In photography, luck is often key

Our favorite shot of Martha Spencer: Shot at FloydFest in 2006.
One of my favorite shots featuring Martha Spender of the Whitetop Mountain Band: Shot at FloydFest in 2006.

Spent about three hours this morning selecting about 45 photographs to submit to The Floyd Press for this week’s paper.

The 45  selections were culled from more than 2,500 images shot at various assignments last week.

Makes one remember the old days as a newspaper photographer when picking photos for submission involved using a magnifying loupe to search contract sheets of 35-mm Tri-X-Cam black and white film.

A young girl presses a flower next to the name of a relative who died in the Vietnam war. This photo was taken on Veterans Day, 1999.
A young girl in Washington, DC, presses a flower on the Vietnam Veterans Memorial next to the name of a relative who died in the Vietnam war. Photo taken on Veterans Day, 1999.

At a basketball game in the 1960s and 70s, I would shoot two or three rolls of Tri-X with 36 exposures on each.  From those rolls would come 3 or 4 pictures for possible use in the Roanoke Times in the 60s or The Telegraph in Alton, Illinois, in the  70s.

It wasn’t until my first magazine shoot for National Geographic in the 80s when I shot more than five rolls of film.  I sent in 27 rolls of Kodak Ektacolor slides  from my first day on an assignment and the photo editor called and asked: “What’s wrong?  The lighting wasn’t good?  You only shot 26 rolls.”

Magazines didn’t care how many rolls of film you shot as long as at least a few had the image they wanted. I learned quickly that NG expected up to a 100 rolls on a good shooting day.

Began shooting with digital cameras in the last 1990s with a Nikon D1. followed by a D2 and D3 before switching to Canon in 2004 because, at the time, they offered better digital quality and good auto-focus lenses with image stabilization.

Didn’t take Nikon long to catch up but I stayed with Canon because I was also using the company’s video cameras.

Now you can finish up a football or basketball game with more than 1,000 digital images on a compact flash card.  When a top-of-the-line professional grade digital single lens reflex camera can shoot images at 12-14 frames a second, it doesn’t take long for the number of shots to add up.

Digital does make the job easier for a news photographer or video shooter nowadays.  Does it make those of us who create images better at our craft?  Technically, perhaps.  Fast motor drives on cameras with images that capture huge amounts of details helps one capture the instant that we might have missed in the days of advancing film one frame at a time manually or shooting with a then-rapid three or four frames a second.

The key, however, to creating a good still or moving image is still the eye that views and selects the shot through the viewfinder.  Luck also plays a big role. My best images, I’ve found over the last 50 or so years, came from being lucky enough to be in the right place at the right time to capture the right shot.

I’m a self-taught photographer who shoots a lot of images and makes a lot of mistakes.  If an editor and then the reader likes a picture I have taken and submitted, then it means I’ve had a lucky day.

Football coach Winifred Beale at the 2008 State Championship game
Football coach Winifred Beale at the 2008 State Championship game


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