Digital photography still needs a photographer

I thought digital photography is supposed to be easy.

Sure, it’s easy to handle digital images, but I found out last week that capturing a compelling image for the front cover still requires the artful touch of a true photographer.

When Rick Massie asked for the week off to spend time with his new baby (shout out to Aila!), I thought, “Sure, I can handle it. I have four credits in photography (from 30 years ago).”

So, I assigned myself to shoot boxing for the front cover. I consoled myself with the fact that it doesn’t matter that I can’t remember the ratio of hydro-quinone to water for the developer, and I don’t need that special touch to spin the film onto the spool … because we’ve gone digital, baby!

When I first heard of digital photography, I was in Hour 5 of a stint in the basement darkroom of the Kapuskasing Northern Times. My editor, having just arrived in the morning, told me about an article he had read in Popular Mechanics.

Hmm, I was still salivating over the pending arrival of the Kodak XP 7 system that promised deep blacks and creamy whites, and here he was, in 1982, talking about time machines and the like.

Alas, digital is here and I have embraced it … nay, I was emboldened by it.

Just point your camera and a little computer focuses for you and decides how much light to throw.

Besides all of that, I had a tremendously co-operative subject in the person of Zac O’Grady. And the Yukon Amateur Boxing Association allowed me to circle around him and his sparring partner.

How could I go wrong?

The list of answers begins with this: flashes do not freeze action like you would think … and boxing is very, very fast.

Second, the automatic focus on cameras is not as fast as the bobbing and weaving of a pugilist.

Third, well-trained boxers know how to keep their heads down to protect the chin. With the addition of protective head gear, it was difficult to capture “a great face” as I am wont to order from my photographers.

And, lastly, even Zac could not give me infinite tries at getting “the shot”. He had already been though 90 minutes of intense training (my goodness, those boxers train hard!) and had given it his all. Now, here he was, giving me another 30 minutes.

The truth is, my photography skills are as chronically useless as the front door of the Whitehorse General Hospital.

It is now Friday afternoon and we are proofing the paper. “Don’t we have a better shot for the front cover?” I was asked by a helpful colleague.

“Rick Massie has spoiled you,” I countered. It is not that my photo was so bad, it is just that he and Kieran Oudshoorn, who has recently left to join a photo syndicate in New York (New York!!), had been giving me such great photos.

These guys show up to photo assignments with extra lights and umbrellas and cameras that are worth more than my Ford Explorer.

And they know how to pose people to tell a “story” within the image.

Finally, to my rescue, came our graphic designer, Omaar Reyna. He is a gifted photographer and, even though I am many years his senior, he gets the respect of an elder around here. He is very gracious, too, as he said to me, “I like it. It has a grittiness to it.”

Yeah, that’s what I was going for … grittiness. It’s boxing, it’s supposed to be gritty.

That’s my story, and I’m sticking to it.

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