Many things happen with the beginning of a new year, among them the Seattle Times' annual Pictures of the Year event at the Seattle Library. We've gone every year, and the event has become quite popular, completely filling the Microsoft Auditorium.
The Seattle Times has a pretty large contingent of almost a dozen staff photographers, and you can tell how good they are by looking at their Pictures of the Year. The start of the event was a slideshow of those photos, and you could feel the audience cover the gamut of emotions as each photo told its story.
After that, it was time for two of the staff to tell their own stories.
I've been following Ellen Banner's photos for years, and have come to recognize her style. She's got a knack for finding unique angles which help her photos to tell a story in a different way than you've seen with other photos of the same subject, especially when the shot is either shot with ultra-wide or long telephoto lenses.
The other photographers we've seen give presentations at the Pictures of the Year events have shown photos mostly centered around one or two stories feature stories they worked on, but Ellen didn't do that. She showed a wide selection from her portfolio, telling short stories about each. Some of them:
- While shooting at the Sasquatch Festival at the Gorge Amphitheater, she was able to get pretty close to all of the performers except for Macklemore. She was bemoaning the fact that she was so far to a woman, who said she'd see what she could do That woman was Macklemore's mother.
- She was part of the team covering the implosion of the Kingdome. They were on the Smith Tower observation deck, which was a great angle. Once the dust started to reach them, they quickly covered their cameras and ran inside, waiting quite a while before the air was clear enough before they could go back outside.
- To get a photo of a bunch of troops ready for deployment to Iraq, she had inadvertently gone through the wrong door and got a birds-eye view. Someone saw her and had her go with the rest of the press on the floor; she was happy to have taken the wrong turn.
- She likes to get high off the ground. Even though she couldn't go onto the cables, she was able to go up one of the Tacoma Narrows Bridge towers. She was also able to go up a tower crane and was excited when the operator gave her the chance to operate the crane.
I'm not very familiar with Lauren Frohne's work, let alone other video producers at the Times. She talked about how they work on integrating video into stories (the still photographers often take video, too). Many stories printed in the paper or posted online have video supplements on the site, but there are also some stories for which video is the central focus. Lauren talked about a couple of these:
- 30 Days followed a refugee family's first month in the United States. They arrived from a Bhutanese refugee camp in Nepal. The piece includes many still photos by Erika Schultz.
- Under Our Skin tackled race and stereotypes through interviews with eighteen people. Lauren asked about a dozen terms. The staff also did a Reddit AMA about the piece.
While several of the questions were ones that we hear each time (asking about gear, etc.) there were two themes which stood out throughout the whole evening and into the Q&A session.
Several years ago, the Times started hiring videographers in addition to having still photographers doing video. Their use of video is increasing all the time, and it's easy to see that the quality is improving, not just because of the equipment.
In addition to adding video to their online presence, I've seen more video in social media, usually in the form of short clips. Some of the clips also make it onto the main site, but others are ephemeral. The ones I probably see the most are when Betting Hansen does an Instagram story during football games, and even without editing, she gets a good variety of clips and manages to weave them into a story in real time. During the recent protests, the Times had a lot of people covering events, and Lauren had a lot of clips that she posted in real time onto Twitter; they weren't just random clips, but had a focus and felt like pieces of an overall arc.
The Times purchased a drone to experiment with, and so far Steve Ringman is the only one who had completed his drone training by the time of the event. The paper wants to see how it can be used to add to the reader experience, rather than using it just for the technology.
Women of the Times
The other major theme was of women. The presenters, including Angela Gottschalk (photo editor who did the introduction and managed the Q&A session; in past years it's been Danny Gawlowski), were women. All the women on the photo/video staff were introduced. They made a conscious decision to feature the women this year and made sure to talk about it.
One question was about safety when covering large crowds such as protests, and the two women took different approaches. Ellen said she tries to limit her gear when she knows there will be a lot of people around. She also sticks to other photographers or the police. Lauren said she tries to stay further from the police since she doesn't want to get hit by pepper spray (Steve Ringman got his camera sprayed head-on during the May Day protest; the camera took the brunt of it, but then it started dripping down into his eyes).
Another question was about how being a woman helps or hinders them doing their job, and both of them spoke about how it can make them more approachable. Ellen said that it's easier for her to take photos of kids in public parks; a man with a long lens taking pictures of kids playing gets highly scrutinized by parents.
We arrive pretty early to get in line for this event every year, and it makes a big difference. Showing up about 40 minutes before the doors open, we can usually sit in the fourth or fifth row; showing up 20 minutes later, we'd be much further back.
The giveaways can be hit or miss, but usually are at least interesting. This year was a combination macro/wide angle attachment for a phone's camera. Not something a lot of people would use, but a fun giveaway, and definitely on brand for the event. They also made postcards of some of the photos available.
Each year they have a raffle, giving away a couple large prints of photos from one or both of the photographers. The past couple years, they've also given away a camera.
My last thought of the event is that Angela Gottschalk did a fantastic job, especially during the Q&A session. Confident, well-spoken, and did really well at summarizing questions while keeping the spirit of what was asked, especially when she cut half the words. I don't know what her background is, but it sure felt like she's also done quite a bit of copy editing (more than just captions) in addition to photo editing.