The Right Shot

August 24, 2017

Written by Art Petrosemolo

I am a photographer. I have been one for the past 50+ years, ever since I got paid $5 extra for every photo I turned in with a feature or news story in my first post-college newspaper job. Back in the mid-1960s, that was nice extra money and I always had four or five photos a week in the New Haven (CT) Register.

For the last 20 years, I tell people I write to photograph. When I think about a story to pitch to a newspaper or magazine, I think of the image options. I truly believe one good photo is worth a 1000 words (maybe not quite that many but a lot).

So, many times, when I am out on assignment researching a story for the Ephrata Review  or the Lititz Record or Destination Magazine, I actually take the photos first with my host and ask him or her to explain their operation through my photos.

This past week I was fortunate to have assignments that gave me a chance to do some pretty cool images on opposite ends of the story spectrum. Let me explain.

As you know from an earlier blog, I did a story earlier this summer on seniors with Parkinson’s involved in a new personal training program called Rock Steady Boxing. I got some great shots but it was an emotional story to write and photograph. Surprisingly, it was more emotional for me than the participants.

Well I am never truly comfortable with medical-related stories. I say “they are out of my comfort zone” and I have to work harder to find the right hook, angle, approach and to be sure I over-research as it doesn’t take much info for me to blast out a 1,100 feature story which is what my word count limit is.

So what happens? I get involved in another medical story. I got interested in midwives in Lancaster County and if Plain families were still using midwives. My editor tells me he heard Amish and Mennonite families were having more children at hospitals now and asked me to confirm.

For several weeks, I have been talking to hospital administrators, doctors, midwives, midwife administrators and even visited a birthing center. I was way over my head but learning a ton of stuff. In any case, all along I know I have to illustrate this story and have no idea what will work. I wake up last week with an idea that is perfect but I am not sure I can execute.

In my mind’s eye, I see an Amish woman walking away from me holding her baby on her hip and a toddler by the hand. Now I need to make it happen. Fortunately, I have been able to meet some wonderful Plain families in my seven months here in New Holland and many of them have become good friends. It’s generational now and many of the young Amish, I call them “new” Amish are still maintaining their Christian faith and strong Anabaptist traditions but embracing some 21st century life.

So I explained to some Amish friends what I was trying to do and could they help? And they did. I promised that I would not show anyone’s face as the photo would be taken with them walking away from me.

We set up the shoot for early in the morning with what we hoped would be low angled morning light. We had the long farm driveway and everything went perfectly. We had a clear day but the sun was obstructed with clouds which turned out to be the best as the color of the mother’s dress just popped.

It took less than two minutes to actually take the photo I had taken in my mind’s eye so many times. And probably one or two exposures would have been enough if the baby’s face was tucked behind his mom’s shoulder when we started. The result is a winner and one I am proud of and will enlarge and frame for our Sycamore Springs home.

I’ll make a small print for the family that they might tuck in a drawer as there are no family photos on the wall. That tradition still stands.

I only wish every story could be illustrated so easily…. So let me tell you about my trip to the lumber mill in Mt. Pleasant Mills, PA where they make the blanks for baseball bats. Oh, that’s next week’s blog.

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