By Ryan Gooding ’16
Andrew Silk Journalism Internship
Day 1 as a photojournalist for the Boulder Daily Camera – Boulder’s daily newspaper – was not your run of the mill orientation day. I arrived, not entirely sure of what to expect, at 9:30 am on a Tuesday morning, and was immediately thrown into the mix. After a brief orientation – consisting of little more than being introduced to the more than slightly out-of-date iMac that I would be doing my editing and submitting on – my editor, Paul, slapped an assignment down in front of me and asked me, “so how well do you know Boulder?” This was the first day I had ever spent in Boulder in my entire life. I knew right then this was going to be a fun job.
By now, my first day and first assignment both seem like eons ago. In fact, they were little more than 2 weeks ago. Now, I am kicking off my third week with the Camera. I have been sent out on roughly a dozen assignments, and have been published 10 times – including three “A1 centerpieces” (a.k.a., cover photos).
I have been sent to CU Boulder to take pictures of a middle school writing and arts camp. I have been sent to the local IBM campus to shoot an “innovation academy” for 3rd through 5th graders. I have literally trudged through swamps and lakes, following and photographing an employee of the Colorado Mosquito Control as she checked for budding mosquito larvae. I have covered the local collegiate baseball team, the Boulder Collegians (a summer league for college ballplayers from all over the country) as they rallied to beat the Arvada Colts late in the game. And, just yesterday, I covered both the grand reopening of a golf course that has been closed since 2013 due to flood damage and a group of volunteers from Southern Wisconsin as they helped a local community garden erect a fence to help keep out pesky rabbits.
Of course, I don’t have the room here to tell the story of each and every assignment I have been given and each subsequent publication. But, I thought I might elaborate on some of my very favorites, and explain how they have challenged me and what I have learned in the process.
Lesson 1: Always Bring Boots
On my second day of work for the Camera, my editor greeted me in the morning by pointing down at my old, beat up converse and asking, “you don’t happen to have boots with you do you?” Unsure of why he asked, I responded, “well no, but I’m not afraid to get dirty…”
“Good.” He responded, before cryptically walking away.
Later that day, I was given an assignment that instructed me to follow around Ashley Bruhn, of the Colorado Mosquito Control, as she checked for mosquito larvae in and around local Waneka Lake. It did not occur to me at the time just how seriously I should take the term, “in and around”. I arrived on site, met Ashley, and immediately noticed her knee high rubber boots. “You don’t have boots?” She asked, echoing my editor. I said no, and regurgitated my willingness to get dirty. She smiled and let out a little laugh before we took off.
For the next hour and a half, Ashley and I trudged through the shallows of Waneka Lake and a nearby ecological conservation area (i.e., a swamp). But of course, I didn’t mind. I ended up bringing back roughly 5 usable shots, two of which were run as centerpieces on two separate newspapers – the Boulder Daily Camera and the Longmont Times Call – the very next morning.
I learned a couple things from this shoot. First and most obviously, always bring boots. Since this assignment, I have kept a pair of hiking boots, hiking pants, and hiking socks in the back of my car. Especially in Boulder, Colorado, you never quite know what a days work as a photojournalist might entail – actually, that’s part of what I love so much about this job: every day is different. One day I might be asked to trudge around in a swamp. Another I might be asked to hike back into the mountains to cover a rescue effort. Regardless of what the assignment is, I have to be ready for it.
Lesson 2: Don’t Be Afraid to Get Weird
It is worth noting that I could have completed my mosquito assignment without having gotten wet at all. I could have simply stayed high and dry, on the shoreline, and documented Ashley as she trudged around in the water. This leads me nicely into my second lesson.
I have been told that there are two things every good photojournalist does when he arrives at a shoot. First, shoot safety shots. What do I mean by this? A safety shot is a simple, straightforward shot that you know will be usable. It may not be stunning. It may not be Pulitzer Prize worthy. But it works. After you have your safety shot, then get weird. In the words of one of my co-workers, Mark, “climb a tree, hang up-side-down off a railing, get up on a roof to get a cool angle…”. You get the picture.
While trudging through a swamp in converse during my mosquito assignment might be a decent example of “getting weird,” I’ll throw in another assignment story just for good measure.
Just last week, a fellow photo intern and I were asked to shoot a portrait of a heroic dog that saved her family from an angry and protective mother moose. The dog, we were told, was almost completely bed-ridden and pretty severely “doped up”. So, how do you make an injured, high-as-a-kite dog look interesting?
When we arrived, we found the dog to be much more active than we were expecting – yes, she was still pretty doped up, but she was on her feet and moving around. We didn’t want to move her too much, but we were able to get her and her owner outside to take a simple, straightforward shot of the two of them against their neighborhood as a background. The shot was usable, but by no means interesting. At this point, I suggested we move the shoot indoors. Granted, the light was terrible – incandescent lighting form the ceiling and ambient daylight streaming in through the open blinds created a pretty noxious combination – but I wanted to try something new.
Upon getting inside, we turned off the overhead lights, shut the blinds almost completely, and set up a flash and umbrella. I positioned the flash setup slightly above and to the right of the two subjects, who had re-assumed their comfy position on the couch, and instructed my fellow intern to underexpose the background on the camera so that the only things being illuminated in the photo were the dog and her owner. The result, though perhaps not Pulitzer Prize worthy, was certainly interesting.
Lesson 3: Journalists Are Not Shy
Finally, and perhaps most importantly, I have learned that in order to be a journalist, you cannot be shy. Though, at times, it might be uncomfortable, throwing yourself into a situation headfirst often results in the best photos.
Take, for example, the final shoot of my second week. It was a slow news day in Boulder. In fact, perhaps the most interesting story was the fact that some very hot weather was headed our way for the weekend. Barring an explosion, a rescue operation, or a bad accident, then, our lead story for the day was going to be weather-related. So, myself and a few other photographers were sent out to find photos of people coping with the heat. I was lucky enough to be sent to a local playground.
It occurred to me as I was driving to the park that arriving at a playground with a long, telephoto lens and taking pictures of kids is not exactly a comfortable situation – neither for me, nor the parents who would undoubtedly be watching me from afar. I won’t sugarcoat this: by the time I arrived, I was more nervous than I had been for any other shoot thus far.
But instead of letting my nerves cripple me, I threw myself into the situation and fell back on not being shy (since being shy while taking photos of kids playing on a jungle gym with a long lens is just about the last thing you want to do). Before taking any photos, I confronted every parent I saw sitting by the playground. I identified myself as being a photographer from the Daily Camera doing a story on the impending heat, and asked if it would be ok to take pictures of their kids. And as more families arrived, I stopped what I was doing, and identified myself to them. Every parent said yes. In fact, most were enthusiastic about their kids possibly being in the paper.
The results were fantastic. I brought back 9 usable shots, some of kids playing on the jungle gym, and others of some adults I found playing Frisbee in the park. The photos, together with photos from several other staff photographers, ran in a gallery alongside the hot weather story.
There are, of course, many other assignment stories to tell, and my summer experience in Colorado is far from limited to my time at the Camera. I am, for instance, living in Estes Park; a small town located around 50 minutes up the mountain from Boulder that is widely regarded as the entrance point to Rocky Mountain National Park. My weekends, therefore, have been and will continue to be consumed by hiking, trail running, and summiting a select few of the 79 peaks over 12,000 feet tall (including – fingers crossed – Longs Peak, measuring in at 14,259 ft.). My parents have already visited once, and I look forward to hosting even more friends and family as the summer goes on.
For now, though, what I have already written will have to suffice (I am, after all, almost 700 words over my word limit). Even already, this has been a summer to remember, and this is only the beginning of my third week.