On Assignment: Cherry Industry for The Wall Street Journal

Photojournalism. To some, the word conjures images of heartless paparazzi, or maybe flash-bulb blasting members of the press sharpening their elbows as they fight for position while wearing trench coats and fedoras—with hatband ‘press’ card for proper measure—and most-likely some type of tobacco vessel in puff during the scrum. When I expressed interest in photojournalism prior to earning my degree in it, there were those that said it’d be too hard and I’d have to be too aggressive. Perhaps it shouldn’t have been, but it was, a surprise to me how a photojournalist is often portrayed, thought of and treated. While on assignments, I’ve been called many names, been the recipient of “You’re #1” with middle-finger usage and been threatened with some unpleasant actions.

Photojournalism, to me, is telling stories visually (and sometimes with video, audio, words, etc.). There are caring photojournalists in communities all around our country and the world, telling stories ranging from happy to sad and everything in between; they’re documenting life. There are meaningful stories in our communities to be told.

A photojournalist I know in Washington, D.C. once told me that since he’s working in the nation’s capital, he is able to see all kinds of impactful stories, issues and events. Since I’m always on the lookout for story ideas, he suggested that I localize them where I’m at (Traverse City, Michigan). Some of the important stories he suggested were topics like agriculture and immigration. The advice has always stuck with me so I’m always trying to be mindful of current events and how I can capture them locally.

Last summer I was contacted by The Wall Street Journal to photograph a story on the state of the cherry industry. Since Traverse City is considered the Cherry Capital of the World, it made sense to meet farmers specifically in the area.

Prior to receiving the assignment, I’d photographed many area farms of all kinds as well as the farm workers. By doing that, I felt especially prepared to photograph this agriculturally-focused story and that was an important lesson. Continually photographing is really helpful.

One facet of this assignment that aided in the quality of the pictures, and the story, was the amount of time the story was able to be worked on prior to deadline. Sometimes the deadline is right now and other times it’s in the future. Oftentimes though, almost all the time, extra time lends itself to higher-quality work.

With this story I focused on capturing the best light possible and including as many different elements of cherry farming as I could so that I’d have a variety for the photo editor to choose from and so there would be a strong correlation between the reporters words and my photos. Staying as long as possible at a location or just trying some creative approaches to an assignment before leaving can yield some great results. Always try for something more, you may surprise yourself.

Tech Notes: Before I get into equipment, I must say that it doesn’t really matter what equipment you use. Assignment work frequently requires digital capture, which was the case here, and I’ve always used Canon so that’s what I used. A camera that you’re comfortable with and understand is crucial. For this story I used a Canon 6D camera and a Canon EF 35mm f/1.4 lens for all the photos. The portrait was taken using a Profoto B1X light and 2’x3′ softbox. Sometimes I shoot film because I like how it forces me to think and slow down. Digital is fabulous too of course. It’s all good.

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