Seattle Times Pictures of the Year, 2012

Every year the Seattle Times gathers what they think were the best pictures they published. The 2012 Pictures of the Year collection covers a wide array of topics, but was just a launching point for the discussion held at the Downtown Branch of the Seattle Library where the Times talked about a couple of the year's big stories.

The room was packed, and there were no small number of photojournalists in the crowd, from all areas. In fact, the person sitting next to me was uploading an assignment to the Seattle P-I just before the program started. Of course, lots of people had their cameras, but several of the photojournalists were using their camera phones to take photos, mostly to post on Twitter.

 Bettina Hansen, John Lok, Dean Rutz, and David Boardman

Bettina Hansen, John Lok, Dean Rutz, and David Boardman

One of the first things mentioned was the creation of an eBook for the 2012 Pictures of the Year. Making an eBook enabled the Times to add lots of multimedia, and they're hoping it's well-received. The book is dedicated to Jim Bates, a long-time Seattle Times photographer who passed away late last year. They showed a video with lots of his photos, set to Simon and Garfunkel's Kodachrome. The song has the line "I've got a Nikon camera" and fortunately, Jim did shoot with Nikon film cameras, but it seems he was shooting Canon most recently.

Same-sex marriages, Bettina Hansen

The first presenter was Bettina Hansen, who talked about covering the first same-sex marriages. But before that, she talked about her interview for the Times. About a year ago she was going to fly from Hartford, CT and the Times booked her a red-eye flight, during which she saw the Northern Lights, which at the time had been pushed further south than usual; naturally she took a picture. The subject came up during her interview, and even though she didn't start at the Times until a few weeks later, her photo was on the front page along with a previously-planned article about the Aurora Borealis.

Bettina then started talking about the photos for the same-sex wedding article. She covered a few of the venues: City Hall where the first marriage licenses were issued, Seattle First Baptist Church which held a group wedding, and the Seattle Yacht Club which had a midnight wedding.

The media was only given a half hour at City Hall, so Bettina knew there would be lots of contention for getting photos. She happened to have a ladder and was able to get clear shots of King County Executive Dow Constantine and the couples. After that first group was done, a whole row of clerks opened up stations for everyone else to get their licenses, and Bettina caught some shots from there, too.

After the licenses were issued, Bettina started covering weddings. One place was First Baptist Church where there was a group ceremony for 25 couples. The photographers were situated in the balcony, which is why the photos are from up high, which somewhat mirrors the angle she had with the ladder at City Hall.

Another ceremony Bettina went to was at the Seattle Yacht Club. Coincidentally enough, the two women had planned a commitment ceremony for the day before same-sex marriages were legal, so they went ahead and had the ceremony on the evening of December 8th. Just after midnight, they held another ceremony, this time for marriage.

Seattle Seahawks, John Lok and Dean Rutz

The other presenters were John Lok and Dean Rutz, who talked about covering the Seattle Seahawks' surprise run to the playoffs this past season. Before the season started, the two decided to split responsibilities, so John took the lead for covering the Seahawks and Dean the lead for covering the UW Huskies. When it was clear the Seahawks were doing well, Dean joined John more often and the two really started to click as a team. Early in the season they had an intern who also worked the games, but later in the season Bettina was the third camera at home games.

The Seahawks' run ended at the NFC divisional playoff game in Atlanta, and there is a gallery of photos from John, Dean, and wire photographers. They said the arena was very dim, which limited what they could do.

There were a couple humorous stories John and Dean told. Dean was explaining that when you start focusing on your subject, you become relatively oblivious to what's going on around you. With that setup, they showed a photo of three photographers lined up, all crouching down, taking photos of QB Russell Wilson. As it happens, all three were photographers for the Seattle Times. Later on, editor David Boardman teasingly questioned the wisdom of sending three photographers to a game when they would all be shooting the same thing.

It's not unusual for photographers to get run over by players, and John showed video of it happening to him. His first reaction was that his family would be watching on TV, so he turned and held his hands up indicating he was OK, but he got a lot of laughs because it looked like he was celebrating having been knocked to the ground. He also showed shots from other photographers showing the expression on his face when he realized he was in the way of an oncoming player.

Q&A

There was time after the presentations for a question and answer period. While there were some specific questions about who took some of the displayed photos, how to take photos in specific situations, or what equipment to use. The most interesting questions, however were the more general ones.

One person asked how to get started as a photojournalist, and Bettina took the question, being the newest in the field. She went to Arizona State University, and partway through, she happened to talk with a photojournalist which reignited an interest in photography. She got a journalism degree, did some internships, and was hired at the Hartford Courant. A couple years later, she started at the Seattle Times.

Another member of the audience asked about how the fact that almost everyone having a camera has affected photojournalists. A big change is the omnipresence of cameras; it may take a staff photographer a while to get to a location, so having the general public submit photos is seen as a good thing for the papers. Also, all three agreed that it has encouraged them to step up their game. While they use top-level equipment, it's the ability to isolate the subject and tell a story which makes the difference. Experience is how they are able to find the photo, and the paper's photo editors are good at sorting through the hundreds or thousands of shots.