Getting things into focus

By Patrick Fisher

About three weekends ago, I found myself in a conversation about what to concentrate on first in a story - the actual information for it or the photos that go with it.

My answer was that it depends on the situation. I've noticed more often than not, I'm gathering the information first and getting a picture second. Sometimes that changes; there are times when I need to get the photo first, especially when things are happening quickly - parades, festivals or other activity when there are only a few seconds to get a picture of a candidate shaking hands or someone handing candy to the crowd. Of course, when taking pictures. I also have to consider lighting and a few other details.

Recently, I heard a good description of what photographers have to consider when taking a picture. Sam Abell, a former National Geographic photographer, was on public radio talking about setting up a photo and how he creates it from the background forward. In news photography, that's also true as you don't want to take a picture and then find out it looks like a person has a tree growing out of his head.

To be honest, years ago, I didn't think I would be working in the photography aspect of the newspaper business. When I was starting college, I had it in my head I'd let someone else worry about the photos, and I'd write the stories. That idea was knocked out of me when life threw a curve ball that hit me squarely between the eyes.

I went to Bemidji State University and, like most colleges, it had a student-run newspaper. Long story short, I was one of the few students who owned a camera and ended up taking photos at a lot of the events.

I ended up enjoying it, and I like to think over the years my skills have grown. Of course, I'm always trying to find ways to improve my photography abilities. Sometimes I try taking a picture from a different angle or viewpoint or a close-up shot rather than a full-length one.

Even outside of work, I'll take a camera with me to various events, trying to capture a moment in time - whether it's a birthday party, confirmation, concert or show.

On those occasions, I use a film camera - yes, some people still use film. Although when I get the photos developed, I have the pictures transferred to a CD. One reason I like film is that I have something solid to hold, and I can get copies made from the negatives. More than once I've heard someone who had photos on their computer or digital camera say they never bothered to print the pictures out. If the computer or camera crashes, all those photos are gone.

Currently, those photos are taking up quite a bit of space on a table at home, which has me thinking it might be time to enter a few art shows. More on that later.

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