Missourian Clip #12 – Lighting Demo Problems

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Problems arise with downtown parking garage lighting filters

COLUMBIA — The show is over for the lighting demonstration at the Fifth and Walnut parking garage.

After the city received complaints from residents about the garage’s bright lights, the Environment and Energy Commission approved a demonstration of photo-corrective films by independent lighting consultant Eric Sax.

(Click title above to read the whole clip)

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I’m actually glad I’ve had this garage lighting story sequence. It’s given me the opportunity to follow a longer-term story through different stages, learn how to cover public meetings, work with officials, explain more technical details in laymen’s terms, etc. This is the third installment, and I keep feeling more and more comfortable with the whole process.

 

Missourian Clip #11 – Bank Robbery

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Police seek suspect in Landmark Bank robbery

COLUMBIA — A man entered Landmark Bank on Tuesday afternoon and gave the teller a note demanding money, according to a Columbia Police Department press release.

(Click title above to read the whole clip)

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Oh, the joys of news releases. I tried calling the bank to get a little bit more information, but not only would they say nothing, they were more hostile than I had really anticipated.

On the bright side, my ACE told me that my stories were getting really easy to edit, that I was pretty much good with all the basic stylistic things and procedures.

Missourian Clip #10 – Accident on I-70

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Three injured in accident on I-70

COLUMBIA — A driver and two passengers were taken to the hospital with non-life-threatening injuries after their vehicle crashed into the embankment on Interstate 70 near North Sorrels Overpass Drive Tuesday evening.

(Click title above to read the whole clip.)

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In the end, it was a very short story.

Still, it was a very interesting one for me as a first-time breaking news reporter.

We heard about the accident on the scanner, and they gave me a reflective vest, an accident check list, the name of an intersection, and the advice, “try to avoid the highway. apparently it’s really backed up.”

I took the backroads, following the congestion all the way to the flashing lights and sirens. I pulled over next to some little who-knows-what workshop, looked both ways before I crossed the outer road, hopped over a guard rail, and made my way down the hillside towards the flipped over car.

I had no real idea what I was doing, and I was terrified that people would yell at me and tell me to go home. Actually, though, things went very well, almost better than I could have hoped for.

I talked to a policeman at the scene. He was as nice as was appropriate, told me everything he knew, and it was good news. No one had died there, everyone had been taken to the hospital but they weren’t supposed to be critical. The car had hit the embankment and flipped. And so on.

As I made my way back towards the car, I ran into some people who had been watching the scene. I asked if anyone had seen the accident take place. None of them had, but they all wanted to know from me what was going on. I told them the police told me the car hit the side of the road and no one had died, and then I drove home and wrote the story.

Altogether pretty painless, but it was the kind of thing I’d never done before. I felt like a real reporter, in a silly way, walking in a place I never imagined walking and having conversations I never thought I’d have. I felt like I was in some strange movie role, in some-one else’s life, trapped between reality and make believe.

I’m glad everyone was okay. Still, it was weird.

 

Learning to Take Pictures

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I’m getting so interested in photography lately, it’s weird to think that I’ve been taking pictures for a comparatively very short period of time. While I can’t remember a time when I wasn’t fascinated by words and language, despite some early interest in drawing, I entered the visual side of communications late. Today out of curiosity, I looked back at some of my older photos and I was surprised at how dramatic and clear the improvement has been! The whole bell-curve has just shifted dramatically year by year… my best photos now are better than my best photos then, my mediocre photos now are worlds better than then, and so on. Of course there are always those times you get lucky, and there are still a few photos from 2008-2009 that I might consider including in my top 200 photographs or so, but in general I just keep getting better and better. A clear case for practice, practice, practice!

2005 – The Beginning

This list begins with a very short entry for 2005. Until then, I had almost no interest in taking the family camera. Sure, I brought a disposable to sleep-away camp, but I just used it to take pictures of my friends making funny faces and of the back-leg of a deer disappearing behind a bush. So a characteristic photo from my family trip to Curacao gives a good starting point of where I was before I started taking more than the very occasional picture –

Yep... this was as good as my photos got, back in 2005. While the incredibly blue water makes the picture a little easier to look at, its safe to say that its nothing special.

A typical, even more thoroughly blahhh photo, taken as late as 2006.

2006 and 2007 – First Steps

In 2006 and 2007 I started traveling a lot, and not always with my mom along to take the essential snap-shots. I went with the family to Cancun and Cozumel, with Dad to Greece and Mainz, Germany in 2006, and with my Latin class to Rome in 2007 (also the first trip I paid for myself, speaking of milestones). On these trips, I had a camera in my hand and the time and motivation to use it. So I started taking my absolute first steps towards photography. The results are hardly breathtaking, with ENORMOUS oversights here and there… but there are also examples demonstrating that I was starting to notice some of the extreme basics of composition…

A typical 2006 picture. It could be worse... especially after cropping and horizon-adjustment.

2006: An actually okay-ish photo, once I re-cropped it with my 2011 sensibilities... of course, it might have been taken half by accident.

2006: ... And then, just as I'm starting to pat myself on the back for not being hopeless, I happen upon this - the only picture I thought I needed to take of the Acropolis, not counting the ones of my Dad and I standing in front of it. Yes, seriously....

2007: I noticed the reflection, tried to keep the horizon straight... could be worse!

2007: I was either experimenting with angles and with getting down to the eye level of my subject... or I wanted a snapshot of the kid I was babysitting and couldn't think of another way to keep him still.

2007: Here I tried to combine a detail shot of the pyramid at Chichen-Itza with the observation that Mexico has a lot of stray animals. It was a nice try, but I couldn't even keep the whole statue in the frame for some reason...

2007: One of my better pictures from this era, though far from perfect. It's got a sense of balance going on with the trees, the columns, and the mountain behind. I remember noticing it at the time, too.

2008 – The Turning Point

These years mark a definite, abrupt turning point in my photography. In Costa Rica, I took more pictures than I’d ever taken on a trip before. Through natural progression and sheer numbers, some of them were even decent. Also starting on this trip, I took a hard look at the photos after the fact, editing them and realizing what made the good ones good, and the bad ones bad.

Next, I travelled to Scandinavia, where my Finnish pen-pal Liisa had a nice camera and was starting to play around with different angles and close-ups. Together we had fun getting a little more serious about our photography. And, Norway and Finland were both so gorgeous that I couldn’t help getting a few nice pictures out of the deal.

So what if it was semi-tame and begging for food; wildlife shots = automatic win, right? Right?

Well, they all seemed like National Geographic at the time...

One of my favorites from the trip... I tried to show souvenir culture vs. consuming jungle.

I won 250$ for this one in a photo contest. Who cares if the competition was composed entirely of fellow high school students?

Playing around in Suomenlinna, Finland

I distinctly thought to myself that I wanted to show the sleek modernity and the seaside quality of Oslo, all at once. I think it turned out nicely…

An attempt at windswept desolation at Verdens Ende...

Full Disclosure: This is a Fountain, not a real whale hunt. Embarrassingly I can't even show this picture to people, because they get really excited and then realize I've 'tricked' them... Actually though I still like it for what it is.

I loved the light and I wanted to make a picture of this cute father and daughter...

In a place this beautiful, it's hard to take a truly awful photograph, but I could have done much better...

2009 – Maxing out the Ol’ Point and Shoot

After the moderate successes of 2008, I started getting, for the first time, some positive feedback about my photos. People were starting to get jealous on Facebook, I won a little photo competition, and I dated a photojournalism student who really liked a lot of my stuff. Compliments are usually somewhat self-fulfilling for me, they make me want to work harder and better. I practiced throughout the year, and when I headed to Japan, I was as ready as I could have been. I more or less understood the basics, and I was starting to think more about angles, textures, and, most importantly, about telling stories other than “this is beautiful.” Also significant: I detoured to Osore-zan with potential for interesting photography as a primary reason. During the trip, I took almost 10,000 photographs, and by the end, I was ready to move on to a real camera.

A creepy effigy on Mount Fear

Likely grieving parents at Osore-zan

Likely my first successful night-shot ever, in Yokohama

A sushi shot that I happen to think is decent for having used a point and shoot!

Possibly my favourite picture from Japan

Experiments with Sepia

Playing with Sepia

Experiments with Sepia

Despite massive improvement, I was still capable of producing pictures like this - and yes, believe it or not, this was my final shot of this potentially cool looking gate. Fail.

2010 and 2011 – Finally Getting Somewhere

Summer 2010, I made that big purchase – my first DSLR. Over the next year, I would visit 20 countries and take almost 100,000 photographs of mountaintops and castles and badlands and tulip festivals and labyrinths and bone churches. Let’s just say that buying that camera has been one of the best decisions I’ve ever made, and the rewards keep coming, and coming, and coming…

What comes next:

I’m very pleased with the photos I’ve taken over the last year. I’m sure I’ll treasure them for the rest of my life, and some of them capture the scene exactly as I wanted them to. So, to a certain extent, I’m there. I can take professional quality photographs.

But this isn’t the end of the road. FAR from it. I’m confident that in a year, two years, five years from now, I’ll be able to make a post like this, starting in 2011 and showing how my photography continued to improve. And I think it’s going to be in the following areas:

1.) Sharpening my technical knowledge – I still rely far too heavily on the Automatic and Creative Automatic modes on my camera, switching to manual only when I have no choice, and then suffering through a lot of trial-and-error when I get there. I’d like to get to the point where I have some idea what ‘numbers’ I need for a sunset or a shot of the moon. I also want to learn how to do HDR properly, now that I have all the things I need to do it.

2.) Using more gear – I have two lenses, of which I use only one 99% of the time, and the telephoto I’m honestly not super happy with. I have a tripod, but I often forget to bring it along when I need it the most. I need to learn to use what I have consistently and to its full potential. I also might consider buying some new things in the not-so-distant future… a better telephoto lens, a macro lens, etc. We’ll see. Not all of the gear I may start carrying is expensive. I’ve thought for example about getting a cheap reflector to bounce light off of.

3.) More people – Through journalism, I’m learning how to talk to people on the street and how much it pays off in writing and photography. I need to be less shy about asking people if I can photograph them, and I think I’ll exponentially improve my portraits etc this way.

4.) Consistance – I’m just starting to get here, but I need to be more sure of my ability to walk into any situation and walk away with usable photos. Less than stellar weather, crowds, blah blah blah, real professionals just don’t let these things stop them from getting decent shots.

Missourian Clip #9 – Mushroom Hunting

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Mid-Missouri mushroom-hunting group makes first foray into woods

COLUMBIA — The forest glowed with yellow and orange autumn leaves on Saturday, but the recent lack of rain meant less-than-ideal conditions for favorite fall mushrooms, such as hen of the woods and chicken of the woods.

Conditions didn’t deter local mushroom hunters from joining the first foray of the newly organized mid-Missouri chapter of the Missouri Mycological Society.

The group gathered in the morning at Rock Bridge Memorial State Park to hear speaker Brad Bomanz talk about mushroom hunting tips and safety. They enjoyed a potluck with dozens of wild mushroom recipes, from risotto and jambalaya to chicken (of the woods) salad.

With appetites whetted, mushroom hunters headed out in search of fungi to identify and maybe take home for supper.

(Click title above to read the whole clip.)

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This was just a wonderful story, a pleasure to report and to write both.

To start with, had I known that we had such mushroom hunting groups in Mid-Missouri, I would probably have gone to this event for my own pleasure. And I still enjoyed going, chit-chatting with the members, and even tasting the absolutely delicious recipes at the potluck. I know there’s some ethical debate about how much we should participate in events we cover, if we should accept the food, etc. Well, I ate a full meal before leaving home, so that what I did at the potluck was truly sampling, not getting a free meal. (Even then, it took all my self control not to go back for seconds and thirds of the fantastic blue-cheese-and-‘chicken’ risotto, or the hen of the woods soup. My mouth is watering just thinking about them! But hey, in a story like this, the sense of taste is important!) And while I kept my eyes pealed for fungi like the rest of the hunters, I refrained from taking any home.  Hopefully that was good enough, from an ethical perspective?

I actually did get a photographer yesterday, which came as something of a surprise. They’d told me the weekend was packed, and they couldn’t even spare someone for the far more ‘important’ sternwheeler story, but sure enough a photographer showed up about 3/4 of the way into the buffet. (She hadn’t been able to find the location, either, and had tried to call me… but despite having my phone on and in my pocket, I hadn’t heard it. Sorry…) She took a few photos, and they were beautiful of course, but I asked her if it would be okay for me to continue taking pictures of the hunt after she left. And I got some lovely ones too, out in the yellow autumn maple leaves! So that was a bonus.

Finally, writing the story went very smoothly and well. I was relaxed and had plenty of time, and it took me about an hour to tap out something I was pretty happy with. This was a great first opportunity to incorporate my editor’s feedback about trying to put in some nice descriptions… if there was ever a story for which such descriptions were not only natural, but vital, this was it, and I’m pleased with how it turned out… I think I walked the line of being richly descriptive without it being a gratuitous adjective dump, from the lede to this paragraph:

“When the group hit the trail, clouds of dust and bits of dry leaves blew into the air with every breeze and footfall. Stan Hudson, the foray organizer for the new mid-Missouri chapter, identified a group of normally edible puffball fungi. When they dry out, he explained, they’re called “wolf-fart puffballs,” and when brushed against they release a cloud of gray-green dust.”

So,  this one was great! Wish they could all be this fun!

Missourian Clip #8 – The Sternwheeler nears home

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Columbia residents near home after river journey

JEFFERSON CITY — Roger Giles has a special touch for river boating, and for his new stern-wheeler.

“The very first time he had to start the boat, it was in front of thousands of people, who were ready to see a stern-wheeler race,” his wife, Barbara Giles, said. “Here we were, a couple of amateurs … and he just backs it out perfectly.”

“Roger — he’s a pretty gutsy guy,” she said. “There’s a touch, there’s a feel — and he’s got it.”

Roger was just as quick to compliment Barbara — his “first mate,” “road dog” and “galley wench” — and their friend Lee Holbrook, “chief engineer,” for their contributions.

(Click title above to read the whole clip)

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This story was great. I drove down to Jefferson City to meet the Giles at the river access. They gave me a tour of the Nancy Ann, from the texas deck to the galley… made Max the dog show me his fish-finding tricks… and even dug out some books about their river-boating ancestors. I filled 8 pages in my notebook during my visit with them, which lasted a solid hour. My only regret was that I couldn’t use more of the material they gave me in the story… although it was too long, and although I did understand why Schneller took out what he did.

Once again, I was selfishly pleased that photo couldn’t come with me. At first I was nervous about whether I could get a good enough photograph, since I wasn’t sure what kind of vantage point or lighting I would have (and I’m not as good with the manual options on my camera as I probably should be). The pictures I took of the crew indoors were yellow from the lights and some of them were blurry, but I got some good shots of the boat from the outside (good thing I remembered to bring my tripod). And as fate would have it, they were parked in easy sight of the Missouri Capitol, which I obviously had to include.

For the most part, I’m pleased with the results all around… and I really enjoyed reporting the story as well.

Out in the World

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I spoke with my mom over the weekend about what I was really good at, and what I really wanted to do with my life. And when I’m honest, those are two different things. I’m good at linguistics. Really good. I think if I were to go into linguistics, I could write books and speak and conferences and be, eventually, one of the top experts on the subject. I have that sort of calling for it, and I don’t so much for journalism. Most of the people in my reporting class are better than me. They know more than me and they care more than me and they have more ambition and drive. I’m lucky enough to be good at a wide variety of things, and I’m a good writer and I can force myself to call people and talk to people and I even enjoy it, but it doesn’t come naturally. I’m not the best at it.

But right now, the air inside the library where I’m stuck doing a research paper is stale and sickly-sweet. Part of me loves that. Part of me longs for winter weather and having the time and the excuse to curl up with a book. But I also love the real world, and the air in the fall is so fresh and wonderful – the temperature is perfect right now – and the trees are in peak colour, they look painted red and orange and yellow on the hillsides. Linguistics isn’t going to get me out into the world this weekend, meeting interesting people and tasting delicious food and breathing in the cool fall air… but Reporting will.

And that’s why I’m loving it.

Exploring a labyrinth by lantern-light in Budapest, Hungary

 – If academic study was really as exciting as it looks in all the historical-detective movies, I’d think about it!

Hiking in the Lake District, England

– Until then, I’m sticking with journalism!

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