Shoot the Moon

About once a month in the evening, barring clouds, a full moon appears in the Eastern sky. The sighting inspires poets, astronomers, lovers and photographers.

This blog is appropriate, as on July 12 we experienced a “Super Moon”, where the elliptical orbit of the moon brings it closest to earth and, according to NASA, a full moon at perigee (closest point) is up to 14% larger and 30% brighter than one at its farthest point, or apogee. We will have an even bigger Super Moon to photograph on August 10, 2014.

Here are some tips for shooting the moon:

Waves and Moon

Seascape in Outer Banks NC

1. The full moon is bright. For your camera exposure, use a similar one to what you would use when you photograph something on earth in bright sunlight. The natural color of the moon is a light grey and reflects sunlight very well.

2. Make sure you take your exposure setting off the moon, not the surroundings. If you don’t, the moon will appear as a white “hole” in the sky. Do not use auto exposure here!

3. Photograph the moon the night before the actual full moon. I call this night the “photographer’s moon”. The reason for doing this is that the moon looks full, but rises right after sunset, At this time, there is enough ambient light on “earth objects”, and the moon will be about the same exposure as these objects. Now the moon is located in a position showing where you are taking the picture. Note the seascape and mountains in the illustrations here. Don’t worry about the moon not being a full moon – it will look full in your photographs.

Mauna Loa Moon

500mm Lens – Hawaii

4. Long super telephoto lenses increase the relative size of the moon compared to the landscape and can add to dramatic effect. Make sure you have a small enough aperture (f stop) to have both the stuff on earth and the moon in focus. Obviously, the moon will be focused at “infinity”. You will need a sturdy tripod when using these lenses.

5. Make sure your shutter speed is at least a thirtieth of a second, preferably faster. The moon moves more quickly than you think, and with slower shutter speeds you will experience blurring moons in your pictures.

6. When it is on the horizon, the color of the moon varies. We refer to “harvest moons” or “red moons”, etc. This is because you are looking at the moon through much more atmosphere than when the moon is overhead. Dust in the air or just after a rain can affect the color of the moon dramatically.

iPhone Screen

Smart Phone App

7. So where will the moon rise? You can use apps or websites on your smart phone to figure this out. I use the app The Photographer’s Ephemeris, where I can designate my location and seen not only the latitude, longitude and elevation where I am at, but immediately see times of sunrise, sunset, moonrise, moonset and the compass directions of each.

Then I use the compass in my smart phone to visually locate where on the horizon the moon will rise on that particular evening. I look through the camera and move back and forth, right and left, so that the spot on the horizon where moonrise will happen is composed within my “earth” frame. I’m ready! Also note that the moonrise on each successive night is quite a few compass points away from the previous one.

8. What if your foreground subject is facing to the west? Look at your moonset direction and get up early in the morning and photograph the moonset at dawn.

Want to have a hands-on photographic experience? Join me on one of my international photography tours. Go here, or back to the menu bar and select “Workshops”.

Smith Island Moonscape

Smith Island Maryland

 

Many, Many “Decisive Moments”

One overarching benefit of digital technology is the ability to recreate work with complete fidelity – in other words new works are exactly the same as the original. This benefit, coupled with the merging and warping of imagery is changing still photography. Several important developments are already here, and other are innovations are not far behind.

1. Stills from video. Panasonic has just announced their LUMIX FZ1000 camera, available late this month. It’s a long zoom camera (28-400mm equivalent) with 4K video capabilities for $900. According to Thomas Curley, Business Development Manager for LUMIX Professional Services, Panasonic North America, “The most amazing thing about it is that you can shoot a video clip (in 4K) then ‘in camera’ select a frame for the video and save it as a 8 megapixel Jpg that is suitable for printing. Nothing like this has existed until now and it is going to change how we take pictures.”

Tom is on to something here. I think that this is the first of many video/still cameras to come. With the LZ1000 you can preview the video frames on the LCD panel and then select the frame(s) that you want to convert to 8 megapixel still(s). Check out this video of what the camera can do. WIFI is also available on this camera to transmit your photographs immediately onto the web via a smart phone or an iPad.

Think three years out. The LZ1000 has a 20.1 megapixel sensor. Will they or other camera manufacturers find a way to wrangle out a 15 megapixel still or even higher res image? Bet on it.

2. HDR video. High Dynamic Range is a fancy term for combining several frames of a subject that have huge differences in exposure. The result is an image that pushes the dynamic range (specular highlights to deep shadows) of the subject toward the middle so that nothing is blown out or unreadable in the shadow area. Many still cameras now have this feature where a “burst” of frames are taken at a variety of exposures. In camera, or in post processing the images are merged together.

In video, this is difficult, as the dang thing keeps taking moving frames at 30 fps (frames per second). Now Red cameras and Magic Lantern software have come up with ways to double the frames at 60 fps with different exposures and then merge them in post production.

3. Auto focus for video. Rule of thumb: do not turn on auto focus on a DSLR when shooting video or the viewer may have an extended bout of sea sickness as the camera is constantly refocusing. Videographers have always been able to mask slight out of focus frames with motion and sound. But what happens when you pull an 8 megapixel still from the video? The resultant still can’t handle sharpness issues.

Now Andra and several other software manufacturers offer follow-focus for DSLR video. They run the application through an iPad and are able to make “focus pulls” on the fly with accuracy.

4. Helicopters and drones. Small, unmanned helicopters have been a staple for feature films and TV productions for 10 years. They are expensive, but can be programmed with GPS to fly the exact same flight again and again.

CopterStudios, a California-based company, uses a “pilot” for the remote controlled helicopter; a camera operator, who uses an IR remote control to adjust camera functions; and a set coordinator, who works with the director or producer to plan the shots.

The director or producer can watch the video in real time on a monitor on the set. SD video is transmitted from the JVC camera via a live video microwave downlink to a directional patch antenna, which feeds the reference monitor on set.
See their stunning demo video.

OK, so helicopters are pricey, but enter the drones. Drones DJI announced that it is working on an update of its S1000 Octocopter, a pro-level drone capable of carrying pro cameras such as a Canon 5D Mark III. That model should be ready in a few months and is expected to cost thousands of dollars, but may be very appealing to professional photographers and videographers.

At the present time, drones are banned from many National Parks and the Federal Aviation Administration (FFA) forbids commercial use. Under congressional order, the FAA must open national airspace to commercial and civilian drones by the end of 2015. The agency is in the process of determining the regulations for a drone license.

OK, so what does this mean for the still photographer?

First, not many people will be shooting still photographs – not even the professionals. If a client wants stills, why wouldn’t you shoot video where you can pick out the frame where the eyes are not closed, the action is at it’s height and the exposure and focus are right on? In addition, why would a client want to hire both a still photographer and a videographer?

So it is not “goodbye still photography”, but it will be “goodbye still photographer”, as we move to a video-centric world. Art photographers may still want to use still cameras, much the same as many of them today want to still use film. I have to make a living, and what is described above is, in my estimation, what will transpire in the near future. Get ready.

Fireworks on the Fourth – A Photo “How To”

Tomorrow will be the annual “fireworks fest” as we celebrate the country’s anniversary.

Here are some quick tips on taking pictures of fireworks.

1. Put the camera on the “manual” setting so you can dictate a slow shutter speed (below an eighth of a second – better a least a half a second). This will keep the fireworks from getting “clipped”, where the burst is not allowed to finish and is truncated.

Fireworks on Bastille Day

Bastille Day

2. With the slow shutter speed, you probably will need a tripod. Sometimes you can rest the camera on something and get away with a slightly shorter exposure, such as the one here of Bastille Day (France’s big fireworks day). The area was jammed with people, but I was standing next to a tree which helped steady the camera. Make sure you have “image stabilization” on.

3. The fireworks are a lot brighter than you think. You will probably be shooting at f11 or higher at an ISO of 100. After the first big burst, check your LCD and see whether you need to adjust your f stop.

4. To be very steady, use a remote trigger, or if you don’t have one, set the camera timer on 2 seconds so you can get away from the shutter button and allow the camera to stop vibrating.

5. If there is a steady bright light in your frame (like a streetlight), try to keep it out. A very bright, constant light can ruin your picture.

6. Try to include silhouettes of people or lit buildings in your image for locators.

7. Experiment. Most all fireworks images look similar. This one, by David Harp, was shot off a tripod, but from a anchored boat. The resultant image looks like palm trees!

David Harp's Fireworks

From a Boat

Want to tap the expertise of a National Geographic photographer? Consider joining me on my upcoming workshop in Tanzania.

Photo Contests and Museum Submissions

Recently, I have had some success with several photo contests and acceptances for museum exhibits. Besides the price of the entry fee, entering these venues involves a bit of effort. Whether it is a contest or a submission, it is important to read the rules. Then read them again.
Here is my take on contests and museums.

Photo Contests

Ward Museum

Best in Division, Ward Museum Photo Festival

There are many photo contests held by diverse groups that have a vested interest in the contest — communities, organizations, businesses, art associations, etc. Generally these contests have categories and within the categories a first, second, third and honorable mentions. And a “best of show” is generally given.

When entering any photo contest, it is very important to understand the intellectual property issues. Almost all contests declare that the submitter of the image owns the copyright (assuming that they created the picture).

The rub comes in the terms of entry. Most contests require the submitter to agree to allow the owners of the contest to license the image. Upon reading the restrictions of the license, you may be amazed. As an example, following is the National Wildlife Federation’s contestant entry agreement:

“Entrants retain ownership and all other rights to future use of the photographs they enter except for the following: Your entry to the contest constitutes your agreement to allow your entered photographs—and your name, occupation, city, state, country of residence and Entry Information. … you grant to NWF and its licensees the perpetual, worldwide non-exclusive license to reproduce, distribute, display and create derivative works of the

KIFA first place

First Place, Portrait, KIFA

entry (along with a name credit) in connection with the NWPC and promotion for the NWPC, in any media now or hereafter known. Entrants also agree to the use oftheir entered photos in the National Wildlife magazine’s online Photo of the Week and Caption Contest features.”

Note that they do not discriminate the winners from the entrants. All entries have these restrictions.

Some contests have more egregious rules. Many want that “ perpetual, worldwide non-exclusive license to reproduce, distribute, display and create derivative works of the entry… in any media now or hereafter known” to be applied to any usage – in effect collecting images that they do not have to pay for. These pictures then become a repository that they are free to use- any way they want to with impunity.

Read these terms for all of your contest entries, just so you know where you stand.

Museums

Juried exhibits are the way the best museums amass a collective show, in contrast to a one-person show. These exhibits are usually themed (e.g. realism, abstraction, politics, landscapes, etc.)

Hand Stand

MFA Gallery, Focal Point Photography

Submissions are similar to photo contests, with entry fees; rules of size; signed and numbered; etc. There are three major differences from photo contests: 1) The juror determines the show; 2) the museum honors your copyright and at most asks for permission to use the photo only to publicize the show; and 3) the awards are “Certificates of Distinction” and perhaps a best of show. All are “winners” and they are not ranked against one another.

Interestingly, I have found that in submitting to museums or entering photo contests, the value of my work depended on the juror or, in the case of photo contests, the judge. They have biases in art as do we all. Scoping out the judge before you enter is not a superfluous thing to do. It is imperative that you understand where they are coming from. In my experience, many museum jurors are experts in painting mediums but do not understand photographic art and consequently make some clichéd selections.

Some contests are erratic. Deal with it. I entered the plane crash picture that is featured on my homepage in the “Magazine Photographer of the Year” contest. It was thrown out because it was the only one in the “Spot News” category.

Winged Reflection

Mitchell Gallery, Less is More

Presentation is important . If the entry rules state that you should enter a jpg, make sure that it is in RGB and the resolution is 96 dpi or slightly more. Remember, this is where your piece will be judged.

The real value of these contests for you, the photographer, is recognition; and better than that, a pause in your photographic pursuits where you discover the images that you are proud of.

Photography and Civil Rights — Yesterday and Today

To commemorate 50 years since the passing of the Civil Rights Act, an exhibit called “The Movement: Bob Adelman and Civil Rights Era Photography” is at the Museum of Art in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.

AdlemanThe extent of Bob’s show is formidable, showing African American living conditions in the South in the 1960′s, voter registration efforts (left), freedom marches, sit-ins, and Martin Luther King‘s speech at the Washington Monument. Charlton Heston was in the audience!

I was reminded of a discussion between Julian Bond and Danny Lyon at the  National Geographic seminar this year where Danny talked about his civil rights photography. Julian reiterated that Martin Luther King and other leaders of groups such as the Congress for Racial Equality (CORE), the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) actively recruited photographers to document the civil rights conditions in the United States. Julian told us that King said “We have enough lawyers, we need photographers.”

Many young photographers took up the challenge, including Charles Moore, Dan Budnik, James KaralesLeonard Freed, and Danny and Bob. With several others, they created a legacy of the times. Many of these pictures are iconic — demonstrators blasted by water hoses in Birmingham, school desegregation in Montgomery, sit-ins in Greensboro, and aides pointing to where James Earl Ray fired the shot that killed Martin Luther King at the Lorraine Motel.

After I saw Bob Adelman’s exhibit, it dawned on me that we are witnessing a similar situation happening in the US today. Several Supreme Court decisions in the past two years have changed the landscape. One nullified the the 1965 law that required lawmakers in states with a history of discriminating against minority voters to get federal permission before changing voting rules. Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act had required federal review of new voting rules in 15 states, most of them in the South. Between 1982 and 2006, the Justice Department blocked more than 700 voting changes on the basis that the changes were discriminatory.

Mother Jones Magazine looked at how many of these 15 states passed or implemented voting restrictions after Section 5 was invalidated by the Supreme Court compared to the states that were not covered by the law. They found that 8 of the 15 states, or 53 percent, passed or implemented voting restrictions since June 25, 2013 compared to 3 of 35 states that were not covered under Section 5—or less than 9 percent.

The other Supreme Court decision upheld portions of the Arizona immigration law S.B. 1070 (specifically Section 2(B)) on whether the law unconstitutionally invaded the federal government’s exclusive prerogative to set immigration policy. The justices found that it was not clear whether Arizona was supplanting or supporting federal policy by requiring state law enforcement to demand immigration papers from anyone stopped, detained or arrested in the state whom officers reasonably suspect is in the country without authorization.

Many people (including some justices on the Supreme Court) believe that the civil rights battles of the 1960′s secured these rights for posterity. Civil rights organizations think otherwise and point out numerous recent state house reversals of our “inalienable rights”.

The photographs I see appearing in the media that relate to these recent decisions are mostly one-offs of demonstrations or politicians that are supposedly speaking about the issues. I say “supposedly” as it is impossible in a still photo to know what they are addressing – (Arizona S.B. 1070? Voting rights legislation in North Carolina?)

Where are the in-depth photo essays that give viewers visceral reactions to these subjects? I have searched the web for such photographic stories and have found none. If you, dear reader, know of any, please leave a comment and I will include them in this post.

Getty Images Allows Social Media Usage

Huge news was made a week ago in the online photography business. Getty Images announced that they were allowing that many of the pictures on their website that are for sale now will be available for anyone for “non-commercial use”.

Until I investigated, it gave me pause, as I am represented by Getty through National Geographic, and surely did not want my images out there without payment. After all, I am a professional photographer who makes my living selling images.

Some websites such as petapixel.com decried Getty’s actions saying, “…in the end, this represents Getty throwing in the towel when it comes to non-commercial use of its images. They’ve lost this war, and rather than fight the hoards of people on the Internet who pull their images without watermark or credit and use them all over the place, Getty has created a legal use avenue that they believe will “benefit [their] content creators.”

In looking into the “embedding” process that Getty uses, I found that they are relying on a company that they acquired called PicScout. The software they use is sophisticated enough so that even a fragment of the embedded image is identified. According to Maura Mulvihill, National Geographic Society’s Image Collection Vice President and Director, Getty plans to use the PicScout software to crawl the web for violators of the terms of service that were agreed to when they were downloaded.

Here is an embedded Getty image. Click on it and it will take you to the Getty site where the picture is located.

It is interesting that I can “screen grab” this image and eliminate the information below the picture. Can they Getty still track the image?  I don’t know. Below right is a screen grab of the image taken from Getty’s site.

Getty Screen grabWhile Director of Imaging at National Geographic, I had several  software companies demonstrate their ability to survey the web and find sites that used NGS pictures illegally. My question always was, “Who will be the cop?” Their answer was NGS. We did not have the legal resources to do so.

Maura says that PicScout will contact the violators and negotiate a payment to Getty. What happens if a violator refuses to pay? Obviously Getty can’t hire all the lawyers in the world, so I would guess it depends on how grievous (read $$$) of an offense has occurred.  BTW, you can obtain the services of PicScout if you so desire.

You may have noticed that on this site that I have a link to National Geographic Creative where NG Image Sales sells my images, and you can also buy scenic/art photography directly from this website. The difference is that my pictures that Geographic sells (and receives a portion of the proceeds) are editorial and commercial in nature and the NGS clients are corporations, ad agencies or large volume users. NGS is not interested in selling to individual consumers — for them it is not worthwhile to spend the effort on such a small one-time sale.

The jury is still out on the Getty decision. A screen grab of an image on the web is still very easy. Today, not many people want a high resolution image to print – they want a lo res to send immediately to their friends. And that is why you don’t see many of my best pictures on my Instagram or Facebook feeds.

Photographers of Mexico

Recently in La Paz, Mexico I saw two different exhibits of photography, one at the Archivo Historico that featured works of Nacho Lopez and the Casasola Photo Agency, and another nearby at the Teatro de la Ciudad where five photographers presented photo essays.

Picture taken by Nacho LopezAt the Archivo, the exhibit contrasted two styles of photography. One by Nacho Lopez, was entitled “Aqui esta la Vaciladora” (loosely translated as “Here with the Itinerants”). Perhaps the first Mexican photojournalist, López’s work (selected from the 1950′s) shows the everyday life that he preferred to focus on rather than the politicians and social scene that dominated the photography of the day. His exhibit at the Archivo was small and highlighted his work in the pulque bars (named for a local alcoholic brew).

RevolutionariesNext to Lopez’s exhibit were selected images from the Casasola Photo Agency, taken from 1900 to 1930. All of these pictures were in the “line ‘em up and shoot ‘em down” style. Even pictures of revolutionaries were staged as seen here. They are quite the contrast from Lopez’s images where his underlying theme of social criticism is evident.

My discovery of the exhibit at the Teatro de la Ciudad was a visual treat. Called “del Asfalto a la Playa” (From the Asphalt to the Beach), it featured five prominent Mexican photographers, that to be honest, I had never heard of. All have photographed internationally for many years. Two photo essays stood out for me: One by Vida Yovanovich, a Cuban who fled to Mexico during the revolution of 1956, and another by Jose Hernandez-Claire.

Picture from Vida Yovanovich essayYovanovich’s images were small black and whites that featured everyday items well-used by their owners — a pair of shoes, a sink with a taped light socket over it, a stool, etc. All the pictures were on this theme and the overall effect was an appreciation of Yovanovich’s work, but also a respect for those who used these items.

 

Image from Religious EssayJose Hernandez-Claire’s essay was also in black and white — much larger — and featured religious celebrations throughout Mexico. They captured the emotional and physical connection of the participants in the images to their God.

Note to Bob: photo essays are alive and well in Mexico.

My Life Is Not an Open Book

Recently I found an illuminating infographic in the New Yorker magazine that shows how social media sites gather information about their users. As explained in the New Yorker:

“In short, they see people as data, breaking their users down into categories that fit neatly into a machine-readable stream of information. This data is gathered not only from what users share on the social networks themselves but also through programs that plug into these networks by way of an application programming interface, better known as an A.P.I. For instance, think of any time you signed in to a Web site or an application with your Facebook or Twitter login, used a Facebook or Twitter app that was made by a third-party company like Zynga, or clicked a Like button at the top of an article. In different ways, those applications all talk to social networks via their A.P.I.s.”

“This information flows both ways: the social networks receive data from applications and, in turn, they can provide developers and advertisers with data about their users. …Much of the information that they have about users remains internal, and is not made available to developers via their A.P.I. Taken together, they are a way of conceiving of how social networks see you. Facebook may provide items like your name, statuses, photographs, favorite television shows, friend requests, religious views, privacy settings, events, and check-ins. (What it can make available to these applications depends on your privacy settings.) For instance, when you play Candy Crush Saga on Facebook—currently the most popular game on the social network—the developer, King, has access to what Facebook describes as “your basic information,” which includes your name, profile picture, gender, user I.D., friends, and “any other information you made public.” In the Twitter A.P.I., as Paul Ford has explained, you are an amalgam of your tweets, username, favorites, retweets, location, language spoken, and so on.”

Here is the infographic developed by the New Yorker.

For my business pages, I get access to much of this information and it helps me understand how users are addressing my site.

For my personal pages, I rarely post to these sites, as I value my personal privacy and do not want the professional pictures I take to be all over the net.

ADDENDUM June 29, 2014

Here is another way the Facebook manipulates your data.

A Tablet Is Not A Computer

For years, when traveling I took my laptop with me. This was always worrisome, as it is my prime computer and all of my files are on it, including emails, important documents, photographs, etc. It was also fairly heavy. It resided in my camera bag when traveling, and the rest of the time it was in my room. I have it backed up, (see my blog on backups), but I didn’t want to go through the hassle of restoring everything if it was stolen, which fortunately it never was.

When Apple came out with the iPad in 2010, I felt that it would perhaps be the intermediate step between my iPhone and my MacBook Pro. I was curious, but having an aversion to “Model One – Number One”, I decided to wait and see how customers felt about the machine. Of course, the response was overwhelming. Criticisms were leveled, such as not being equipped with a USB input and not having enough storage space. I was not in a great hurry to purchase, as I felt that my iPad would be WIFI only and not enough establishments at that time had WIFI, or it was locked and the password was not available. Also, I felt that with the early machines storage would be an issue.

What drove me to finally purchase an iPad was, of all things, when Tim Cook, CEO of Apple, Inc. declared that tablets (and the iPad specifically) were “post PC computing“. I found out that, at this stage of the game, one has to take the word “computing” as a generic term.

What I should have done was to research what the iPad could do, and what it couldn’t do. After my purchase, I ran across a simple way of understanding your computer needs in an article by Daniel Nations.

As Daniel says, “Many people use their laptop or desktop PC primarily for checking email, finding out what friends and family are up to on Facebook, playing casual games and browsing the web. Those are all things that the iPad can not only do, but in some cases, even outperform the laptop. For casual gaming, the iPad easily comes out on top. Not only does it have cheaper games, it has a huge app store full of them. The iPad can also excel at browsing the web or checking Facebook, being much lighter and more comfortable to hold while curled up on the couch.”

Then he goes on to say that a desktop/laptop computer user should make a list of the applications that she uses on her machine. Then keep the list handy and every time she uses an app or something like Spotlight, she writes it down. After 10 days or so, she should match this list to what she can accomplish on the iPad. This is great advice.

In my case, as a photographer/designer, it is obvious that there is no “heavy lifting” going on with the iPad. Here are some examples: “Pages”, Apple’s word processing program has a limited number of fonts and others cannot be downloaded to this program; importing pictures to the “Photos” app removes the file names and important data; apps such as “PhotoShop Touch” and “iDraw” are light weights compared to Photoshop and Illustrator; if you want to use “Flash” – forget it; in Pages, it is impossible to attach documents to email, etc. etc.

iPad users will be quick to point out that there are ways around these limitations, such as jailbreaking the iPad so Pages can download any font; that you can get applications to help you attach documents by importing them into that app first; that you can get apps that save the file names of images; etc.

Workarounds is what I call them. And yesterday when I used my iPad to go to an airline website to check in for a flight, it was built in “Flash”. And “Spotlight” only finds contacts and emails, not documents.Thanks Apple!

So caveat emptor. I thought I would be into “post PC computing”, only to find that I have purchased a larger and more expensive version of my iPhone, and it doesn’t make calls.

My sister has an iPad mini that she loves. Her uses for it are generally for social media and email. She had changed the default signature to read, “Sent from My Toy Tablet”. I would put the emphasis on “Toy”.

Who Are You, Brave Photojournalist?

Recently I attended the annual National Geographic Photography Seminar held at the Washington DC headquarters of NGS. It was great to see photographers and friends such as Nick Nichols, Steve McCurry, Jodi Cobb, George Steinmetz, et. al. Once a year is hardly enough to convene. As one National Geographic photographer said, “How come they always send me out there? What’s wrong with right here?” In short, we are gone a lot and fortunate that something like the seminar brings us together to commune in Photojournalism, where it is spelled with a capital “P”.

Several moving tributes to Robert E. Gilka, former Director of Photography who died in 2012 were given, both in on-screen form and by NGM executives. I always use a quote from a letter he wrote to a prospective photographer as a way to describe his view of the profession:

What I miss most in your pictures is the input of the photographer. You see what most of us see and that is not enough. To rise above the great pack of people calling themselves photographers, one must develop seeing senses to the utmost. It is with a special kind of seeing ability that photographers make interesting, exciting or provocative images.…My words are not likely to be comforting; they’re not meant to be. Photography is a tough profession.”

On the program this year was Tyler Hicks a New York Times photojournalist. He is what we sometimes refer to as a “bullet chaser” – in essence a war photographer. In 2013, 70 journalists were killed – over half were videographers or photographers. We are no longer considered “neutral” in combat, now it depends on which side you align with as to the degree of danger. Tyler has worked in Syria, Libya, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq, Bosnia, Lebanon, Israel, Gaza and Chechnya  — usually countries where conflict is happening.

Tyler spoke and showed images of his work that in many cases was not done as an embedded (read controlled) journalist, but while operating on his wits, experience and, as he would agree, luck.

But none of his war images were as arresting as the images that he took at the Westgate Mall massacre in Nairobi, Kenya on September 21. 2013. I think that there are two reasons for this:

1. The mall is not a war zone, but a civilized shopping area that was overtaken by a group of terrorists who were very cavalier as they committed random carnage.

2. Tyler took several pictures from outside the complex, showing people fleeing the mall, wounded civilians, and bodies in cars where they had been gunned down in the parking lot. Tyler and his wife (also a journalist) then ENTERED the mall when the terrorists still controlled the area.

This left me thinking. If I were there would I, as a photojournalist, go into a place where I could plainly see by those fleeing that it was dangerous if not deadly? Obviously Tyler’s years as a war correspondent helped him understand some of the risks. As he said, when the good guys arrived, they did a store to store search, much like a house to house search in a war zone.

When in the field and in a dicey situation, we make decisions based on a recognition of risks, but sometimes we are wrong. An infamous National Geographic photographer was in Tiananmen Square, China during the repression of demonstrators on June 3 and 4, 1989. Not only did he not come back with pictures, but also he called the magazine and said he wanted the company to get him home as soon as possible to be back with his family.

So who are you, brave photojournalist? We would like to think that we are akin to Tyler, but until you are in the situation, you just don’t know. What I can say is that I am happy to be in a profession that has people like Tyler and Jim Nachtwey as members so that we can all see the unvarnished reality of life in their images.

An addendum to this post April 4, 2014: Heavy hearts as another photojournalist, Anja Niedringhaus, was murdered by an Afghan “policeman”. Many tributes to her on the web, but to see the power of her images, go to her site