My takeaways from the Atlanta Photojournalism Seminar

Nikon D4, 14-24mm, ISO 1600, ƒ/2.8, 1/160

One of the best things for photographers when they go to conferences is reconnecting. Here you see Robert Seale talking with Andy Dunaway, the Nikon Representative while in the background Gladys and Frances are busy doing clean and checks.

What I like about the photo is the expressions capture why I attend these events year after year. Now do I connect with everyone like this? No. I really wish all conferences were more about relationships than just how good you are or what gear you own or even who you work for.

Nikon D4, 85mm ƒ/.1.8, ISO 2000, ƒ/1.8, 1/250

The Atlanta Photojournalism Seminar has been running continuously since 1973. My uncle Knolan Benfield was one of the organizers in those early years. To this day I am still close to some of the founders like Ken Touchton.

Don Rutledge

I have heard the stories about getting Eugene Smith to come and speak. My mentor Don Rutledge has a piece of paper framed with a photo of him meeting Eugene Smith. Don spoke the same year as Eugene Smith, which was 1975.

Don Rutledge was one of the 20 Black Star Photographers back during this time. He had better connections and could call many of the big names and ask them to speak at the seminar. This is how they would get Howard Chapnick and others to speak in those early years.

Here is Don’s talk that year if you want to hear it:

Here are a few more links to hear Don Rutledge:

Fuji X-E2, 18-55mm, ISO 25,600, ƒ/4, 1/220

This photo is of Oliver Janney who is currently a CNN photojournalist based in the Washington bureau. His topic for his talk during the Friday workshops was “Shooting With Your Ears.”

He realized too many still photographers who add video/audio to their skills do not understand that audio is what drives a successful package. He went over the gear and more specifically the audio gear he uses daily in his work.

One of the tips I took from Oliver and a new technique to me was to “Lead with Audio.” This is where you start the sound before you show the visual which shows what is making that sound.

While some of what he said isn’t new to me, how he worded it was new. I loved his statement, “shooting audio without headphones will fail for the same reason when shooting video without looking at the screen.”

One last tip I might try was he would mic people with a wireless lavalier and then say he was going to shoot some b-roll for a moment. While shooting the b-roll he was listening. If he heard them talk with good content then he would turn and shoot some longer lens capture of the person, but had great “real” audio of the person.

He also tries to interview people while they are working if possible. This tends to get them to be more natural.

Fuji X-E2, 18-55mm, ISO 25600, ƒ/4, 1/350

This is Jamie Squires who is a Kansas City-based staff photographer for Getty specializing in Sports. I remember him as a student at Emory University back in the 1990’s.

One thing that I noticed with Jamie’s successful images they were not about just reacting to a moment. He had often arrived early and set up a remote camera sometimes as much as 10 hours earlier to capture one shot.

He first understood the story and then would break down the day to the big moments. He would know for example that the celebration at the World Series final game was normally between home plate and the pitchers mound, so he had one remote just on that area.

Knowing that someone will often get in his way he setup remotes to cover this as well. But with all the remotes he reminded everyone that remotes fail and the one camera you must depend on is the one in your hands.

Fuji X-E2, 18-55mm, ISO 6400, ƒ/4, 1/20

“GoPro: Dos, Don’ts, and Drones,” was the topic that Eric Seals spoke to during the Friday Workshop. Eric is a staff photographer for the Detroit Free Press.

Eric is a gear head who showed us all his toys and reminded us gear will not hold the attention of the audience. The Story Matters Most.

Eric uses gear to help leave visual breadcrumbs for his viewers. He also warned about over using gear and then your package will become gimmicky and lose your audience.

One thing that I could not agree more with Eric was how he emphasized knowing your gear. Read the manual he said. Know what it can do and then take chances with it.

Fuji X-E2, 55-200mm, ISO 25000, ƒ/4.8, 1/30

Miami photojournalist Al Diaz has been presented the Humanitarian Award by the National Press Photographers Association. He was given the award because of his actions to put the subject first and being sure a baby that had stopped breathing was taken care of before he picked up his cameras.

You can read more about this on NPPA’s website by going to this [link].

The best part of Al’s presentation was giving us the story behind the story.

When photographers share their work the best thing they can do is to share the events surrounding the photograph and how they happened to be in that place at that time.

The other thing that is good about Al’s sharing is that it is therapeutic for everyone. He shared more images of the baby today being healthy. We learned the baby had a cyst in the throat and that has now been removed.

We also learned that to get the images and tell all the story required a lot of people skills from Al Diaz and patience. Some of his friends helped him, because the woman was really upset at him for taking the photos. She didn’t even know he was the first person on the scene to call 911 and get the EMS to the scene. It was days later when she would put this together with Al in a meeting they had.

What did I learn? First connect with people and develop a real relationships. Care for them as human beings and then the story will tell itself.

Nikon D4, 85mm ƒ/1.8, ISO 12800, ƒ/1.8, 1/60

Ken Lyons is Senior Photo Editor at The Denver Post. Why was he a speaker? Here is the text they used to promote him:

The Denver Post was recognized with the Angus McDougall Overall Excellence in Picture Editing Award in 2013. The Denver Post has recently been recognized with two feature photography Pulitzer Prizes. The staff received the Pulitzer Prize in 2013 for coverage of the Aurora Theater shootings. Other honors for his picture editing work include first and second place picture editing portfolio in the POYi editing competition. The newspaper has also been awarded first place Best Use of Photography in the Best of Photojournalism competition.

One thing I really liked that they are doing at his paper is a ‘Photo Night’.  This is where they invite the public in one evening to listen to their photographers talk about stories that the public votes on to hear. The first few to arrive win a signed print. Often they invite the subjects that were covered in the story to be a part of the evening as well.

Ken is all about elevating photojournalism in your community. I am now thinking of ways I can help do this with even corporations that I work with daily.

Fuji X-E2, 55-200mm, ISO 25000, ƒ/3.8, 1/45

 Scott Strazzante is a staff photographer at the San Francisco Chronicle, where he recently starting working after a 13-year stint at the Chicago Tribune.

My favorite thing about Scott’s career is Common Ground–a personal project on the transformation of a piece of land in suburban Chicago from rural to suburban. He took photos of a farmer who lost his farm and then years later went back and showed those living on that land in a subdivision.

Here is a trailer that tells you a little about the project.

CBS News Sunday Morning just did a package on Scott this past Sunday. Here it is for you in case you missed that package

Fuji X-E2, 55-200mm, ISO 6400, ƒ/3.6, 1/17

Amy Toensing has been a regular contributor to National Geographic magazine for over a decade.

My takeaway from Amy is that we need to be curious. It was her curiosity while shooting stories that would lead to her discovering another story that she would then pitch to National Geographic Magazine and eventually would shoot for them time and time again.

She was shooting an assignment given to her in Australia when she was asking herself about who drew these stories on the rocks thousands of years ago. Then she met a aboriginal couple and realized they were a connection to the past. They had lived in the wilderness without clothing up until World War II when the husband was asked to help the Americans build a landing strip that they used to fight the Japanese.

She also shared how this was an ongoing lifelong story for her.

Like Al Diaz she put the subjects first. They even asked her to film a ceremony for them and not to publish it in the magazine. She honored their request and because of it deepened the relationship with the community.

My Tip To You

Go to conferences and take notes. Learn from others and get inspired. But remember most of all that it isn’t about the gear or you capturing images–it is about the relationships you develop with the subjects that you then share with your audience.