit the remote to open the garage door and drive to the town or village to do the same thing. They park in the parking lot next to the deli, or whatever, go in and make their purchase and drive home putting their car back in the garage and you never see them. You rarely see people on the streets on Long Island."

Wayne looked beaten. "People," he said. "No more ducks, geese or gulls. Ya gotta get people."

"OK, Wayne," I said. But, I knew that nothing would change. So did he. He didn't stay around much longer. He got an offer of a job someplace that had sidewalks and he took it. I liked Wayne. At least you could talk to him.


After decades of publishing a daily paper for Long Island readers, Newsday decided to expand its coverage and its circulation base into Queens. Although it is geographically situated on Long Island, Queens County is politically part of New York City. The same holds for Kings County, which is known as Brooklyn. Complicated and confusing? Welcome to New York.

Anyway, we opened an office in Kew Gardens, Queens and staffed it with a few editors and writers. For the first year or so, the photographers were assigned from our main offices in Suffolk County. We weren't happy to get a Queens assignment. It was, as they say in the country, a hoot and a holler and in some of the worst traffic in the country.

We had two way radios installed in our cars. Now, when we radioed our desk upon completion of an assignment, we would almost always hear those dreaded words, "Get me a Queens floater."

As if having to get a regular floater wasn't onerous enough, now it was a "Queens Floater."

There was a big push to convince the people of Queens that we were serious about covering their county. So, there were frequently four or five staff shooters driving around Queens looking for floaters.

© Newsday Photo by Dick Kraus
A Queens park. I wasn't always this lucky, and God knows I came back to this park every couple of days to look.

At least there were a couple of benefits attached to Queens Floaters. First of all, Queens had sidewalks so it was easy to find people doing something on the streets. Secondly, the Queens Desk was so desperate to fill the Queens paper with Queens stories and pictures, they would use anything that you turned in. And, I mean anything.

After awhile we had used up all the good places that yielded decent shots. It was getting more and more difficult trying to come up with something of which you could be proud. So, we ended up shooting anything that moved. And often, things that didn't move. A bunch of garbage cans standing at the curb became a floater. A male dog lifting his leg to pee on a fire hydrant made a floater. And, damned if they didn't appear in the paper the next day. Once, we held a contest to see who could get the worst, most mundane and ridiculous picture in the Queens paper. We decided that if we were going to be driven to such extremes, we might as well have some fun doing it.

Queens is a large territory and we would split it up so that we all weren't covering the same mundanity. (That's a word. I looked it up.) But, we worked out a code so that we could meet at a location in central Queens and have coffee together. One of us would call in on the office radio. The Photo Desk monitored all our calls, so we couldn't just say, "Hey, Newsday shooters in Queens, meet me at the Main Street Diner for coffee." We knew better than that. Instead, one of us would announce, "Hey, Newsday shooters in Queens! Be aware that they are doing construction at Horace Harding Blvd and 139th Street and traffic is a mess." Oddly enough, there was no construction and no traffic jam. But, there was a diner at that intersection and soon, we were all sitting around in a booth having coffee and a donut and bitching about the mundaneness of our Queens floaters.

God, I miss those days.


Here are some floaters from my collection.

© Newsday Photo by Dick Kraus
Checking out a local park in the Autumn, I came across rowboats waiting to be stored until Spring.

© Newsday Photo by Dick Kraus
A lobster fisherman prepares to go out to his boat on a foggy morning.

© Newsday Photo by Dick Kraus
I saw this scene on my way to an assignment. I almost passed it by because I was running late, but thought the better of it.

© Newsday Photo by Dick Kraus
A couple of old tractors rusting in a field made for a simple floater shot.

© Newsday Photo by Dick Kraus
Oh, how I hate shooting those cold weather floaters, but when the harbor ices up, it makes a shot.

© Newsday Photo by Dick Kraus
Our editors treat every little snowfall like a major news event and it's all hands on deck for weather floaters.



Dick Kraus



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