Wednesday, April 02, 2014

Visual Storytelling involves being prepared

Be Prepared: The Motto of the Boy Scouts of America 

"Be prepared for what?" you might ask. For everything is the response scout leaders will tell those who ask.

Be prepared for life - to live happily and without regret, knowing that you have done your best.

I started scouting and then joined the Civil Air Patrol. Civil Air Patrol has continued to save lives and alleviate human suffering through a myriad of emergency-services and operational missions. Best known for its search-and-rescue efforts, CAP flies more than 85 percent of all federal inland search-and-rescue missions directed by the Air Force Rescue Coordination Center.

CAP spends a lot of time in training and education around aerospace. I remember going on camping adventures where we would practice search and rescue. We learned how to read maps and use our compasses to navigate tough terrain.

I also went to the summer camp at McGuire Air Force base in New Jersey. We learned to shoot M-16 rifles during that camp. We also took a ride in a C-141. Like all young boys I wanted to go on a search and rescue mission and be in the woods with a M-16 rifle on maneuvers.  I wanted adventure.

Most of us grew up learning a great deal of stuff that prepared us for where we are today. A good amount of what I learned in scouting and Civil Air Patrol are things I hope I never have to use, but am thankful I now know what to do in an emergency.

Photographers need to be prepared

Just like the scout we study so we know what to do in a given situation. For these photos of wildlife I had to get into a position to capture them.

My being prepared today is often because in the past I wasn't fully prepared. I now carry a tripod with me on every photo shoot. I may leave it in the car, but I can get to it fairly quickly.

When I am shooting sports I have long lenses and a monopod.

I also like to use the ThinkTank belt system that I customize with the gear I need for that event. I do not want to need a flash and not have it.

I even have KWP Knee Pads for me to help save my knees when shooting from the kneeling position.

Being Prepared can be Depressing

By my senior year in high school I finally dropped out of Civil Air Patrol. I was tired of doing practice runs for search and rescue and never getting to actually do a "real" search and rescue.

"Patience young grasshopper," Master Po often said to young Cain in the TV series Kung Fu.

Being a thrill seeker can get you into much trouble. Just a week ago on my Google alert for my name "Stanley Leary" an email alert came in for Sean "Stanley Leary" who died from BASE jumping. Leary's body, rigged up in his BASE jumping gear, was found 300 feet beneath a high ridge in the park's West Temple area in Utah's Zion National Park.

He was a thrill seeker.

I found as a photojournalist my heart pumping as I was covering disasters. While on one level I was sad for the tragedy, I still enjoyed the rush of my blood pumping.

March Madness has some of the best moments in basketball history and then it has had some moments where everyone wishes there was a mercy rule. Take the 1963 Mideast Regional, 1st Round: Loyola 111, Tennessee Tech 42 game. A 69 point difference in the score of the two teams.

When you Google those blowout games there are no really great photos in my opinion. They may even just have a headshot of the MVP. This is because the game wasn't that interesting.

This year there have been many games coming down to the last few seconds where the winner won by just one basket. These games were great to watch and photograph.

I have covered many games where the two teams were just playing flat. Not much emotion or effort on the field. When I go to edit I am really trying to find a photograph that tells the story, that is somewhat interesting for the viewer.

This is a big contrast to those double overtime games I covered during March Madness where I would have so many moments I was having to narrow down my selection.

Being Professional Photographer in Flat Moments

It is quite difficult to photograph these moments where very little is going on. This is where the great photographers start to truly stand out. They look for interesting things that they now have time to look for as compared to those moments where so much excitement is happening you are just trying to capture what is happening.

The difference can be as simple as having a very introverted subject as compared to an extrovert. Yes you can make great photos of each and one is not superior to the other, but one may require you to work harder.

I have gone further down field and used really long lenses like a 600mm ƒ/4 lens to just find a different angle.

I have gone way to the corner of baseball fields to capture something different.

I shoot with a long lens from the other end of the basketball court to get something different.

I will use off-camera flash to help improve photos to give moments a little more oomph.

While I may not have as many photographs that are "keepers" from flat event, I will always have some that will work for my client. That is what they are paying me to do.

You cannot come back and say there was nothing to photograph. I learned at my first job the director of photography told me then show me there is nothing to photograph, don't come back with nothing.

At that newspaper we would sometimes go to places where an event was canceled. We would take a picture of the empty field sometimes and make it look good, just so we could show we were there and nothing was going on.

I do get depressed after some events because I don't have much to show. I sit and think and wonder, what could I have done better. I always think of something that I could have done a little better. If at the end you can say you knowing that you have done your best, then you can be comfortable with your work.