Sunday, December 30, 2007

Weather or Not

I like people for their weaknesses and faults. I get on well with ordinary people. We talk. We start with the weather, and little by little we get to the important things. When I photograph them it is not as if I were examining them with a magnifying glass, like a cold and scientific observer. It's very brotherly. And it's better, isn't it, to shed some light on those people who are never in the limelight. - Robert Doisneau

"There's nothing like the feeling of the open road when you're out cruising for weather features." I once heard a wily veteran offer this ridiculous yet truthful statement in an old film darkroom early in my career and it's never left me. Even though most photogs would rather cover ribbon cuttings or even shoot mugshots than hunt for enterprise photos it seems, cruising for weather is a compulsory part of our jobs, but that doesn't mean we should dread it.

Enterprise, features, weather, or wild art -- even though the terms may vary, the definition for this news-photo classification remains the same -- a 'found situation' that features strong human interest elements, a fresh view of an everyday situation, or a lively focus on the lighter side of life. A related and similar type of photograph -- the Pictorial -- can also fall into this category, however its emphasis is on composition that exploits the aesthetic or graphic qualities of the subject. Now consider this: everyday great feature photo moments occur everywhere!

But back to the open road . . . Finding these 'found' situations can be challenging and it requires some effort -- there's just no substitute for the hours and miles you'll have to invest. However, there are a few tricks that can help simplify the search.

On the way to your next assignment or even while you're out walking about your town, keep a purposeful eye open for potential feature environments and mentally file them away for the future. Just because a perfect location didn't work today, it may pay off tomorrow under colder, hotter, or wetter conditions. Once you've identified a group of settings, make it a point to pass by them - frequently - under varying conditions. And don't avoid the cliche' or popular spots (e.g., beaches, parks, etc.), under the right circumstances, these places can be assignment savers. Often times though successful feature trips are simply a matter of pure dumb luck -- right place, right time (and prepared!). Take these four examples:

A late winter Lake Michigan ice storm was illustrated beautifully on the shores of a Milwaukee beach (one that I continually cruised past); relief from the heat was a struggle like this youngster's battle with the bubbler (or drinking fountain, for those not from Milwaukee!) at a crowded city park; walking to the Capitol to cover the Iowa State Legislature, this reflection feature/pictorial simply popped up; and don't forget the animals when times are tough!
So what are you waiting for? The Open Road awaits! (Note: this post is for Matthew Ginn).