Maybe I should have titled this blog what I’m calling this post because it is all relative, isn’t it? I mean, for 17 years I was a sportswriter and columnist at The Seattle Times. We were a Guild (union) shop, so all I could do was write or edit. I could not take photos; that was the job of the photographers. They technically were not supposed to write because, well, that was the job of the writers. When I left newspapering for the World Wide Web in 1999, I became an editor at Rivals.com, then editor-in-chief at Scout.com. At those places, I started to become a photographer. That process was accelerated when I started my own Web site, www.HoopGurlz.com, which focused on girl’s basketball and women’s college-basketball prospects. Believing females are more visually oriented, and wanting to put faces with names, I prioritized photography.
So now I’m a writer-turned-editor-turned-photographer but I’m still a writer. And an editor. And an audio producer. And videographer. Maybe I’m a multimedia journalist. My buddy, Rod Mar, told me the other day, “You’re a photographer,” which, coming from someone like him (just read his blog) is a huge compliment.
See what I mean? It’s all relative.
This blog is inspired by Rod and my wife, Florangela Davila. Rod has a blog, Beyond the Best Seat in the House that is the next iteration of his Seattle Times blog, Best Seat in the House, in which he describes how he makes his internationally renowned pictures. Florangela, whom I met at The Times, now is a lecturer at the University of Washington, which asked her to teach multimedia journalism. Their idea is that she is in the process of learning multimedia, giving her immediacy with her students.
So combining those two approaches is the premise of my blog. I am going to describe my journey – from writer to editor to photographer to audio producer to videographer to, hopefully, multimedia arts journalist. My underlying expertise, I can say with some certainty, is sports – more specifically, basketball. Being a part of two startups (Scout and HoopGurlz) that were sold to major media organizations (Fox and ESPN) also taught me a few things. Mostly I’m going to describe how I’m doing things, in hopes that someone smarter and better can leave a comment on how I could have done something smarter or better, or someone less experienced can learn either how to do or how not to do something.
I’m not starting at the beginning because I’m not there anymore. Maybe from time to time I’ll rewind. For now, I’m starting at a milestone, a time last Thursday night when I started to realize that maybe what Rod says about my being a photographer is, relatively, at least, true. Florangela and I are working on a project involving the great jazz trumpet player, Thomas Marriott. We went to video his performance at the West Seattle restaurant and oyster bar Ama Ama. In addition to Rod, I used to work a lot of stories with friend and great photographer, Harley Soltes, who is as good as I’ve seen at casing a story to make pictures. I forgot everything I observed him doing, however, and merely imagined how Marriott’s performance at Ama Ama was going to be lit.
Trouble was, my imagination was nowhere near reality. All the stage lighting was nonexistent at Ama Ama, which is a restaurant and bar, so it doesn’t have a stage. Or lighting, besides the typical dimmed, atmospheric bar lighting, plus some ambient from the headlights of cars passing by the big picture window behind the performers. Doh! Though the audio isn’t bad, most of the video is unwatchable because, well, I shot in almost total darkness. We haven’t yet looked at Florangela’s, which was shot with a camera that does better in low light.
Thankfully, I brought a bunch of my still equipment, not to salvage the video shoot, but to supplement it. What you are about to see is the magic of Nikon’s relatively new, low-noise, full-sensor cameras, the D3 and D700. Those two bodies literally have saved my life, which largely is spent shooting in the cave-like conditions of high-school gymnasiums. Since I travel so extensively, and with so much gear, it’s almost never feasible to lug along any kind of lighting equipment. So being able to shoot at high ISO, as one can do with the new Nikons, is a life saver.
(Oh yeah, we purposely did not bring supplemental lighting to this shoot because we did not want to disturb the artists).
I knew I needed a portrait that said, “The Player.” My workhorse lens is my 85mm, f1.4. It’s fast, of course, but also very sharp. I also have a 50mm, f1.4, but I like the heft of the 85; it helps me keep the camera steady. Marriott plays a little hunched over, like Miles, with his horn pointed down (as opposed to Dizzy, who played upright and horn up), so I planted myself on the floor. I “imagined” this shot being taken with a spotlight shining on Marriott, so I also caught a little (emphasis on “little”) light from the hugely dimmed fixture above and to his right (our left) for more contrast. The high ISO introduces enough noise that I don’t get the pure black that I’d like and some banding is introduced. I usually don’t have much, if any, time for post-production, so this is what I came up with.
I also knew I needed a closeup, so I went for the fingers. I had my 200mm, f2 on a monopod. I considered putting it on a tripod, but Marriott, like most musicians (I say “most” because, well, drums and pianos technically do not move), does not keep his instrument stationary. Since I was shooting available light and not wanting the same contrasty feel of the portrait, I was shooting a slow shutter speed and high ISO but not wanting to show movement. So I held steady and shot bursts, hoping to capture something without any or too much movement.
I’m including this shot, not because it’s another in the Marriott sequence, but because it plays off the previous shot, technically. It also illustrates how difficult one can make things by hurrying. In this case, I grabbed a “slow” 18-70mm lens, instead of the 12-24mm f2.8 that I’d intended to bring along. On the floor, shooting Marriott, I was in cramped quarters, forcing me to spy the opening between the drummer’s cymbals. In this case, I wanted to capture the movement of the sticks, so I dragged the shutter a little more. If I had the 12-24, I could have framed the shot better. Oh well.
Are these Rod Mar/Harley Soltes “perfect”? Naw, but I like them. Does that make me a photographer? Hmmm, I guess that’s a relative question. I’ll bet you knew I’d say that.