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What the F-stop?

November 19, 2010
A photo portrait of photographer Ansel Adams, ...

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An ode to my oldest girlfriend… my camera. Well, not the camera I’m currently shooting with, but all the cameras I’ve ever owned (or borrowed from Dad).

How did I become a photographer? My dear Dad, of course. He shot his way through high school and college, and continued doing freelance work into my early years. He was also the staff photographer for the family. Being a good Dad, he was kind enough to pass along the interest in photography to me.

When did my love of photography take hold?

Kindergarten.

Yeah, that’s right, I was rockin’ photographer cool long before I heard of Ansel Adams, Matthew Brady, Annie Leibovitz or David LaChapelle. My dad helped me build a shoe box pinhole camera for a school contest when I was in kindergarten. My first photo? A very nice shot of the front of our house. I remember it vividly, though I have no idea where the print is.

With his wealth of knowledge and our basement darkroom, Dad got me started on the path, then the four photographers I listed earlier kept it going.

And then came along Dale Gerhard.

What? You’ve never heard of Dale Gerhard? That’s okay, I suspect most people outside of Cape May County, NJ haven’t heard of him (here’s a Google Image link to some of his photos). In my life, he’s the guy who took a raw, wannabe photographer and introduced him to the world of photojournalism. Dale was the chief photographer for a chain of weeklies I worked for down at the Jersey Shore. He taught me the ins and outs of what makes for an engaging news photo, he showed me how to shoot sports and helped me learn what it meant to be an ethical photojournalist.

So after 33 years shooting pictures, what kind of a photographer have I become? Well, while I appreciate the photography of each of those great shutter bugs I mentioned earlier, I’ve never wanted to follow in their footsteps – naturist, war photographer, portraitist or avant-garde. Yeah, I can shoot each of those styles, but none of them ever really interested me as a vocation.

The only shooting I truly enjoy is sports photography. Those previously mentioned genres attempt to create something that doesn’t exist in reality, while I prefer to work in an arena that allows for almost no artistic expression. The kind of photography I prefer is more sport than art. Lining yourself up to be in just the right place at just the right time with all your camera’s settings just right… and most of the time, it’s all for nought.

There’s an old Sports Illustrated photographer’s quote that says it takes about 200 frames to get one good shot at a pro football game. I’ve found that to be a good rule of thumb in all sports photography.

Dale and I once shot a pro boxing match. We blew through 21 rolls of film, 36 frames per roll, and used just seven photos in the paper, of which, only one of them was mine.

Since then, my average has gotten better. At a recent high school football game, I shot 200 frames and the paper used three photos. I must be getting better.

So you may be saying, “Hey Mike, let’s see some of your favorite shots.”

Sorry, no.

Since all my best stuff was work done as a paid photojournalist, it’s actually the property of the publications I worked for, which means, I can’t reproduce any of it. Well, I could, if I felt like running down all the photos and getting the news organizations to agree to let me post the photos off-site on my blog, and I don’t really feel like doing that. They’re good photos, but they’re not that good.

I will, however, post four of my favorite non-news photos. Weirdly, not a single one is sports oriented.

(Left) During those years while I was away from sports photojournalism, I satiated my need for a real-time challenge by shooting music events, usually any band my brother-in-law A.J. [left] was a member. For this shot below, his band was playing the House of Blues in Atlantic City.

(Right) I like this photo, though I think I was an instant too late. I would have liked a little less wave in his face. Fishing in the ocean offers a little more moment-in-time action than shooting someone fishing in a lake.

I don’t ordinarily like shooting landscapes, but these two really turned out great.

(Left) On vacation in Ireland we stopped by the Powerscourt Estate outside Dublin. This shot just turned out perfectly.

(Right) On our last day of vacation on the Big Island in Hawaii, we rented a Mustang and took a driving tour around the island. As I recall this was a little North of Kawaihae.

Wanna know my least favorite photography? Wedding. Ugh, I hate it. Too much stress. If you mess up those photos, you’ve ruined someone’s history. I’ll leave that work to the guys in the cheap tuxes and cummerbunds.

Oh… guess who shot my wedding? Dale. And his photos were great. Dad was a little busy that day.

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