Contest Season

It’s contest time in the photojournalism world. There are major contests like POYi, the NPPA’s Best of Photojournalism and World Press Photo. Then, for me at least, is the Virginia News Photographer’s Association and The White House News Photographer’ Association.

Out of all of these, the one that I have wanted to place in the most is the WHNPA’s “Eyes of History.” During my first year at the Corcoran, the museum hosted the winning images from that year’s contest in a gallery exhibit. It was amazing. Working legends in the field had their images on display. Photographers that worked for The Washington Post, The New York Times, Reuters, Getty Images. I was blown away by the work and when I wasn’t in class I was up in the gallery studying the images.

This year I am flattered and honored to have won 1st Place in the Portrait/Personality Category in the White House News Photographer’s Associations 2014 “Eyes of History” contest for my portrait of musician Saleem Wayne Waters. Thank you judges, and thank you WHNPA for putting on a great contest.

Composer and musician Saleem Wayne Waters poses for a portrait in his home in Hyattsville, Md. on Sunday, April 7th, 2013.

Composer and musician Saleem Wayne Waters poses for a portrait in his home in Hyattsville, Md. on Sunday, April 7th, 2013.

Last Minute Portrait

A couple of weeks ago, I got a call from Lisa at Polaris Images. It was a Friday, in the early afternoon, and she wanted to know if I was available for a portrait shoot for The Times of London. A subject of an upcoming article was in DC and The Times needed a portrait to accompany the print and online edition. Perfect, I thought. Location portraits are right in my wheelhouse and I love shooting them. There was a catch: the subject was only available from 4:30 to 5 pm that afternoon at an office on K Street. This didn’t give me much time to research the subject, prep my gear or scout the location, let alone shoot pictures. No problem, I thought, I’m the man for the job!

A quick Google search and I found a bunch of articles on the subject, Nazeeha Saeed. She’s a journalist in Bahrain and a couple of years ago was held against her will and tortured by police. Knowing this, I wanted to make sure I had appropriate portraits to go along with the story. I wanted to make engaging and compelling portraits that conveyed a serious tone. The location was near the Farragut North Metro stop and at that time of day, we’d have to contend with foot traffic if we wanted to make pictures outside.

I arrived early enough to secure a parking spot and get to the office. It was a small office on the second floor facing K Street. There wasn’t a balcony, but a few offices had big windows and blank walls. This was my starting point. Using the blank wall as my background, I set up a speedlight on a stand with a Lastolite square softbox and shot a few lit portraits. I cut the radio slave off and using the window as my light source, I made some very nice available light, shallow depth-of-field portraits.

One of the main things to consider when shooting for an agency and their client is to shoot a range of images. It’s likely only one picture will be used, but they need both vertical and horizontal options. The agency will also want a batch of images they can use for other clients, which means a better chance at re-sale down the road. Wide, medium, tight, subject looking at the camera, subject looking away, lit, available light, you name it. I had a good set of images so far and had my “CYA” shots so I decided to modify my lighting. I used a Honl speedlight snoot and cranked up the juice on the speedlight to darken the background. This would make for something a little dark and dynamic. Changing the mood by changing the lighting gave me a chance to offer a wider range of images.

Once I had a solid set of pictures inside, I proposed we head outdoors. There was a decent sized pedestrian island near the corner and it was a perfect place to get a cityscape background. Again I shot wide, medium and tight, lit and with available light, to give the client and the agency a wide range of options. I slowed the shutter speed down as people and traffic passed by while the subject remained still. This conveys a sense of being grounded, a sense of stability amid chaos.

Nazeeha was amazing to work with and a wonderful person. We wrapped before 5 pm and I had a bunch of pictures that I was happy with. More importantly, my editor at Polaris was happy and The Times was happy.

Here are some selects from the shoot, as well as the image as The Times used it.

2013 07 12 Nazeeha Saeed 014 2013 07 12 Nazeeha Saeed 011 2013 07 12 Nazeeha Saeed 017A 2013 07 12 Nazeeha Saeed 015 2013 07 12 Nazeeha Saeed 001 2013 07 12 Nazeeha Saeed 020 2013 07 12 Nazeeha Saeed 002 2013 07 12 Nazeeha Saeed 021 2013 07 12 Nazeeha Saeed 003 2013 07 12 Nazeeha Saeed 026 2013 07 12 Nazeeha Saeed 022 2013 07 12 Nazeeha Saeed 007

 

 

Screen Shot 2013-07-18 at 1.07.06 PM

Run or Dye

A few years ago I remember seeing pics on SportsShooter from a Holi festival. The pics were amazing and I thought, “man I’d love to cover that one day.” Well, things like Holi festivals don’t happen in the halls of Congress, which is where I was working at the time.  A couple things have changed since then: I’m now freelancing full time, and the advent of the “Color Run.”

Run or Dye DC 2013

Color runs have taken some aspects of Holi festivals and applied them to a 5k fun run. Essentially it happens like this: runners navigate a 5 kilometer course that has “color stations” where volunteers throw colored powder on passing runners. The festival-like atmosphere continues after the run, with music and dancing and more color being thrown about.

A rep from Run or Dye, a leading organizer of a series of color runs, contacted me last week to be a house photographer for their DC event, which took place on Saturday, June 8, 2013. After a couple e-mails negotiating rights and fees, I secured the gig.

I have read horror stories such as this one when it came to covering a color run. I’m a lowly freelancer and my hand-me-down 5D mk IIs are all I have. I can’t afford to have a lens or body taken out of commission because of color dust.  I took every precaution I could think of to keep my gear safe. I negotiated camera covers into my agreement, which the company provided. I bought cheap filters for the front of the lenses I would be using. And I found an 11th-hour deal on a $70 used 28-70 3.5-4.5 USM Canon lens, which I could write off and throw away after the gig if I had to.

Run or Dye DC 2013

I arrived early (as you ALWAYS should) and contacted the Media Director. I met up with him and ran into a couple familiar faces that were also covering the event for Run or Dye. I was given my camera covers and I quickly broke out my cheapo lens and gaffer’s tape and set my rigs up. THIS SAVED MY ASS. The covers were cheapo Op/Tech clear covers that run for $6 on Amazon.com.  Instead of putting the draw-string closures on the lens as recommended, I put the other end on the lens and double-layered gaffer’s tape to the filter and the covers. The covers were long enough to go up my arm a ways, and I used the drawstring to secure the cover around my arm when I was shooting.

The other trick I used was staying upwind of the dye. If the wind is coming from the right, stay to the right. That way, any dust will blow AWAY from you and not land on/in/near your camera. I shot a lot from a distance with a 70-200, and when I needed to get close I used the 28-70 cheapo lens. I left my 50 1.2 and 16-35 2.8 in the bag.

My instructions were to shoot at the start line, and then the finish line for a bit. I could also shoot the festival from the stage, where most of the post-race action took place.

Run or Dye DC 2013

Two guys were MCing from a riser near the start, so I climbed up and snapped a bunch of pics from above for a bit. I then moved to the ground level of the start line, and then moved to the first color station. Again, I stayed upwind, and made sure to keep the dye powder moving away from me while I shot from a distance. When I did move close, I stayed to the upwind side and used the cheapo lens.

Run or Dye DC 2013

I moved to the finish line when I was asked to, and to be honest it wasn’t my favorite spot. People were rude, mostly, and a lot of them wanted to mug for the camera rather than let me photograph them actually running. As quick as I could I made my way to the stage to make pics of the rest of the festival.

Run or Dye DC 2013

Run or Dye DC 2013

Run or Dye DC 2013

Run or Dye DC 2013

Loud dance music, endorphins, and color dye make people act crazy. Even at 10 am. I was hoping/praying/excited for eye candy, and I wasn’t disappointed.

As the festival wound down, I met up with the Media Director and downloaded my memory cards to his hard drive. 20 minutes later, after 28 gig worth of raw files were delivered, I was done. And here’s the cool part: I was paid upon delivery of the images. When the last file transferred and I closed my laptop, I was handed a check. No waiting, no 30 day lag, none of that. Deliver the images, boom, get paid.

Color runs/Holi festivals can be great to cover. I am happy with my results and more importantly my client was happy with my results. Be smart, be prepared and think before you go and you will be just fine.

Run or Dye DC 2013

Assigned

Yesterday I photographed my first freelance assignment since leaving Politico. I had been worried that since the credentialing process had long since passed, I wouldn’t be able to get a gig covering the inauguration. It turns out that I didn’t need a credential to get a sweet assignment.

Sommer Mathis, a former colleague at TBD.com, called me on Friday and asked if I’d like to shoot an assignment for her at The Atlantic Cities. She wanted to show what it’s like to navigate Washington, DC on the morning of inauguration. I was more than excited to get the gig, as I had navigated DC on inauguration two times before.

The concept was to show what it feels like to make your way through the crowds and lines and what you see and feel along the way. Was it chaos like four years ago? Was it controlled? What was the mood of the city? What was the landscape like as you made your way through the streets to the parade route? She wasn’t worried about the parade or the inauguration itself, and she wanted the images by 11 am so they could go up before the swearing in took place. She also asked me to write a few paragraphs to accompany the photos and it’d be put up in a blog post and picture essay.

This was my favorite type of assignment, the kind where I follow my eyes and my instincts and make cool looking pictures. Here are a few selects from my take, and the link to the story is here: http://www.theatlanticcities.com/politics/2013/01/inauguration-2013-ballet-logistics/4445/

2013 01 21 Inaug Selects 080 2013 01 21 Inaug Selects 082 2013 01 21 Inaug Selects 084 2013 01 21 Inaug Selects 086 2013 01 21 Inaug Selects 087 2013 01 21 Inaug Selects 089 2013 01 21 Inaug Selects 091 2013 01 21 Inaug Selects 094 2013 01 21 Inaug Selects 097 2013 01 21 Inaug Selects 100

Onward

On Friday I was let go from Politico, where I had worked for the last two years. It was unexpected, to say the least. They are undergoing changes and eliminated my position. I was the most recent hire in the department and, in turn, the first to be let go.

As I wrote in a letter to management, I thoroughly enjoyed my time there. I learned a lot and felt I was able to contribute to the team not only with photographs, but with reporting and storytelling. I have always considered myself a photojournalist; a reporter with a camera. I was able to flex my reporting skills, work sources, and chase leads. I was never prouder to represent an employer than I was at Politico.

I understand that Politico’s future is evolving and going in new directions. I’m excited to see the future of journalism continue to shift away from stories that publish in a print edition the next day to stories that publish immediately on the web and on tablets. I believe that the possibilities are limitless and the future is bright, especially for photography. The new media landscape will be more visual than ever before. I think where the folks at Politico and I differ is in the importance of original, staff-generated visual storytelling that goes beyond a simple collection of wire photos. Going forward, I will continue to produce compelling images and storytelling multimedia features.

So, what’s next? I’m going to keep doing what I do best: photograph politics and portraits. I know how to cover Capitol Hill. I have sources, I have connections, and I know who to know. I have access. I have a style that is different from other photographers; I know how to separate myself from the pack. I think I make some pretty compelling images of politics.

I also love to shoot portraits. I like interacting with people during a portrait session and making a connection. In my opinion, that’s the key to making a good portrait. At the end of the day, the portrait is just a sliver of time like any other picture. What is represented in that portrait is the connection that is made. If given the opportunity, I will make an engaging, insightful portrait.

Here is a collection of some of my favorite photographs from my time at Politico. I hope you enjoy viewing them as much as I enjoyed making them.