Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Press Photo

We had an accident just two blocks away from here recently, at a small restaurant. A group had eaten nabe - stew cooked at the table on a small gas burner. When the table was cleared away some less than blindingly bright waiter put the gas burner on an unused kitchen gas stove. A cook turned on the stove by mistake, and found out why small gas canisters carry big warnings about never ever putting them in a fire. Nobody died in the resulting explosion, but four people had to be taken to the hospital.

Since nobody knew the causee, or whether there'd be further explosions, the fire brigade and police came out in force, with lots of loud trucks and cars, and cordoned off a good part of the street. And of course journalists, press photographers and TV crews congregated like moths to a fire. We passed by on our evening walk a little later and stopped to watch. I didn't care about the accident site - there was nothing much to see from far away, and unlike the journalists I have no business with other people's misfortune - but the assembled photographers were interesting. I figured I could always learn something new about photography from seeing how they worked. And I did - apparently the first rule of photojournalism is "always bring your stepladder".


The first thing that hit me was, everybody had a stepladder. Everybody. People discuss cameras, lenses, tripods, strobes and so on, but nobody brings up the humble aluminum stepladder as a crucial piece of photographic equipment. It makes sense, of course. If you're a press photographer you tend to cover visually striking events, and such events will bring a crowd that you'll need to get above or ahead of in order to get a decent picture.


Now, this is either pure force of habit or something like a good-luck charm, but I fail to see any conceivable advantage of the stepladder here. Maybe he just feels naked without it. Maybe he has an irrational fear of naked mole rats and wants a bit of safety distance to the ground while he's otherwise occupied. I didn't ask.

Get the Shot
At work.

Setting Up Review

The accident happened at night and on a quiet back street, and the initial drama was already over when we came by, so there weren't that many people about anymore. Still, there was plenty enough photographers still milling around. And as we can see, a stepladder is useful as a laptop table too, when you need to review your shots.


Finishing up work for the day. I'm a bit unclear as to why he sits on the ground instead of using his stepladder. Perhaps it's some obscure point of photojournalistic etiquette.

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