Fin: My First Photo Story!

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For it to have been the end of my photojournalism class, this is actual my first photo story. Here I got lucky after once attending a digital media workshop at Central Michigan University I flexed my skills in editing audio and video. However, I still had to rely on my newly minted photojournalism skills.

For my final photo story, I chose to cover an event hosted by the Black Student Union and other African American Wayne State University organizations. I chose this event because of what I knew about Kwanzaa as holiday and its relation to my own life. I know Kwanzaa is a colorful celebration of life here in the America’s for Africans Americans who have only know a life in the states, they can connect to the values of their descendants.

For the project I went in blind, with little to find on the Internet of past celebrations here on campus I decide to take a risk and just show up. Once there I found almost exactly what I had expected people and food and discussion. A professor Kenfenste Chike spoke in depth about his relationship to Kwanzaa and lectured on the values and how we can use them in today’s society. He touched on the lack of interest in Africana Studies he sees today from students, and the lack of interest in the holiday itself. He hopes the values with thrive again one day.

For the crowd, they all had lots to say even in a lecture space everyone welcomed interjections and inquires across the crowd. As a photographer I still got lots of stares as my camera clicked, I soon tried hard to shoot while there was noise over my camera. That brings me to another point of what I didn’t see. There was absolutely no music, which caught me by surprise and became very interesting as I began to focus on what to record. I thought about the mumble if the crowd but eventually settled on recording my interviews and lectures with an event organizer and mistress of ceremonies Maxine Hudgins.

She spent hours setting up the event including providing traditional African American fare. The crowd eventually gathered in fellowship at the end of the lecture to eat and talk among themselves. The crowd ranged from young to old, student to professor.

This assignment was truly a culmination of skills, I exercised them all to the best of my ability. After this assignment I’ve realized just how artful photojournalism is and the work people put in to doing it. For me the hardest part was still the photos, the technique. I now know that as a photojournalist you also have to create your style, your ‘way of doing,’ to create this common tread in your images and that thread is you. What you’re looking at through your lenses, what composition you’re using, how you’re using light, what moments you capture. You’re given the tools and the skills but once you’re out shooting it all comes down to you.

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All About Action: Shooting Sports

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For the longest time, I had no clue why people love sports since I’m not a sports person at all. When I’m at any game I’m really just there for the collective energy, I usually have absolutely no clue what’s going on on the court or field or diamond (that’s a thing right?) But in true photojournalism class fashion my latest assignment was shooting a sporting event and I was again reminded of how much I don’t really know about photography. This time around though I had one thought ringing in my brain before I even got my ticket in my head, shutter speed.

I knew sports is all about the action especially with photos because if someone missed the game they’d probably want to see a little piece of a good play. When I got to the game it was great crowd and I quickly realized that we have a great women’s team as we practically breezed through the game. In the end we won and I had a great time shooting the plays like this one.

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Junior Megan Swick of Michigan makes her way down the court at Wayne State University’s women’s basketball game against the University of Michigan-Dearborn at the Mort Harris Recreation Center on Sunday Nov. 27

A lot of what I shot was action, but I also took some time to make my way around the court, before being reprimanded harshly by game officials. Apparently the side where the players sat was OFF limits. To shoot my pictures of the coaches with my relatively short lenses I had to get as close as I could on the side of the court just behind the game organizers. I loved seeing the head coach’s passion and seriousness, she took every run down the court as serious and vital to the game as the next.

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Head coach Carrie Lorh offers up plenty of pointers to players on the court.

The only real issue I had shooting this assignment came when I had to shoot fans. There wasn’t much going on in the crowd on this lazy Sunday, most people watched intently or played on their phones so it became a real hunt to actually get someone doing something. People did get excited over the t-shirt giveaways and the trivia questions but I love this photo of a depressed Michigan fan accepting inevitable defeat.

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A Michigan fan hangs his head when Wayne State is up by 10 points at the end of the second quarter at Wayne State University’s women’s basketball game.

I really loved shooting this assignment check out some more moments from the game here!

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Featured image: Sophomore India Hawkins sets up a pass surrounded by opposing defense at Wayne State University’s women’s basketball game against the University of Michigan-Dearborn at the Mort Harris Recreation Center on Sunday Nov. 27

Portraits and profiles

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U. S. Navy police officer, Ja Daniel Washington, gives a naval salute on Wayne State University’s campus where he studies psychology and criminal justice. As a sophomore, Washington works by day as a recruiter and takes classes at night, often in uniform.

For my latest assignemnt I had to get up close and personal with the camera. Now dont get me wrong,I love taking photos, I do it all the time but I have to admit I don’t like taking photos of people. I enjoy writing profiles on people and somehow dread taking their pictures.However, I do think I can blame it on unfamiliarity and not being used to photography. When I thought about my next assignment I was apprehensive, it was portrait photography, and that’s all about people. My first thought when I hear the word portrait brings up nightmarish visions of blue, gray, and brown acid washed backdrops and a long line of school photos that never got any better. I didnt wnt my photos coming out like a sad 80 yearbook.

As with any other assignment though, I had to go deeper than my own surface level opinions and really study the topics. One of the biggest things I learned was that there is a lot of interaction in portrait photography, instead of just shooting what is right in front of me, I have to work with my subject. In the photo below I did an interview with a Navy police officer, JaDaniel Washington who was going to school at night. He spoke to me about how often people mention his uniform, and ask him questions about the Navy even though he does the same thing all day as a recruiter in Warren.

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JaDainel Washington

Fortunately, JaDainel was extremely friendly and open to the idea of having his picture taken so it was easy to work through my nerves and get to know him better. As a journalist I know how to write the right questions and make my interviewee and I feel comfortable, but taking pictures of them is so foreign to me and I feel as though they can sense it. So needless to say I had to get over that, and fast. As I began my posed photos I took time to really get to know JaDainel before and it was a lot easier to instruct him and tell I’m what looked good and what didn’t.

I realized that its weird enough for someone to be in front of a cameras and it doesn’t help to drag tings on while your subject waits for you to figure things out.More than any other assignment with this one I learned how important it is to feel (and project) confidence behind the camera.

Covering more than the story

Personal, Visuals

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As a paid correspondent with The South End, Wayne State University’s student newspaper, I cover a lot of events. But since being enrolled in my photojournalism class I’ve had the chance to break out of my reporting routine. I had to take my mind off the quotes and focus on the people.

This Monday I tried photographing my event and capturing an enterprise photo on my DSLR for the first time. For the event, I had to figure out how to show the readers what I was actually seeing, rather than just telling them what I heard. Ont the other hand my enterprise photo had to be a ‘captured moment’ like a tragic latte incident or a student doing aerial silk exercises on a tree in Gullen Mall. TSE is already had me photographing the event I covered because of its a ‘no photo – no story’ policy, but up until now I hadn’t taken my media seriously. I would often go to events with my iPhone and hope for a couple good shots to show people where the event was, and maybe who organized it.

One thing I will say I like about my phone is that it is way more inconspicuous than a DSLR camera. With your phone you’re almost innocently snapping shots of a scene and no one really notices, but with a camera in a quiet, small room, everyone looks at you.

This Monday, when I covered a Citizen Dialogue on guns in Michigan event, I got to see what it was like to not only be a reporter at an event, but also photojournalist. The upside there was that no one said anything. Everyone, including the organizers, assumed I knew exactly what I was doing. They had no idea I was standing in front of them for five minutes because I couldn’t figure out my ISO. After a few moments of standing up and snapping shots, I noticed a big difference  in that I stuck out just a little bit more than everyone else. Between getting up during the debate and snapping shots of the moderator, I was buzzing around the room trying to think of a good way to shoot the intense action of a debate on whether or not people should be allowed to purchase weapons of war.

In the end I got the usual shots that you’d expect to see for that kind of event, and I worked hard to get them AND my story in before midnight that day. Once again I had a lot of fun and I loved seeing my photo along with my story, knowing how much I’d put into it.

Though I have to admit that taking photos at an event was easier than the enterprise photo because I knew the territory, thus  I felt comfortable. Shooting my enterprise photo was a little harder. I took plenty of shots, but the real hiccup came when people noticed I was taking photos of them. My nerves got the best of me on my first two shots, and I didn’t get the caption information.

In the picture below I finally took my enterprise photos and then stopped my subjects to ask for their names. I felt it was a silent victory to learn the name of a burrito-loving unicyclist.

You can also read my event coverage of “Citizen Dialogue: Guns in Michigan” in The South End here.

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Unicyclist and WSU Physics student Jeffery Macleod (left) takes a break from balancing while having lunch on Monday outside of Towers Cafe with his friend and computer science major, Priyank Patel.

Cover photo: Moderators like Katherine Kim were at every table to help facilitate productive conversations.

Deepening my understanding of the first amendment

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 As a journalism major I always hear about the First Amendment, but if I’m being honest with myself I never really took the time to understand it, and what it meant for me beyond journalism and for our country. The freedom to express our ideas and challenge society is something no American should take for granted.

The First Amendment – Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.

It promises us the freedom of speech and press. The First Amendment gives me the right to -or rather recognize that it is my right to—practice journalism, a field I love. But looking deeper I also see that it is my responsibility to act within the boundaries of this right to report. When acting as journalist or photojournalist it is my responsibility to report the truth. To show the world as it and not as (I think) it should be.

The ethical code for writing is the same in photojournalism, another thing that surprised me. In truth, I first learned that at The South End, Wayne State University’s school newspaper, when our managing editor announced that we would no longer use a watermark on our photos. I never fully understood why, until I learned that by us using a watermark it could infringe upon the rights of the photographer who took or provided the photo. The actually credibility of a photo can be worn by actions like staging photos using intent to get a specific photo out of someone. It’s so important to put precedence on the truth and to photograph what is real.

Acting as a reporter I have learned to use my First Amendment right as a writer, to strive for truth and accuracy, but after taking this course I now see that it is also my duty to strive for that same truth and accuracy as a photojournalist.

Manual Mode: Taking off the training wheels

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I’ve recently discovered that I’ve been using training wheels, for pretty much my entire life, but instead of wheels think camera settings. Point and shoot, right? Wrong. Until I purchased my first DSLR camera I had absolutely no clue what it really took to take a photograph, well a good one at least. Now, don’t get me wrong, I can take an AMAZING selfie. But when I sat down to learn more about my camera,–by actually opening a user manual–I had no idea what I was in for. I began by reading up on the techniques photojournalist use and the basics of the basics but I was already lost. When I thought about actually practicing these technique for the first assignment I figured I just go outside and literally shoot for the best.

Most cameras, like the ones we have on our smartphones are automatic or feature more automatic modes than not and that’s a good thing. No one really wants to spend time figuring out how to widen their depth of field in the middle of a Beyoncé concert, they just want to get a picture of her sweat droplets before they dry (so we know how close they were, of course). After a few minutes in my photojournalism class I learned that automatic is just not the way to go. Even though this takes a lot more practice and technique, it does give the freedom to control your photo with a certain level of artistry. In manual mode you can play with light and motion and space in a way you can never do automatically. After I set my camera in manual mode (and figured out how to use it in general) I began exploring the different visuals elements of a photograph.

As I learned more and more about what goes into a good photo learned that a lot of very smart people have got this down to a science. Breaking down the elements of a photo like leading lines, and the rule of thirds, and depth of field, to figure out why it is appealing was so interesting to me. I even learned that excellent selfie taking skills is like a mini-version of photographic composition. Who knew that those angles and lighting techniques we all joke about on twitter were actually very technical and valid visual elements?

After I finally felt confident enough to go out and shoot my photos I started by setting my ISO to the set the amount of light my camera would work with in each environment. Then I metered my camera off of the truest grays I could find to set my white balance. I then moved onto shutter speeds to control how fast my camera was taking a photo. I played with shutter speed a lot to help control light in still situations and help me shoot panned and stopped action. I learned that with the basics of the camera, a little knowledge about composition and a lot of creative spirit taking pictures, even in manual, is a blast.

 

A Voice With More Than Words

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Kayla Cockrel was born and raised in Woodbridge historic Detroit, a neighborhood adjacent to Midtown. She has made considerable strides in the world of communications, journalism, and media with her stories winning the attention of USA Today, the Detroit Free Press and Ford Motor Company. Her senior year of high school she was most notably awarded 24,000 dollars from Ford to study journalism and became a web desk apprentice at the Detroit Free Press.

Today she continues to learn more about journalism and its relationship to business, politics and today’s emerging media. Visuals by Kayla calls for an increased immediacy, allows simple storytelling and showcases empowered citizen journalism sifted though her filter. She is currently finishing her Bachelor’s Degree in Digital Journalism with a minor in Media Arts at Wayne State University.

With a new passion for storytelling of all kinds this site explores the photojournalism work that she has used to incorporate depth and visuals into her stories. Kayla has a deep passion for the city of Detroit and its this passion for the community tat seeps into her work as she learns more about giving these people a voice with something more than words.