COLUMN: Quest for ‘the shot’ a great journey

NANAIMO: The best photographs rarely land on your doorstep.

Prior to attending photojournalism school at Loyalist College in Belleville, Ont. in 1996, I often carried a camera with me on most of my personal adventures.

Before learning about technical stuff like the Kelvin scale, lighting and dark room techniques, I was usually pretty pumped just to capture an image in focus.

As my friends and I forged through what turned out to be a very challenging two-year program, we learned that the usual photographer mantra of “f/8 and be there” proved to hold true throughout most photo assignments.

It basically states that if you know how to use your camera and you have access to a situation, you were going to get some pretty good photos.

Good photos. Not great photos.

In the age of digital photography, and now photography that stems from cellphones, iPads and other multi-use devices, the word ‘great’ is tossed around too often.

A photo that is in focus does not make it a great photo. Nor is one with a funny face in it, a dog doing something goofy or Sally playing soccer.

It might be a nice photo, or a funny photo, or a proud moment for Mom and Dad, but not often a great photo.

Oh, I forgot to mention. In photo-j school we were also taught to be photo snobs.

A great photo often requires months of persistence, unusual access and permissions, an exceptional awareness of surroundings, and the ability to be in the right place at the right time.

As graduation approached, my friends and I focused on setting out to show the world pictures of social issues, athletic feats, pure joy, utter sadness, triumph, failure, poverty, wealth, and any other facet of the human condition. A cover shot on Time magazine was the ultimate achievement.

We had stories to tell and we were going to tell them through our lenses.

We had high hopes of jet-setting around the world, taking important shots, making a difference, and keeping in touch.

It was nice to be on a mission, and for a while, I was.

Two weeks out of school and working in a bike shop, my cellphone rang.

It was the Ottawa Citizen. The photo editor needed some headshots over in Hull.

I made it back to the bike shop once after that day, only to tell the shop owner I quit. For the next two years the Citizen had a solid freelance budget, and I used it to my full advantage.

I never said no to an assignment. I worked for two years straight with few days off.

During that time I photographed prime ministers, murderers, dead people, activists, protesters, Canada Day celebrations, philanthropists, sports stars, famous actors, gangsters and union leaders.

I photographed people at their absolute best and worst. I snapped shots of heartaches and tragedies, of quiet moments and tearful goodbyes.

But I never really got ‘the shot’, a photograph that transcended the newspaper world and became part of photo culture. Few do.

The best photographs rarely land on your doorstep, but if you visit or, you’ll find some of the most interesting captures by the world’s best photojournalists, people who measure a life by experience over a paycheque.

These photographs invoke wonder, amazement, sadness, joy, anger, confusion and humour.

In the flick of a shutter, they capture life. I have a deep respect for those who choose to capture these images. I know it’s never easy.

Sometimes I look at my aging Nikon D100 the same way a ballplayer who just missed out on the big leagues might look at his ball glove.

But I will always appreciate a good still image. Make that a great still image.

The good ones are a dime a dozen.

Just Posted

The Nanaimo sign at Maffeo Sutton Park could be hazardous for children, says letter writer. (News Bulletin file photo)
LETTER TO THE EDITOR: Nanaimo sign will cause falls

Children can’t resist climbing on sign, says letter writer

John A. Read, who was inspired to leave his former career to become a professional astronomy by the purchase of a $13 telescope, will give beginning astronomers key pointers on how to set up and get the best performance from their instruments at Nanaimo Astronomy Society’s meeting June 24. (Photo courtesy Jennifer Read)
Astrophysicist will talk about getting the most out of a telescope at Nanaimo astronomy meeting

John Read’s purchase of a $13 telescope led to a degree in astrophysics and a career in astronomy

Nanaimo rapper Sirreal plays the Port Theatre on June 25. (Photo courtesy Alanna Morton)
Nanaimo rapper Sirreal and friends play the Port Theatre

Live-streamed concert the second in venue’s Discovery Series highlighting local artists

Environment Canada has issued a special weather statement, stating that Nanaimo will see temperatures between five-10 degrees above seasonal the next two days. (News Bulletin file)
Environment Canada has issued a special weather statement, stating that Nanaimo will see temperatures between five-10 degrees above normal the next two days. (News Bulletin file)
Heat wave will see Nanaimo temperatures rise 5-10 degrees above normal

Sun with highs of 28 C forecast by Environment Canada for Harbour City on Sunday and Monday

According to a staff report, Regional District of Nanaimo has seen some $13.6 million in grant applications approved between Jan. 1 and May 15. (News Bulletin file)
Close to $14 million in money granted to RDN in first half of year

Successful grants include more than $4 million for transit service in Regional District of Nanaimo

Robin Dutton, left, and Peter Sinclair are taking their mountain bikes and travelling down trails in the Mount Benson area June 19 as part of a 24-hour fundraiser benefiting Loaves and Fishes Community Food Bank. (Karl Yu/News Bulletin)
Full-day mountain bike fundraiser gives financial support for Nanaimo food bank

Event part of Loaves and Fishes Community Food Bank’s Food 4 Summer campaign

Barbara Violo, pharmacist and owner of The Junction Chemist Pharmacy, draws up a dose behind vials of both Pfizer-BioNTech and Oxford-AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccines on the counter, in Toronto, Friday, June 18, 2021. An independent vaccine tracker website founded by a University of Saskatchewan student says just over 20 per cent of eligible Canadians — those 12 years old and above — are now fully vaccinated. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
At least 20% of eligible Canadians fully vaccinated, 75% with one dose: data

Earlier projections for reopening at this milestone didn’t include Delta variant

This undated file photo provided by Ernie Carswell & Partners shows the home featured in the opening and closing scenes of The Brady Bunch in Los Angeles. Do you know the occupation of Mike Brady, the father in this show about a blended family? (Anthony Barcelo/Ernie Carswell & Partners via AP, File)
QUIZ: A celebration of dad on Father’s Day

How much do you know about famous fathers?

(V.I. Trail/Google Maps)
Now 90% complete, Vancouver Island trail forges new funding partnership

Victoria Foundation takes on Vancouver Island Trail Association; fund valued at $40,000

Emily Steele holds up a collage of her son, 16-year-old Elijah-Iain Beauregard who was stabbed and killed in June 2019, outside of Kelowna Law Courts on June 18. (Aaron Hemens/Capital News)
Kelowna woman who fatally stabbed teen facing up to 1.5 years of jail time

Her jail sentence would be followed by an additional one to 1.5 years of supervision

Cpl. Scott MacLeod and Police Service Dog Jago. Jago was killed in the line of duty on Thursday, June 17. (RCMP)
Abbotsford police, RCMP grieve 4-year-old service dog killed in line of duty

Jago killed by armed suspect during ‘high-risk’ incident in Alberta

The George Road wildfire near Lytton, B.C., has grown to 250 hectares. (BC Wildfire Service)
B.C. drone sighting halts helicopters fighting 250 hectares of wildfire

‘If a drone collides with firefighting aircraft the consequences could be deadly,’ says BC Wildfire Service

A dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine is pictured at a vaccination site in Vancouver Thursday, March 11, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
NACI advice to mix vaccines gets varied reaction from AstraZeneca double-dosers

NACI recommends an mRNA vaccine for all Canadians receiving a second dose of a COVID-19 vaccine

A aerial view shows the debris going into Quesnel Lake caused by a tailings pond breach near the town of Likely, B.C., Tuesday, Aug. 5, 2014. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
Updated tailings code after Mount Polley an improvement: B.C. mines auditor

British Columbia’s chief auditor of mines has found changes to the province’s requirements for tailings storage facilities

Most Read