The Whitehall Ledger - Serving Southern Jefferson County in the Great State of Montana

By Jack H. Smith
Ledger Publisher 

COLUMN: Not the Zoom


March 14, 2018

When I started my career in journalism as beat reporter for a daily newspaper I would often times have to take photos at meetings, games, or various events.

While the paper did have a digital camera, they were not very handy at the time for anything other than “grip and grin,” type photos that are basically people posed and not moving – think of someone presenting a group with a check.

I was given a nice camera to work with, but it wasn’t as simple as going taking a picture and being done. My first week on the job I was sent into a dark room and a co-worker who smelled of mildew and cinnamon (strange, but true), showed me how to develop my film and print my pictures.

The paper I worked at was behind the times a little bit as far as layout, but it was fascinating to develop the picture and than paste it onto the board where they layed out pages the old fashioned way. The chemicals in the dark room probably took a few years off my life, but it marveled me to see the photos come to life.

I did this about a year before I moved on to a new job where everything was starting to move to digital cameras. With each passing year, the cameras would get better and better and finally were able to get to the point of taking basketball, wrestling, or football shots without using film.

I enjoyed the new technology that saved 10 or more hours a week, but I do miss being so hands on with my photos.

At the Ledger, Melissa and I take a lot of pride in the photos we take. We don’t show up just to get a photo at an event; we show up to take a great one. If it takes all night, then it takes all night. I don’t run a picture just to run it. Unlike some papers I see, I don’t go take a random picture of the sides of people with no cropping. We both try to tell a story with our pictures that can be just as strong as a story; I guess that’s why they call it photojournalism.

We are also very lucky to use some great photos taken on a digital camera from the likes of Sarah Smart, Joy Smith, Kami Noyes, Jennifer Hoerauf, Catherine Ellerton and others.

Unfortunately we are now in 2018 and just about everyone has a smart phone with a descent camera and it has changed the world -- and now all sorts of people think they are professional photographers.

While cell cameras are very handy and can take some pretty good pictures they are still not the same quality as from a nice digital camera, and it certainly doesn’t make someone a professional photographer no matter how much they think they are.

I want to bash my head into a wall when someone puts a filter on a smart phone shot and says they are a great photographer. For my line of work photos are real, and a filter doesn’t apply.

I really appreciate people sending pictures to the paper, I really do. I do however want to address pictures taken from a cell phone and why they might not end up in the newspaper.

As much as I enjoy people helping contribute to the paper, taking anything but a grip and grin from a cell phone and putting it to the print or even web site can be a disaster. Cell phone photos and sporting events never ends well. Maybe someday they will have a cell phone camera that takes great sports shots, but that is not in 2018. You don’t see photographers standing on the sidelines with using their phones for a reason.

Anytime someone zooms, it destroys the picture. I remember one time somebody got really upset because the picture they sent did not look good in print. I had to explain it was taken with a cell phone, the lighting was bad, and it had been zoomed in way too much. I probably shouldn’t have even run it, but probably would have got yelled at more if I didn’t.

What I’m basically trying to say is just because it may look great on a phone, doesn’t mean it will look close to descent in print or saved for the web.

I probably should have written this a long time ago, but I finally had to get this out in print.

I take a lot of pride in our photography and the pictures we try to use. I’ll say it again how much I appreciate people sending photos and we get some great ones from digital cameras, but please be careful with the cell phone pictures.

This is a word of warning that if a cell phone picture doesn’t happen to run, it’s because it wasn’t good enough too.

While sometimes I miss the dark room, I do enjoy this new technology, but only if it’s done the right way.


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