“If you’re not first, you’re last.” ~ Ricky Bobby, Talladega Nights
When I first started in news photography that mantra or a slight deviation of it, was hammered into my head. When news breaks, you need to get their, now! The best pictures happen in the first few minutes.
I rode with a photographer to cover a breaking news event, once. He lived by those words. Too much so if you ask me. On the way to the fire, he passed the fire trucks, on the shoulder of the road. Thankfully he was well known in the area by emergency personnel, and they just laughed.
While getting to a news scene fast was important, I found staying to the end just as crucial. Sometimes the best storytelling image reveals itself after the action dies out.
Small town newspapers respond to almost every scanner call. It’s just the life as a community journalist. You cover what’s going on in your town and with your neighbors.
One day, while working at The Marietta Times in Ohio, I hear a call for a house fire. Typical call. It doesn’t sound like anything special, but I rush out to cover the news. When I arrived, volunteer firefighters were spraying water with big hoses, venting the roof with axes, rushing in and out and all around as firefighters do. I covered it from as many angles as possible, capturing the action and looking for anything more revealing, more interesting, more storytelling. The last being the most important because up to that point all I had captured was pictures of the action. They were OK, but not revealing. Typical fire photos.
I’ve always lived by the words, “Find what everyone else isn’t doing and do that thing.” In this case, most photographers would have packed up and left. It was a relatively minor fire. I had pictures, they weren’t great but usable. But no, I waited to see if anything else developed. Finally, a firefighter emerged from the home, hose in hand, wiping his soot and sweat covered face. I now had the storytelling picture of a hard-fought fire. I put a human face on the volunteer. A neighbor was helping a neighbor. It’s a moment I would not have caught had I left when it seemed right to go.