Thursday, April 26, 2007

Oregon Garden becomes photo training grounds

Anyone near Oregon Garden, near Silverton, Ore., today would have felt probably a bit invaded by a flock of photographers.

Once a year all the Capital Press editorial staff get together in Salem, Ore. for staff training, long term planning and a chance to hear what’s happening at the newspaper from other department managers. For part of our meeting, several freelancers also joined us.

Part of today’s training involved a half-day at Oregon Garden, hearing our award-winning photo coordinator Mark Rozin and associate editor Gary L. West give photo tips to the rest of our staff.

Rozin is a great inspiration: last year he won Photo of the Year honors from the American Agricultural Editors Association annual photography awards that was held in Portland, Ore.

Our reporters are busy when they go to cover stories. Usually they are expected to take photos as well as write stories, so this was a good chance for everyone to learn more about how to use their equipment better, how to make their photos more dynamic and how to write better news cutlines.

We were then set free for an hour or so to invade Oregon Garden and snap away, almost every one of us armed with a camera: Nikon, Canon, Fuji and whatever other brands we carried.

I felt sorry for anyone who got in our path. Armed with wide angle, zoom, or whatever lens we had, we targeted the unsuspecting as well as the poor strangers who were suspicious but couldn’t run fast enough.

When we returned to our meeting spot called the Gordon House, a house built by Frank Lloyd Wright that was moved to the spot from 24 miles away in 2002, we gathered around a computer to glance at the images we each had shot. Rozin provided a critique, and others offered feedback as well.

We had a few good laughs when Rozin very calmly, diplomatically would ask someone, “What were you thinking when you took this picture?” and there was a quizzical look on his face and some photographers really couldn’t explain their thought process.

But there were also some exceptional shots, worthy of publication in our newspaper or other publications, showing creativity, originality, and showing some of the lessons learned earlier from Rozin’s lesson. Reflections in water, backlighting on flowers, rule of thirds, profile shots, use of balance … all these examples shown earlier were now finding their way into the photos shot in the short assignment of the rest of the staff.

A useful part of today was sharing what people experience when they are in real-life reporting/photographing situations and they asked for advice on how to do things better. For example, what should they do when a digital camera quits working in cold weather? And what is the best way to warm that battery up without fogging up the lens? How do you take pictures of people speaking at a podium and still make it interesting? What should you do when you’re in a large room filled with people, what’s the best crowd shot to take? Do you ask parents before you take pictures of their children? How do you get a farmer to cooperate when you want to take his picture, and how do you get him to look more natural in the picture?

These and other questions were answered, sometimes after interesting discussions among several of the people at the meeting. It’s nice to have such as variety of experience at the table — from one of our Washington State reporters who has 21 years with Capital Press, to our newest Salem-based reporter that just got hired a few months ago. A lot of experience and knowledge can be shared.

The best part of all was the enthusiasm everyone brings to their job. They spread out with their cameras, looked for new things to photograph, then patiently gathered around a computer later to hear what others have to say.

It was obvious that many people taking pictures felt this is more than just a job, it’s something they truly enjoy. What was even more obvious was how much these people wanted to do their best, thinking of what would appeal to newspaper or even website readers.

Later, as the staff gathered in McGrath’s Restaurant downtown, Rozin asked people about what they thought of the photography training. If they learned even one thing from the session, he’d be happy, he said.

Definitely more than one thing was learned: during the upcoming weeks we look forward to seeing what images will appear from our newly inspired photographers.

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