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.

Heaven 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 to the far more adaptable 35mm 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 lenses, 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 paper 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 a breaking 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 Parkway.

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 office by cell phone or satellite phone and then go have a beer or drive directly home.

I had 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.

There, 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 myself 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 from urine 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 DESK!" Later on, they would display brief messages on a read-out screen. But, the early ones just beeped in a most annoying way. That meant the 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 the 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 some 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.

Dick Kraus.

blog comments powered by Disqus




Contents Page Editorials The Platypus Links Copyright
Portfolios Camera Corner War Stories  Dick's Gallery Comments
Issue Archives Columns Forums Mailing List E-mail Us
 This site is sponsored and powered by Hewlett Packard