by Dick Kraus
Newsday Staff Photographer (Retired)
A bunch of us
old farts were sitting around the diner reminiscing about assignments
we had covered in our illustrious pasts.
By old farts, I am of course, referring to the distinguished group
of NY Metropolitan area news media retirees who are known as The
Dinosaurs. We meet once a month at a local diner on Long Island
and over brunch, when we are done discussing our most recent infirmities,
we bemoan the fate of the media in recent times.
Some of us go back fifty years or more. Many of us began our careers
shlepping around a cumbersome 4 X 5 Speed Graphic. So, it isn’t
unusual for someone to relate a personal story about some important
assignment that he or she had covered, only to end it with a reference
to how much easier it would have been if we had only had today’s
technology back then.
only knows that I have a litany of stories guaranteed to bore
even the most interested listener.
I won’t bore you with all of them; only a select few.
True enough, I started at Newsday with an old Anniversary Speed
Graphic. Fortunately, Harvey Weber, our progressive Director
of Photography, was in the process of weaning the staff over
far more adaptable
format. But, it wasn’t an instantaneous change-over. There
was a lengthy training period. I mean, we had all used 35mm cameras
for our vacations and personal use. But, getting used to the idea
of using the miniature cameras on actual assignments meant shooting
General News and Feature assignments with 4 X 5 AND 35mm. Until
we realized that there was a different set of ground rules for
both cameras, we usually ended up submitting the large format results.
Slowly, we made adjustments in our techniques and found that
35mm offered so many advantages, most notably, interchangeable
that the old workhorses were put out to pasture and we began
to enter a renaissance in the field of newspaper photography.
That was a major step in the realm of progress.
Now, let’s jump ahead to the mid 1990’s when Digital
Cameras came into use.
First of all, today’s younger crowd who had never shot film,
will be surprised to learn that us old fossils had no way of knowing
what we had on the film until we got back to the office and ran
our film through the developer and ensuing chemistry to fix the
image. We had no screens on the back of our equipment to “chimp” our
shots to make sure that the exposure was correct; that the flash
nicely filled in the shadows instead of wiping out our anticipated
back-lit shot with too much light; that the sun
that you wanted to have in the corner of your frame didn’t
eradicate your subject with excessive glare and that your hand
held slow shutter speed did stop the action and the shot wasn’t
rendered unusable due to camera shake.
Oh, my God! We couldn’t wait to pull the film off the developing
reel to take a quick look to see if our efforts to get a “grabber” of
a shot was even printable. You can only imagine how fortunate we
felt we had become when we entered the Digital Age and could instantly
review our work in the field. If it wasn’t up to snuff, we
could try it again with a little change, until we got what we desired.
Back in the day, we had the burden of making the picture and
added to that was the burden of getting the picture back to the
in time to make the deadline.
Every shooter who has been in the business for more than ten
years has suffered the anguish of waiting at the location of
news story to get “THE” shot, only to get back to the
paper too late for it to get into print.
I can recall covering some NY Mets and Yankee night games and
being ordered to leave by the 6th inning in order to get back
to the paper in time to get my stuff
to the Sports Desk before the picture deadline passed. And then, picking up
the paper the next day to see nothing of mine in print because
the AP photographer
got a great shot of the game turning play in the 7th inning and it was on the
wire and transmitted back to Newsday before I even got to the Grand Central
Now, with digital cameras and laptop computers, a shooter can download his
images in his car; do some Photoshop, add captions and transmit back to his
cell phone or satellite phone and then go have a beer or drive directly home.
a fantastic assignment in 1994 to travel to Germany and France
to do an in depth piece on the 50th Anniversary of D-Day.
The reporter and I would spend the entire day traveling from
one battle site to another, ending up back at our hotel in
Caen, Normandy by late evening. We were still shooting film;
Kodacolor negative, which I would have to take to a processing
lab in the city. While it was being souped, we would grab
a quick bite before picking up the film and heading back
to my hotel room.
while the reporter knocked out his story on his laptop, I would
look at my negatives with a
loupe, make a selection, and then crank up the bulky and
stubborn Leaf Scanner that was set up on my bed.I could
view my images on a tiny video monitor built into the machine.
I could make some very rudimentary tweaks to the image and then
scan it into a digital format. I would
wire the Leaf to the telephone in my room, contact a darkroom
tech back at Newsday who would hook up his phone to a wirephoto
machine and the fifteen
minute process for each selected image would begin. There were usually three
or four photos each night to be transmitted. There was never a night where
the entire selection went through on the first try. There would
be a line interruption,
or a loss of signal and it was not until three or four o’clock in the
morning, my time, before the task would be completed. Of course, I always had
to be up
at 6 AM in the morning to drive to our next location. Yet, I considered
fortunate to have been chosen to do the job. That’s what newspukes do.
But, oh, what a pleasure it would have been to have today’s digital and
communications technology available to us then.
Hey, speaking of communications, need I compare the changes from the dinosaur
days to now? We had no cell phones; we had no two way radios. Hell, we didn’t
even get beepers until the late ’70’s; maybe even into the ’80’s.
When we finished an assignment we were required to phone the office from a
pay phone on the road. Which had usually been vandalized and which smelled
because there were no public toilets in the vicinity. That meant carrying a
pocket full of dimes and nickles and eventually quarters. Let me tell you,
it was very
frustrating to pop a quarter into the coin slot, dial your number, hear your
coin drop into the coin box, and realize that you had connected but you couldn’t
talk to anyone because some dink had removed the magnet from the mouthpiece.
Ya gotta love it.
Later on, we got beepers. The early ones didn’t do anything but beep when
the office activated it. When it went off, the unspoken message was, "CALL THE
read-out screen. But, the early ones just beeped in a most annoying way. That
office was trying to reach you and you had to go find a phone. I’m not
going to repeat the problems associated with that. You can reread the previous
paragraph, if you want.
When they finally developed pagers that displayed brief messages, one of our
Photo Editors usually send this message; “PHONE THE DESK ASAP.” Reread
paragraph on phone problems.
Then we got commercial two way radios installed in the car. Problem was, there
were a lot of dead zones. Back to the phones.
Right after I retired in 2002, the photogs were issue cell phones. YEAH!
I think that one of the greatest innovations to come down the pike was the
GPS. For my entire 42 year career, we were issued Hagstrom’s Atlases to carry
in our cars. They were books of maps. One for Nassau County, one for Suffolk
County, and one for New York City and the Five Buroughs. There was a
lot of information crammed onto each page and as I aged, I found it necessary
to carry a magnifying class to be able to read the road names to locate my assignment.
And, even then, there were often mistakes made on our assignment sheets. Someone
would write down the wrong street or misspell it or God knows what. In Queens,
one of NY City’s Buroughs, there would be dozens of roads with the same
name for an address. There would be a Wood Street, Wood Road, Wood Place, Wood
Avenue, Wood Court. Your assignment could be any one of those. Or not. That usually
meant having to call the office for clarification, by radio, which meant by phone.
You know the drill.
When I retired, I bought myself a GPS for my car. What an ingenious device
that was. You type in the address on the keyboard and the little machine does
calculations and KAAAZZING, it not only shows you a map of the location, but
gives you turn by turn directions. You can’t lose. Unless, of course, the
office has given you the wrong address. Then, it’s back to the phone.