Feature hunt

“Find me a feature!” Those are dreaded words to most news photographers. It means it’s a slow news day and the editor needs some art, usually for page one or the metro section. But, every news photographer worth his salt is always looking for a page one picture. It’s part of the job, and it’s fun. In my career as a photographer and editor, I heard those words more times than I can remember. Some photographers are almost human divining rods. Pictures seem to just come to them.

To quote Louis Pasteur, “Chance favors the prepared mind.” But it’s also much easier to be lucky when you stack the deck. How? Read. Research. Take notice and notes. Talk to people. Develop contacts and leads. Basic journalism. I use to keep notebooks full of times, places and things happening. Another book filled with names and phone numbers of people in a variety of organizations, occupations, and neighborhoods. I learned never to underestimate what the neighborhood grandmother knows.

One of my favorite sources of feature material came from press releases. Every newspaper receives hundreds of these notices weekly. Most hit file 13 in seconds. But, looking at these with an open mind you can sometimes read between the lines and discover a diamond in the rough.

“STOP, STOP, STOP…” came from a press release about a class for school crossing guards. There was nothing about the students wearing safety vests, carrying stop signs and parading through a parking lot in that release. Something about it peaked my interest, so I placed a phone call and asked a few questions. I now had a window of when something interesting might occur.

A few days before this picture was made I spotted a worker starting to apply a checkerboard pattern on a wall at the local Target store. I stopped, introduced myself and asked questions about when he might be doing the top half. Armed with a timeframe I came back to this view. The rows of shopping carts to complete the image was unexpected. But as they say, chance favors the prepared mind.

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