What Exactly Do You Do?

I always get a laugh from the quizzical look on peoples faces when I tell them I’m a “photojournalist.”

Sometimes it’s like announcing you are a neonatal geophysicist. The long, drawn out “Ohhhhh” is the first clue they have no clue.

Once the standard, “I take photos for various magazines and publications” is explained, I’m invariably met with the quintessential “Ohhhhhhhh, so do you just take photos or do you write also?” (As if just taking photos was so damn easy). From that point it’s just a short breath til I sputter “No, I don’t write cuz I can barely read.” More “Ohhhhhhhhh” follows, because they think I’m serious.

Anyway, my point is that is not always easy explaining what it is we photojournalists do. Luckily for me, it varies. A couple weeks ago I was in Pebble Beach shooting the PGA Tour for Sports Illustrated and then home before heading back out  to a small farming town to photograph migrant women working in the fields. From the manicured greens and pampered personalities of the PGA  to the calloused hands and muddy fields of a migrant’s life, those two weeks reminded me a lot about photojournalism.

Covering the PGA Tour is fun, no doubt. But you have to find success in the quieter moments of sports. Photographing a golf event isn’t as action packed as shooting football, hockey or the NBA, so the challenge is to make interesting images from a sport where being low-keyed is considered appropriate. Let’s put it this way: There’s not a lot of chest banging, trash talking, nose to nose competition inside the ropes of the PGA Tour. With collisions a rarity outside the clubhouse bar and few instances of body checks or posting-up, it becomes a lesson in shooting a humble sport. Put another way, anyone wearing a TapOut shirt is going to stand out like a Democrat on the tour. Olympic Curlers are more animated than tour players, but I think you get the idea……..

Dustin Johnson, winner of 2009 & 2010 AT&T National Pro Am at Pebble Beach

Dustin Johnson, winner of 2009 & 2010 AT&T National Pro Am at Pebble Beach

Truth be told, though, the photojournalist in me loves to shoot images that delve into societies’ issues. And spending time with the women who trudged through the rows of vineyards and orchards snipping, clipping and tying branches and fruit was a great shoot. I was energized and felt rejuvenated as I made my way back to LA. The long drive made me think a lot about the details, about the conditions the women work and live in. I thought as I climbed the Grapevine on I-5 how I never heard anyone complain like I surely would if I was making $50 for a full days work clipping dead branches in a muddy field. I reflected on how I was shooting images in a cockroach infested migrant housing complex when one of the women insisted I have a couple homemade tacos before leaving.

Like a lot of photographers, one of the pleasures we draw from our lifestyle is the ability to reflect on our work when we process the images. Only a decade ago I would wait at a cafe near my favorite lab, Chrome N’ R, usually with a friend or two, for the chromes to be processed and mounted. I could never wait to get home to view the slides so I would hold them up to the windshield while driving home for a quick glance. It was exciting! Now, it’s just as exciting and a LOT faster since I ingest them into my computer, process and upload to my Photoshelter archive within a hour or two. Long gone are the days of marking slides with dots, preparing FedEx slips and waiting days for the editors in NY or Washington to view them. Once the images are on my Photoshelter site, I create a very loosely edited gallery and send the password protected link with download privileges to the assigning editor. Done! What’s nice about the archive is the ability to keep the images unsearchable and private to just my client until they publish the work. Once the images run,  I can select the photos I want to FTP and send them directly to my agency, Aurora, from my archive. From there it’s a simple keyboard command and the photos become searchable to the public.

Campesina tying grape vines in fields of California

Campesina tying grape vines in fields of California

I guess that’s a good explanation for what a photojournalist does………..Except, that kind of leaves out the whole part about audio, video, and editing in Final Cut Pro. Oh yeah, that also fails to mention the need to post your images on social network sites like Facebook and Twitter. Oh, I forgot the part about maintaining a photo blog! Don’t forget that. Wait, wait, wait, one more thing! I forgot to mention that you need to understand and implement Search Engine Optimization (SEO!) by keywording, filenaming and including descriptive text on your site. And you definitely need to set up Google Analytics to evaluate your site so that you can……………

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