When to Donate

Another request today for an image that an organization would like to use without paying. Although in the majority of cases I respond with a standard request for usage information so that I can create a quote, this time was a bit different.

My concern over the evolution of photography has been well documented here. Even recently I wrote about the devaluation of images due to the availability of distribution platforms as well as the proliferation of digital cameras among the every day consumer. In other words, higher volume, easy sharing/distribution and general a disregard for quality or value has contributed to the belief that most images can be acquired for free. Well, that’s not the case for me, although I always weigh the request. Today’s request was just a bit different.

The Independence Fund, a non profit that helps disabled veterans acquire equipment, especially the iBot wheelchair that retails for $25, 000-$30,000, as well as raise funds used by the vets in leisure and athletic activities, requested the image below.

Participants in the National Veterans Summer Sports Clinic in San Diego, California

The request was to use the image in the header of a soon-to-be redesigned website in hopes of making it more attractive to potential contributors. After some basic research on The Independence Fund, I decided this was one of those times where it would be pathetic for me to charge anything. It’s a relatively small organization built around volunteer efforts to aid disabled veterans. In other words, it was time to donate.

There are countless ways to provide help to others, and everyone has a cause that is dear to them, but it’s essential that we all try to contribute in some form or fashion. This was just one of those opportunities and I’m glad for it. I know many of my friends and colleagues do the same (with a favorite among photographers being Do 1 Thing.)

To make a donation to the Independence Fund, click here.

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What Exactly Do You Do?

I always get a laugh from the quizzical look on peoples faces when I tell them I’m a “photojournalist.”

Sometimes it’s like announcing you are a neonatal geophysicist. The long, drawn out “Ohhhhh” is the first clue they have no clue.

Once the standard, “I take photos for various magazines and publications” is explained, I’m invariably met with the quintessential “Ohhhhhhhh, so do you just take photos or do you write also?” (As if just taking photos was so damn easy). From that point it’s just a short breath til I sputter “No, I don’t write cuz I can barely read.” More “Ohhhhhhhhh” follows, because they think I’m serious.

Anyway, my point is that is not always easy explaining what it is we photojournalists do. Luckily for me, it varies. A couple weeks ago I was in Pebble Beach shooting the PGA Tour for Sports Illustrated and then home before heading back out  to a small farming town to photograph migrant women working in the fields. From the manicured greens and pampered personalities of the PGA  to the calloused hands and muddy fields of a migrant’s life, those two weeks reminded me a lot about photojournalism.

Covering the PGA Tour is fun, no doubt. But you have to find success in the quieter moments of sports. Photographing a golf event isn’t as action packed as shooting football, hockey or the NBA, so the challenge is to make interesting images from a sport where being low-keyed is considered appropriate. Let’s put it this way: There’s not a lot of chest banging, trash talking, nose to nose competition inside the ropes of the PGA Tour. With collisions a rarity outside the clubhouse bar and few instances of body checks or posting-up, it becomes a lesson in shooting a humble sport. Put another way, anyone wearing a TapOut shirt is going to stand out like a Democrat on the tour. Olympic Curlers are more animated than tour players, but I think you get the idea……..

Dustin Johnson, winner of 2009 & 2010 AT&T National Pro Am at Pebble Beach

Dustin Johnson, winner of 2009 & 2010 AT&T National Pro Am at Pebble Beach

Truth be told, though, the photojournalist in me loves to shoot images that delve into societies’ issues. And spending time with the women who trudged through the rows of vineyards and orchards snipping, clipping and tying branches and fruit was a great shoot. I was energized and felt rejuvenated as I made my way back to LA. The long drive made me think a lot about the details, about the conditions the women work and live in. I thought as I climbed the Grapevine on I-5 how I never heard anyone complain like I surely would if I was making $50 for a full days work clipping dead branches in a muddy field. I reflected on how I was shooting images in a cockroach infested migrant housing complex when one of the women insisted I have a couple homemade tacos before leaving.

Like a lot of photographers, one of the pleasures we draw from our lifestyle is the ability to reflect on our work when we process the images. Only a decade ago I would wait at a cafe near my favorite lab, Chrome N’ R, usually with a friend or two, for the chromes to be processed and mounted. I could never wait to get home to view the slides so I would hold them up to the windshield while driving home for a quick glance. It was exciting! Now, it’s just as exciting and a LOT faster since I ingest them into my computer, process and upload to my Photoshelter archive within a hour or two. Long gone are the days of marking slides with dots, preparing FedEx slips and waiting days for the editors in NY or Washington to view them. Once the images are on my Photoshelter site, I create a very loosely edited gallery and send the password protected link with download privileges to the assigning editor. Done! What’s nice about the archive is the ability to keep the images unsearchable and private to just my client until they publish the work. Once the images run,  I can select the photos I want to FTP and send them directly to my agency, Aurora, from my archive. From there it’s a simple keyboard command and the photos become searchable to the public.

Campesina tying grape vines in fields of California

Campesina tying grape vines in fields of California

I guess that’s a good explanation for what a photojournalist does………..Except, that kind of leaves out the whole part about audio, video, and editing in Final Cut Pro. Oh yeah, that also fails to mention the need to post your images on social network sites like Facebook and Twitter. Oh, I forgot the part about maintaining a photo blog! Don’t forget that. Wait, wait, wait, one more thing! I forgot to mention that you need to understand and implement Search Engine Optimization (SEO!) by keywording, filenaming and including descriptive text on your site. And you definitely need to set up Google Analytics to evaluate your site so that you can……………

James K. Colton Lecture at Annenberg

I had a chance to catch a long time editor, mentor and friend lecture the other night at the Annenberg Space for Photography in Century City. Jimmy Colton, Picture Editor at Sports Illustrated, flew in from NY to speak to a packed house about what he looks for when editing for Sports Illustrated. Having worked and known Jim for twenty years now, I was still impressed by the passion and desire to reach out to young photographers that he exhibited during the evening.

He showed a lot of great images. No surprise there given SI has always been about the photos (sorry to my friends who write for the mag, but there is more than a modicum of truth to that!). Jimmy showed iconic images and examples of the magazines evolution into convergence with audio slideshows and use of video. All that fine work aside, it was the inflection in the voice, the impassioned pleas to forget about how bad things are in the publishing world (while acknowledging that these are tough times) and create images that make impact. Cause a reaction, Jimmy said, and you’ve succeeded.

I had the pleasure of sitting next to a group of students, one from California State University, Northridge, where I lecture part time, and several from Brooks Institute of Photography.  First, it was energizing to see that the students, at least one of whom has no interest in “sports,” had the desire to travel LA’s labyrinth of freeways at rush hour to listen and learn from one of the industry’s most accomplished editors. Then to watch their reactions and listen to their questions and comments was a glimpse into the future and I liked what I saw. Jimmy reached them. And not just with sports, but with photojournalism in general. Telling a story about another colleague, Lynn Johnson (a fantastic photographer whose work has graced the pages of National Geographic, SI, the NY Times Magazine and beyond), taking photos of young kids in the Dominican playing ball with sticks and the reader reaction to the photos, Jimmy explained how Lynn’s images made a real impact. Readers asked how they could donate so the kids could have real baseball gear and before they knew it, Jimmy and Lynn gathered enough gear and personally delivered it to the kids in the Dominican Republic. I could see the impact the story had on the students sitting next to me.

Jimmy made sure to emphasize how well the business of photojournalism has treated him. In return, he is committed to giving back and does so in a variety of ways. He helps young photographers by being available to them for advice and professional critiques. He has given since the beginning (over 20 years ago) to helping young photojournalists accepted into the Eddie Adams Workshop. I was one of those, so I can tell you forthright that he walks the walk. He is also committed to Do 1 Thing.

A great lecture from a great editor at a great gallery. For those who haven’t visited the venue, you should try. The Annenberg Space for Photography also hosts the annual exhibition for Pictures of the Year, International.

For more on the lecture, visit Beate Chelette’s blog at http://photosecrets.wordpress.com/

Editor, Mentor and Friend, Jim Colton and Me (thanks to Beate Chelette at http://photosecrets.wordpress.com)

The Athlete and The Media

The relationship between sports media and professional athletes is so difficult to describe. But the plain and simple fact is that most professional athletes forget the most basic tenet of business: Without the media, the athlete will be a average paid, middle class working “joe.” Yet despite that fact, many of professional athletes that I’ve encountered as a photographer lose sight of this once they’ve hit the big time.

No doubt the emerging star embraces the media exposure and the requests for interviews and photo shoots. Why? Simple. Money, baby. The emerging star understands that exposure leads to discovery and discovery leads eventually to the pros (never discounting the significance of the athlete’s talent and perseverance). Pros receive hefty contracts from their teams and/or lucrative endorsement deals with various sponsors. That process all starts as early as middle school for some, high school and college athletes for most. Top notch high school athletes have press agents and people that handle their publicity. Hey, that’s smart in my book, but the problem is that most pro athletes forget that the media was an integral part of their journey to prosperity.

The reason teams pay big money to big name athletes is to draw paying fans into their arenas, stadiums, courses etc. How are fans going to be excited about seeing a particular athlete if the fans have no idea who they are? Without the magazines, newspapers, radio and online publications writing about and photographing the athlete, fans would have no desire to pay $50 to see a baseball game. Case and point: When the Dodgers signed Manny Ramirez, ticket sales went through the roof. Fans pay to see star athletes and those fans rely on the media to tell them about the athlete’s accomplishments (and failures).

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Jordin Tootoo on the Hudson Bay near his home in Rankins Inlet, Canada.

Like many relationships, the athlete/media relationship doesn’t have to be based on love. But it does need a healthy dose of mutual respect and understanding to prosper.  So it’s refreshing to come across  pro athletes who still understand this union. And there are a number of them out there. A couple years ago I spent time with NHL player Jordin Tootoo , right, and his family at their home near the Arctic Circle. Very, very cool, humble people who treated me like family (even breaking out the good beer one night!). Another example was when I had the chance to spend a few days with LPGA star (and crossover celebrity who had her own reality show) Natalie Gulbis. Extremely genuine person who was friendly, helpful and thankful for the story and shoot SI did.  ‘Course, her dad rides a Harley and has a law enforcement background, so it’s easy to see how she stayed grounded.

Brain Gay and Family in Mexico

Brain Gay enjoys his family at the beach in Mayakoba near Cancun, Mexico.

Most recently, I spent a few days with Brian Gay and his family in Mayakoba which is about an hour south of Cancun on the Yucatan Peninsula. Sports Illustrated’s Alan Shipnuck was writing a piece about Brian’s long and hard road to success on the PGA Tour, out this week and available here. Brian travels most the time with his wife, Kimberly, and their two young daughters. Brian is on the quiet side but was friendly, pleasant and accepting of spending quite a bit of time shooting away from the course. The same for his wife who told me on more than one occasion how much they appreciated the time we were putting into the story. That’s rare. Even more rare was returning to my room to find a bottle of wine, some gourmet cheese and a note from the Gay family thanking me again. Good manners or good business? Both! It’s smart business and plain old nice to treat people with dignity and respect.

Lorena Ochoa

Lorena Ochoa is a fan and media favorite.

Lorena Ochoa, the best female golfer in the world, and one of the richest,  knows like few others how to treat everyone with respect. She’s notorious for stopping by to visit with the grounds crew at a tournament and for inviting them out to celebrate on the final hole when she wins a tournament. And she’s a fan favorite, too. Pure class. And a pure understanding of how it all works.

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