The Beginning.
+ I'm a Warwick, N.Y. - based news and event photographer with 48 years of experience, most recently as Director of Photography at the Times Herald-Record and currently writer and photographer of the 845LIFE column which appears every Monday in the TH-R.
+ Long ago and far away, I trained under LIFE Magazine photographer Bernard Hoffman and began my newspaper career in in 1972, shooting 6-7 assignments a day, souping prints in a crappy darkroom with one hand while eating peanut butter and jelly sandwiches with the other. (That's right, I'm an old fart.)
+ That was when newspapers were black-and-white and Tri-X film was king. You couldn't push that stuff very far - ASA 800 was the max - but it was all we had. The other press photographers were grumpy old men who smoked too much, hid bottles of rum in the darkroom and grudgingly gave up secrets. I listened, learned and tried not to inhale.
+ Since then, I've worked for newspapers in seven states including one of the smallest in New Mexico and one of the largest in New York City. I've photographed U.S. presidents, college, pro and high school sports, famous musicians, boring politicians, the rich and famous and the poor and not so famous. (I much prefer the poor and not so famous.)
The Middle.
+ If it matters to you, my work has won hundreds of awards, has been published around the world and can be seen every week in the TH-R and every other month in Orange Magazine. My photographs have been turned into three books: "The People of Vietnam" and "N Y C" and "Twischsawkin" and one soon-to-be published books, "Kaaterskill" and "America - Through My Lens" and "Family."
+ Once I thought I knew everything about photography when I was 30... and 40... and 50... and it turns out I didn't and I still don't.  Which is why George Bernard Shaw once wrote "youth is wasted on the young" or something to that effect.
+ Because, with photography, knowledge is cumulative and software offers few shortcuts. Photographers have great imaginations, are experts in natural and artificial lighting, know their own capabilities, the limitations of their equipment, the legal stuff, work quickly, nail the shot in the camera and then get the hell out. (Didn't Ringo sing "It Don't Come Easy?")
+ Intelligent photojournalists need to have a great sense of humor, an outgoing personality and know a little bit about a lot of different things because at times the job requires melting into a crowd and at other times it requires keeping the subject engaged through the lost art of conversation. Hot-shot software doesn't help with any of that stuff.
The End.
+ Decades ago, Bernard Hoffman gave me great advice when he said "Everybody thinks photography is about equipment and it's not. When you point a camera at someone it might as well be a gun - they freeze. Good photographers make the subject forget about that gun and bad photographers don't. It's about people, not equipment."
+ Great photographs smack you right in the face and change your perception of the world. They capture emotion and take you to places you've never been. Which is exactly why photos of people smiling at the camera are the worst pictures ever taken.
+ Cameras are tools, but here's the disconnect: I was photographing a musician and when she saw my shots she said: "Those are amazing, you must have a great camera" and me, completely annoyed, replied "You make fantastic music, you must have a great violin."
+ So, George Bernard Shaw was definitely correct, Bernard Hoffman was probably correct and Ringo, well, he's Ringo and he gets to sing whatever the hell he wants to sing. Now, I'm the grumpy old photographer giving advice to young shooters - some of it actually good - but darkrooms are a thing of the past so there's no place to hide the rum.


About that camera...
+ When I lecture, I always start by saying that the most important piece of equipment a photographer carries is a brain. Because making ideas appear on a tiny chip inside the camera is the talent behind what photojournalists do. People smiling at the camera is a total failure on the part of the photographer's brain - and also deadly boring.
+ Professional photography is an acquired talent and skill that used to lead to a promising career. Did for me. Doesn't anymore.

+ A photographer must act like an outsider, think like an outsider, shoot like an outsider.

+ The best compliment a photographer can give another is: "Damn, I wish I had shot that."

+ Photography is both the easiest and the most difficult of the arts. The easiest, because anyone can push a button, as opposed to painting, where it takes a long time before you can create something that looks nice. But it’s really hard to make a great photograph that stands out from the millions of awful photos being posted online.

+ In that vein, newbies usually don't know exposure methods, have no idea how to use flash or studio lighting or how to pose subjects or how to hold the camera correctly. It takes time to gain the necessary experience to know all that. But that doesn't stop them from thinking they're the greatest ever. (That takes time too.) Youthfulness breeds inexperience.

+ I'm retired now, so my business card says: Professional Photographer - Amateur Wise Ass. But I've rolled, exposed and processed more film than God, which gives me credibility in the photography field, at least, but probably not so much in the religious one.

+ New trends are always emerging in photography, but the latest is not always the best-est. (HDR, anyone?) Back in the 1940's, 35mm film did not eliminate the 4x5 format and in the 2000's digital didn't completely eradicate film. They all still exist side-by-side-by-side.

+ Cameras are tools which get better, smaller and cheaper with each replacement cycle. Expensive photography equipment has been replaced by toggle switches in Lightroom, Kodak is gone and it's 52,000 workers have been replaced by Instagram's 11 employees.

+ And, almost inevitably, new tech brings an increase in quantity and a decrease in quality. For example, music isn't better in earbuds, movies aren't meant for small screens and tiny plastic lenses aren't replacements for cameras. These inventions are easier, not better.

+ The positive perceptions of Facebook, Google, Twitter and Instagram are crumbling.        It didn't have to be this way, but the good guys couldn't keep the bad guys out and people didn't post responsibly, so it became untrustworthy - cesspools of lies and braggadocio. Twenty years from now it will be interesting to read about the collapse of social media and the return of gatekeepers.

So, what's a professional?...
+ Not surprisingly, the No. 1 question I'm asked is this: What exactly is a pro photographer?   (I assume the question is asked by people who want to be considered pro photographers.)
+ Well, it has nothing to do with image quality because, according to the IRS - the only people that really matter - being a pro means earning 51 percent or more of your total income from a vocation. Income wise, we are all in the same boat on this one. You can be a professional truck driver OR a professional photographer, but you can't be both.
+ In light of all this, I'm now thinking that maybe my business card should probably read: Retired Professional Photographer - Active Wise Ass. (Hmmmm.)
+ Like all vocations, reputation and doing the job is what matters. Clients seek knowledge and skill, not equipment, when hiring a professional - even fake professionals. (I'm looking at you, YouTube vloggers.)
+ Photography IS about making correct exposures and there are only three ways to do that. Correct shutter speeds, F-stops and ISO's all working together. Getting it right in the camera means nailing all three simultaneously. Smartphone software can do some of the heavy lifting - and most of the work to fix mistakes - but it can also be easily fooled.
+ Let's stop for a second and marvel about how smartphones can produce acceptable pix. A tiny little chip capturing light through a plastic lens? That's gotta be some awesome software loaded into those phones. Full disclosure, I've used my own smartphone to take photos a couple of times, not professionally, of course. Let's just say I'm not impressed.
+ So, what makes a good photo? I'm glad you asked because there really is no standard definition about what makes a good photograph. It's personal. It's subjective. It's your call.
+ My own barometer is how long do you want to look at an image? If it's only 3-5 seconds, that's not a very good photo. If it's 5-7 seconds it's better and if it's 7-10 seconds it's pretty damn good. More than 10 seconds? Baby, you've got a real photographic winner. Of course, family and friends don't count because they'll always blow smoke up your ass.
+ And yes, I would be happy to make photographs for you for free - as long as you can get my mechanic, my plumber, my doctor and the grocery store to give me stuff for free, too. Free, you might have noticed, is a lousy business model.

Know your rights...

+ Can you take pix of people or things without their permission? The quick answer is: This is America, of course you can. The longer answer is legally you can make an image of anything you want as long as you are on public property. (Streets, sidewalks and parks are considered public property - private homes, malls and businesses are not.)
+ The even longer answer: It depends on what you do with those pix: Commercial use requires model releases while editorial usage does not. So, posting to your website is fine. The really long answer requires a lot of legal mumbo-jumbo which is best left to a lawyer.
+ Quite obviously, there are some caveats: You can't photograph someone who is in a place where they would normally expect privacy, like a public bathroom even if you ARE standing on public property. (That would be illegal, totally creepy and will get you arrested.)
+ But, generally speaking, don't trespass and you should be OK and that includes house fires, car accidents, bridges, tunnels, young children and angry people who don't want you shooting house fires, car accidents, bridges, tunnels or young children.
+ Oh, and FBI offices, State Police and Homeland Security buildings are fine as well. Your tax dollars paid for those buildings and as much as security guards will tell you otherwise, you are perfectly within your rights to shoot those places as long as you don't trespass.
+ In other countries, like France, the laws are different, but in the good old U.S.A. there are no rules for, or against, photography, only trespassing. (But we all know France is weird.)
+ Ethical issues are different than legal ones and only YOU can decide what is ethical. Common sense is different than both legal and ethical and a lot more personal. So you get to pick your own poison, here.
+ But no one can force you to delete images, confiscate memory cards, or stop you from shooting a scene, absent a court order. Not police or fire or prison or security guards although they may try to bully you. (Which is a favorite tactic and illegal in its own right.)
+ Why? Because photography is not a crime. More info HERE.
+ Worried about "No Photography" signs? As long as you are in a public place you can ignore them. Remember: Malls, homes and businesses are private, parks, streets and sidewalks are public. (Would you obey if someone posted a "No Breathing" sign?)
+ After a while, you'll notice that the folks with the least amount of legal authority - fire police, security guards - will put up the biggest stink. Police who know the law - will not.
+ And, as much as people they think they do, they don't "own" their own image or that of their children or property when out in public. Making photographs is a legal right, which is why paparazzi exist. They make more money than you or I do. (I have a great paparazzi story to tell, ask me sometime.)
The envelope, please...

+ Humanity's greatest inventions: 1) Air conditioning, because 100 years ago it changed the American workplace and eventually led to... 2) Television. 3) Computers.
+ Mankind's worst inventions: 1) Religion. 2) Bagpipes. 3) Baby strollers. (Obvious reasons.)
+ Greatest American actor: Tom Hanks, because he makes you forget he's Tom Hanks. Greatest American actress: Meryl Streep - same reason. While we're on the subject, old-time acting, like Humphrey Bogart or Spencer Tracy, was just too wooden.
+ Greatest rock and roll band: I'm gonna take the Rolling Stones over the Beatles but only because they've been around so much longer. I'm not really much of a Stones fan.
+ The greatest line in pop culture music history was delivered by The Marvelettes, in 1961, when they sang: "de-liver de-letter, de-sooner, de-better," in the song "Please, Mr. Postman." I'm pretty sure they didn't write it - few groups did back then - but that's just lyrical genius.
+ Sometimes I feel like a Bruce Springsteen fan at a Miley Cyrus concert, which I suppose is better than being a Springsteen fan at a Billy Ray Cyrus concert.

Making sports better...
+ Golf would be a much better sport if there was a goalie guarding every hole. Skates, pads, helmet, blocker, stick. "Kick save and a beauty!" could only this improve sport. But, soccer and ice hockey would be greatly improved if they did away with goalies altogether.
+ Basketball is a wonderfully fluid game that is ruined in the last minute by deliberate fouls. Imagine, if instead, there was a target winning score in every game. For argument's sake, first team to 75 points in high school, 90 points in college, 110 points in the pros. Deliberately fouling in the last minute of close games suddenly goes away.
+ NASCAR needs to send at least one race car in the opposite direction.
+ Major league baseball has been ruined by advanced analytics and front-office dictating match-ups based on computer readouts. What's next? Robots calling balls and strikes?     (Oh, yeah...)
+ Football needs to solve its concussion problem or the sport is going to die from the youth leagues on up. In fact, it's already withering and the clock is ticking. Ask yourself: Would you allow your kid to play football?
+ The Olympics must settle on one site, build all the needed infrastructure for winter and summer and hold it in the same two places every other year. That's right, every other year. Picking host cities and building new is too expensive and becomes rife with corruption.  Same for the America's Cup, the World Cup and just about every world championship.

Get it right...
+ Doesn't it feel like people are using too many ! ! ! ! ! ! these days? You can accurately guess a person's age by how many exclamation points they use at the end of a sentence!!!! (One will suffice.)
+ There is no such thing as "first annual" anything. Annual begins with second. (Look it up.)
+ You don't get to roll your own when it comes to spelling: The color is gray, not grey, (unless you live in England) it's judgment, not judgement. It's flotation, not floatation and you need to know the difference between they're, their and there and your and you're or you just look plane stupid. (Testing you there.)
+ Similarly, state postal abbreviations are for shipping purposes only. So, if you're sending mail to Nebraska you use NE but if you're writing about the state it's Neb. and the same goes for Calif., Ariz., Mich. Miss., Mich., and most others. Only N.H., N.C., S.C., N.D., S.D., N.J., N.Y., N.M., use initials - all with periods attached - and the states of Alaska, Hawaii, Idaho, Iowa, Maine, Ohio, Texas and Utah are not abbreviated at all. (You're welcome.)

This is just weird...
+ I've read that young people will take 25,000 selfies in their lifetimes. But in our highly-filtered social media culture, they rarely seek to show themselves honestly, but rather as they wish they were, preening in front of smartphones, essentially faking their own lives. That's just weird.
+ As a result, photography is spinning off into many directions - some of it actually good - but you'll never find me shooting a young child in angel wings or a baby in a pea-pod suit. That's just fucking weird.
+ So why is 50 degrees in July is considered cold while 50 degrees in January is thought to be hot? (Why? Why? Why?) That's just really fucking weird.
+ It is pure arrogance for people to think they know more than the experts. Climate deniers, conspiracy theorists, anti-vaxxers, I'm looking at you.
+ Drinking IPA beer is like guzzling gasoline. But there are too many places selling this crap and too many people drinking this crap for it to go away anytime soon. But we can dream.
+ There is too much hugging going on in 'Murica. Remember, we are not the French.

Random stuff...
+ A law enforcement acquaintance tells me there are a lot less home burglaries these days. It's much easier for criminals to sit at home in their underwear and steal from you online or drive down the street and walk away with the Amazon boxes from your front porch.
+ Putting on a uniform doesn't make someone a hero: You actually have to save a person's ass to be a hero. Real-life, heroically heroic deeds are losing importance in society because the term is being thrown around like rice at a wedding. Recently, Keanu Reeves was hailed "a hero" on a talk show for dating someone his own age. Get a grip, people.
+ In that vein: "Save one person's life and you're a hero. Save 100 lives and you're a nurse." Full disclosure: My wife is a nurse.
+ Why don't car manufacturers install a device that jams cellular as a safety measure? Would it interfere with other passenger's cellphones? Absolutely. Block online driving instructions? Yup. It would be perfect!!! (See what I did?)
+ I don't think Native Americans bothered to rake the leaves.
+ If you think dogs are members of the animal kingdom then you have no problem keeping them on a leash. However, if you see them as furry little humans, you would never do that. But, if you see 'em as furry little humans, it's probably time to have your own babies.
+ There was a time, not long ago, when I was capable of turning on the family television. That's long gone: My kids don't even bother to create a funny-face profile for me anymore.
+ When did "eatery" become a word?
+ People ask why newspapers charge to view their online content. That's because, just like you, reporters, editors and photographers like to eat food. Facebook and Twitter are free? Well, you've just proven my point. Every business on the internet begins as free but either starts charging or goes away. Like I said, free is a lousy business model.

Inspiration.
"Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn't do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover." - Mark Twain
+ + + + +
Copyright: John DeSanto, 1971-2020



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