More than meets the eye: Photographers discuss what it takes to get 'the shot'

“Some photos are too painful to take and I don’t push the button when I should,” David Carson said. “Usually, I try to take the shot when I can and find it is easier later to simply not use the photo rather than to not have the photo.”

Carson and fellow veteran St. Louis photographer Bill Greenblatt spoke to the St. Louis chapter of Society of Professional Journalists Feb. 14. The pair reviewed the top photos of 2012 and discussed current challenges facing photojournalists. The crowd of nearly 50 met at the Missouri History Museum for the monthly News at Noon event.

Carson discussed an issue related to a photo from an April 2012 house fire. The photo was of a grieving woman whose husband had died in the fire. Two Red Cross workers were attempting to comfort her. Carson said he did speak to the woman and got her name for the photo caption. However, the Red Cross workers did not want him to use the photo. The police even asked him not to use it.

“I did not feel I was intruding,” Carson said. “I was 60 to 70 feet away when I took the shot. She was sitting outside, in front of her house.”

After the photo was published, the Red Cross made contact with Carson asked to use it. Red Cross officials believed the photo illustrated what their volunteers do and was a positive image for the organization.

Whether to take the shot is a situation-by-situation decision, Carson said, adding: “It is a gut feeling. Sometimes I think maybe I am feeling nicer than other times.”

Carson said he has avoided taking photos at shooting scenes where family members have just found out about the death of a loved one, and similar situations.

Carson showed the group some photos taken by a variety of Post-Dispatch photographers. Many were images of community events, law enforcement or fire department responses, and feature photos.

“Our photographers interact with the people; they build relationships with them,” Carson said. “A lot of thought and planning goes into our photos.”

Greenblatt, who is the St. Louis bureau chief for United Press International (UPI) kicked off the even by flipping through photos he had taken throughout 2012. The hundreds of photos covered sporting events, politics, weather events, zoo animals, Occupy St. Louis, the new Dreamliner and many other topics.

“I take pictures and send pictures that I would like to see in a publication,” Greenblatt said.

In 1998, Greenblatt “went digital” with his photos, but before then he would spend hours in a darkroom and submit one or two photos, now he can send in 15 to 20 photos. He covers many sporting events but said baseball is his favorite. The slower pace of the game allows for better photos, he said. Overall, his favorite subject is politics. He said it is the emotion that makes the action in politics.

He has had no problem getting access to most of the major events in the St. Louis area. UPI is a globally recognized wire service. UPI photographers were at the summer Olympics in London, and at this year’s Super Bowl. He said music concerts for major entertainers are sometimes difficult to secure media credentials for because they know the images are being sold, since he works for a wire service.

Sporting events also are popular with the Post-Dispatch photographers. The newspaper assigned four to five photographers to cover the St. Louis Cardinals playoff games. Chris Lee was one of those photographers.

One-third to one-half of the Lee photos that readers saw in the pages came from remote cameras that he set up around the stadium before the game. Lee knows the angles and where plays most likely will be made, so he hangs and focuses cameras where photographers cannot be during the game, Carson said.

“Sometimes you have to look away from the actin to find the best photo,” said Carson when he was showing the group a photo of Cardinals’ manager Mike Matheny after the Game 7 National League championship loss to the San Francisco Giants. The photo captured the emotion of the moment through Matheny’s tip of his hat to the Giants.

A member of the audience asked Greenblatt how UPI photo distribution had been affected by the rise of Getty Images.

“It has had an impact on all photo services: Reuters, AP, all of us,” Greenblatt said.

But there still is a market for his photos.

Greenblatt checks local media to see which outlets are using his photos, and many area media do use them. He listens to local news and tracks events to keep up on what is happening to find subjects to photograph. Carson, on the other hand, listens to scanners to keep up on events in the area.

Carson has been a photographer with the St. Louis Post-Dispatch for 13 years. He said he is an “endangered breed” due to layoffs at the newspaper. In the time he has been there the staff has been cut by almost half. He added that two Post-Dispatch photographers have been laid off this year by Lee Enterprises.

“Reporters and copy editors have been hit harder,” Carson said. “I can tell you as a photographer writing captions – photographers value copy editors.”

Carson also addressed the issue of online reader comments. He said articles and photos about crime get many comments within hours of posting, many of them hateful and negative. He recently was disappointed when a series of photos by J. B. Forbes was posted and no one commented. Forbes and reporter Jesse Bogan currently are in Afghanistan following the 1138th Engineer Company of the Missouri National Guard for one month of the unit’s nine-month deployment.

The next News at Noon will be March 14. The topic will be sports media coverage. For more information, visit the website


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