The Shot

In photojournalism there is a beloved idea: it’s called the decisive moment. It’s the one magical capture where every piece of the story comes together in one frame that tells the complete story. The absolute master of this is photographer Henri Cartier-Bresson. He said, “The Moment! Once you miss it, it’s gone forever!”

I have seldom seen a truly decisive moment. But in every photo shoot, either for newspapers or weddings or families or portraits, I am looking for something magical. I want one shot that really stands out. One shot where I can feel it down to my toes. And the calm and certainty that comes from knowing, “I got it!”

Last weekend I went to photograph a wedding in St. Louis. I had never visited that city before, so I didn’t have a list of favorite known places I wanted to go to for photos. But I knew I wanted to use the Gateway Arch in at least one photograph. I wanted the iconic. After the wedding ceremony and all the family group photos we realized we had just under two hours until the reception. Lucky for me, I had an adventurous bride and groom, so when I suggested that we take off and just go see if we (and Siri) could find the Arch, they were up for it.

Stepping outside the church, it was immediately obvious we wouldn’t have much time. The storm clouds were gathering in fast. As we drove the skies continued to darken and as we neared the structure we realized the entire area was under construction. Nothing ruins scenic photographs like chain link fences. But I knew if we could just get those elements out of the frame the shot would work.

This is my first image of the Gateway Arch. I photographed this as we parked illegally shooting almost straight up at the sky out of the back seat window of their SUV.

Gateway Arch St Louis

The Gateway Arch, St. Louis. 25 June 2016

This gets rid of all the junk at the bottom, but how to do this with the bride and groom? I’ve decided to share a few SOC (Straight Out [of] Camera) images that show my process for getting the shot at this wedding. There are some beautiful images from this day, but for me, this is the ONE.

So, here is the finished version. This is how I envisioned it in my mind as I was shooting it. I knew I needed to balance the light between the couple and the clouds. I knew I could darken the sky down to get the drama I wanted. And this first test shot above, that let me know that the Arch would have this slightly golden tone against the dark grey sky. The images that follow this one are SOC until we get to the start of my editing process.

Gateway Arch St. Louis Wedding

The Shot.

Got to have flash. I need light on the couple and I hate that tree, it's messing up my clean lines.

Got to have flash. I need light on the couple and I hate that tree, it’s messing up my clean lines.

Got to have flash. I need light on the couple and I hate that tree, it’s messing up my clean lines. So many people seem to think if you don’t like something in the photograph you just “photoshop” it out. The best photoshop in the world is the photographer behind the camera. Move. So many times a person can change their location, their angle… Use your feet to help you eliminate detracting elements rather than trying to “fix it” in photoshop.

I made them stand on a bench for these. The goal was to get above the messy construction on the ground and focus on them and the sky. This shot is closer, but I hate the lamp post.

I made them stand on a bench for these. The goal was to get above the messy construction on the ground and focus on them and the sky. This shot is closer, but I hate the lamp posts.

Not quite… I failed to give the top of the Arch enough space around it.

This is it. The SOC version of the Shot.

This is it. The SOC version of the Shot. Notice all the crap at the bottom? That’s what I needed to get rid of most.

First adjustment. I edit for the sky I want. And then use the history tool in photoshop to taken information from this and paint it in.

First adjustment. I edit for the sky I want. And then use the history tool in photoshop to taken information from this and paint it in.

The couple with the darkened sky using the history tool.

The couple with the darkened sky using the history tool. I also used the paint brush tool and jet black to delete cars and other noise at the bottom of the frame.

fRoccio_Wedding_0713_3

Use curves and then history tool to lighten the couple.

Gateway Arch St. Louis Wedding

The Shot. The last adjustment was minor. Their skin seemed a bit yellow to me, so I used hue/saturation in photoshop to make the reds, more red and less yellow.

I have so many more photos from this day that I am working on. Beautiful moments. Great dancing at the reception! (I love to photograph dancers!) An amazing ceremony at a Maronite Catholic Church with a crowning ceremony the likes of which I have never seen before. But when I think back on this wedding, this is the image that will come to mind for me. The soldier and his bride beneath the Gateway Arch. I’ll think back on this, and smile…

This was a very good day.

Congratulations to Robert and Ashley. May God bless your lives.

If you are interested in more of my work you can find my portfolio at: www.brendaahearn.com

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stadium baseball fire montana

Skip Willett looks over the destruction of the Sapa-Johnsrud Babe Ruth Field stadium on Tuesday morning, June 28, in Columbia Falls.

The hardest days to be a photographer are ones when you have to photograph someone’s tragedy.

Last night a fire in a dumpster (possibly fireworks set off by kids) led to a fully engulfed structure fire that destroyed the Sapa-Johnsrud Babe Ruth Field stadium in Columbia Falls. The stadium was built in 1989 by community volunteers like Bob Smith. He stands in the field, looking at the shell of what they had done and sadly states, “What a shame.” Smith looks up at the roof, now charred and black and gaping with holes, and remembers being up there and working on the roof.

photojournalism frame shot fire montana

This was my favorite photo of the day. It’s a frame shot using the burnt out structure to draw attention to Ray Queen, right, Nancy Underdahl, treasurer, another other on-lookers at the scene of structure fire that destroyed the Sapa-Johnsrud Babe Ruth Field late on Monday night, June 27, in Columbia Falls.

The coach, Ray Queen, is there, he paces the infield making calls, gathering and giving information, and starting the process of starting over. “It’s so ironic,” said Queen. “The last game we played here was Sunday. We played Kalispell and were winning 16-0 by the end of the third inning. The Kalispell team called it quits at that point. We weren’t trying to run up the score. I was out at third base signalling my team, ‘No more steals.'” Is it comforting at all to think that the final game was a victory?

For Queen this day is especially hard. This is what he told Daily Inter Lake reporter Katheryn Houghton:
The Sapa-Johnsrud Babe Ruth Field was named in memory of two former players who had gone to the Babe Ruth World Series in 1983, Jimmy Sapa and and Ray Johnsrud.
A year after the team went to the series, the two players died in a collision with a train while driving home from a baseball practice.
“I had played with them until their tragic death,” Queen said. “This fire makes it feel like that’s happening all over again.”

coach baseball stadium fire ruins

Ray Queen stops to have a portrait taken in front of the ruins of the Sapa-Johnsrud Babe Ruth Field stadium on Tuesday, June 28, in Columbia Falls.

In the scope of possible tragedies, this one is not as severe as a life lost. And yet, this is an emotional day for people. And coming in to photograph a painful moment in someone’s life is never easy. On the one hand, the paper has to have a photograph of this. The field is a landmark for the community and we can’t just ignore its destruction. We, the members of the news media, console ourselves and hope that our stories and photographs will inspire community members to get involved, donate time or money or resources, to help with the rebuild. But that doesn’t make taking the pictures easier.

For me, in these moments I feel like the worst kind of vulture. I feel like the photographic version of an ambulance-chaser. I feel guilty. I have a job to do, but I hate it. The question is, how to do this compassionately? How to do this job and keep my humanity? And for me, introvert that I am, the answer is rather unexpected. It’s to talk. Talk with the people. Don’t jump in with the hard-hitting questions. Show a little sympathy. I personally have no connection to this place, but I can feel empathy for what they’ve lost and for all the mess they’ll have to clean up. Don’t ask for stories like you’re trying to get the scoop, but let them tell their stories, so they can share and feel heard. And then get to work. Start taking photos. Details, overviews, people if they’ll let you. That way, when you express sorrow for having to ask these questions and take these pictures, they’ll forgive you and say, “It’s ok. You’re just doing your job.”

fire line do not cross stadium fire baseball montana

Detail of the fire line tape put up to keep people out o the ruined Sapa-Johnsrud Babe Ruth Field stadium on Tuesday, June 28, in Columbia Falls.

UPDATE:

This is why community journalism is great. In the morning I photographed the fire. In the afternoon I saw the team out doing a fundraiser car wash. I stopped to get more photos and we are going to run this photo with the fundraising information that they didn’t have yesterday when all this was unfolding. I also learned at the car was that the league did not have insurance on the structure, they are going to have to raise all the funds. I called my boss, we added that to the story. It’s important information and I get to be part of helping get the word out. Even the hardest days are great days when you get to do something good.

baseball field fire fundraiser Montana

Austyn Andrachick, front to back, Hunter Palmer, and Trenton Tyree (on PalmerÕs shoulders) and other team members wave to cars to invite them to their fundraiser carwash on Tuesday afternoon, June 28, in Whitefish. Ironically the day the community woke up to learn the bleachers at the Sapa-Johnsrud Babe Ruth Fields has been destroyed in a fire the team members were already scheduled to do the fundraiser at the Cenex Zip Trip to help with travel expenses for tournaments.
Babe Ruth President Ray Queen said the field doesn’t have any structural insurance. That means the costs of repairs will have to be met by the league. Fundraisers are still in the discussion phase but there is a GoFundMe page through which the league is trying to raise $30,000.
People can donate by visiting: https://www.gofundme.com/sapa-johnsrud
(Brenda Ahearn/Daily Inter Lake)

If you are so inclined to help out with this effort check out: https://www.gofundme.com/sapa-johnsrud