Look Back On My Internship

I’ll start off first by saying I am a true gear nut. Like most students my age, I keep up with all the rumors all the time; this trait of mine set up some comedy in the photo room on my first day as the photo intern at the Northwest Florida Daily News.

I talked to Daily staff photographer Nick Tomecek a few times while I was shooting some events for my school. I talked him into letting me tag along with him on a few assignments to pick his brain, and after one or two of these ride-alongs, I asked about an internship. A few weeks and packets of paper later, I had an intern spot working three days a week at the Daily News.

I come in on my first day and ask about gear. They open up their locker, and to my dismay, beams of glorious golden light do not flood out. I am introduced to my D2h (no battery door included). There’s a plethora of 17-35’s to choose from, but they’re mostly sluggish or broken. Sadly, there are only two working 70-200’s that the full-time staffers used. So I’m stuck shooting wide this summer. This is a long way away from my D3 and 28-70 I’m used to. But hey, it builds character, right?

After I get used to the archaic body and tinker with the white balance to take the muddiness out of the 4mp images, Nick asks if I have swim trunks with me. I didn’t, but he thoughtfully loaned me an extra pair.

Lesson one: Always have a pair of trunks and towel handy. I think he planned this, but my first shoot as an intern I was sitting in knee-deep water shooting at the beach in Destin, FLA. We’re covering a new watercraft that was just imported into the country. I think I’m in love.

The next day I was shooting headshots of candidates for county commissioner at some podunk city forum. This is where I learned the second lesson of the summer: the D2h is only good to about ISO 800, and you have to keep a broken 300 very steady to get a clean shot at 1/15.

Going from the beach shooting some exotic watercraft to shooting a debate the next day is why I want to do this for a living. I know there are not many no jobs in the industry, but I don’t think I’m capable of living behind a desk or counter for the rest of my life. I would rather take a measly salary and love my job than dread coming in every day.

Digging through the gear locker became a morning routine. I ended up fixing a 17-35 and a 16-35 after a few tries. I don’t think I’ve been happier about autofocus in my life. At this point I’m starting to like my taped up kit; the files are super easy to work with. A few of my images from my first day ran Sunday on 1A, surprising they came from a D2h. As it turned out, the image got pushed to the Associated Press, and it ran on Forbes and a few other news sites. Lesson three: Gear doesn’t matter, just shoot.

After the first week, I have the newspaper’s workflow down pretty well. They have some weird things going on with how they send captions and images for print. It takes a bit to get it, but turns out to be pretty simple.

I made a few notes to help remember what three copies of what images go where, and I realized I needed to start taking more notes. Putting stuff in my head wasn’t going to work out. So I started to carry a pen and pad everywhere. This is where I leaned lesson three: Don’t forget to unclick your pen.

Down here in the Florida Panhandle, we are a military community. Both of my parents are military. It is a way of life that is hard to experience anywhere in the civilian world. We have at least four bases within half an hour of the paper, and five or six within an hour.

With this concentration of government activities in our area, we receive a great deal of invites to cover military stories. I checked the schedule in the morning and I was on the list to cover a newly built Fisher House on the local base and the family living there. I had no clue what I was in for. I met the PR person at the gate and the reporter and I were driven to the Fisher House next to the hospital. We were given a quick tour, and then introduced to the mother of the family that we were interviewing.

As the intern, I think the guys like to randomly take me along for rides. On my assignment sheets I really never get any precise information, just when, where and that’s usually it. I think they know, but don’t tell me because I’m the new guy around. They haven’t admitted to it yet though. Nothing new on this assignment either.

After the reporter talked to the mother, I found out her husband is a member of the Army EOD. He lost both eyes and was rattled real bad in the sandbox back in December when an IED went off in his face while he was trying to disarm it. She told us his story for a while; I shot a few frames here and there. There was really nothing I could work with at that moment.

About 30 minutes in, she mentioned she needs to pick up her husband at the EOD school house; he needed a ride home from work. I was pretty anxious at this point -I had no clue how to cover this! He arrived, everyone was introduced, and his wife helps him sit down.

Photo by Jeff Gammons
So I am sitting there while he and his wife recount all the events from his accident up until that point sitting in the foyer at the fisher house. I don’t think I took a picture for about an hour while listening to their story. I was just so amazed at what their family had gone through. I snapped out of my trance and realized I still had no real keepers. Worried, I snapped a few from where I was sitting then stood up and snapped a few more. A few minutes after shooting those few frames, the reporter had the story we needed. We thanked them for their time and his service. It was really eye opening to encounter someone who gave so much and was just thankful to be alive and have his family. Once again I found myself in a moment thinking this is why I love this. I get to show peoples stories, I get to show people what they don’t see on their drive to work or in the line at Starbucks.

While sitting back in the photo dungeon at the paper going through the whole whopping five or six images, I pick one, edit the slug, and transmit it for print. I file the rest and just sit and think of what I could have done better. Lo and behold, they run my shot on 1A above the fold.

Over the next few weeks I get to drive out and shoot a few small stories and a wreck here and there. Some guy fell off some scaffolding, and I was able to make it to the scene before he was flown off to the hospital. Nothing big – just a few rollovers and things of that sort, mostly tourists not paying attention on the road. Then we get a lead on a wacky story.

Apparently a local veterinarian is housing a baby emu. Said emu ran away, and followed a neighborhood man into his house. The story spread through town like wildfire, and somehow I got picked to go shoot take pictures of this emu. I show up and decided to grab some video.

I decided to throw a lav on the owner while the reporter got the story and shot some b-roll of the emu and its actual children. I snapped some stills in-between for a slideshow. I realized how nice it is to be able to be able to shoot video on a DSLR. I’m so glad I don’t have to carry around another camera for video. After the emu shenanigans, I headed back to the office, made the slideshow real quick, and started to work on the video. In hindsight I could have done a bunch of things better, and it was an awesome learning experience.

Overall, my time at the paper was a pure blast. I became true friends with the photographers, and still keep in touch with them regularly. In this day and age it is all about who you know, rather than just what you know. It’s crazy how much I learned from just shooting in my weeks at the paper No book or itchy polo could have taught me the things I know now. I am allowed to make fun of his polo, I was teasing him when he bought it.

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