It’s DC Shoot Off time again. For those of you who may not know, the DC Shoot Off is an annual workshop/competition where military photojournalist and civilian photojournalist participate in a 24-hour photojournalism contest. A theme is drawn from a hat, and each participant must find a story that matches that theme, shoot the story, and edit the story down to five photos. Oh, and not have a heart attack in the process.
You will find the competition at the DC Shoot Off is not to be taken lightly. Many participants are Syracuse University alumni, and notable military photographers who have been published many times over. So when you arrive, you should be intimidated. Really Intimidated. I always am.
The beauty about the DC Shoot Off is not the competition itself, but the mentors who guide you the whole way; such as Jeremy Lock, seven-time military photographer of the year, or Mannie Garcia, who took the well-known photo of presidential candidate Barack Obama, which was featured in Shepard Fairey’s “Hope” poster. Two notable mentors who made me the photographer I am today are Ken Hackman, and Chip Maury. You can think of these two as the Godfathers of all Military Photographers. If it were not for Ken and Chip, military photojournalism would not be what it is today. So do yourself a favor and look these guys up.
After the competition, be prepared to give, and receive a lot hugs because this is a loving, passionate group of people who have a family-like bond. I have found myself constantly going on to Facebook and asking for help, and within a few minutes these guys respond.
The theme this year was warmth. Upon finding out what the theme was, I went through my one-hour of freaking out, crying in a corner, and going into a panic about what I was going to do. So I turned to Facebook to see if I could find any ideas. The first photo that appeared was one of my colleagues holding their newborn baby closely to their face. I thought to my self “BINGO!” I sent them a message at 8:30 P.M., and prayed that they would say yes! They responded back to me around 9:10. The answer was YES!
I arrived at their house 8 o’clock the next morning, and the first thing that I noticed was their home had this really cool, and unique lighting. The sunlight coming through the windows looked majestic, and movie-like. This is when a photographer like myself has to apologize to these good people for getting drool all over their nice, clean floors.
With some proper guidance from Bill Auth, I was able to get my story edited down to five photos. Then I had to nervously wait the next day for the judges to rip our work apart, and send me back into a corner crying. Well, maybe I am exaggerating a little bit, but the judging is a big part of the learning process too. This year I did not win first place, but I took second in their Shoot Off International category. Hey, I am still happy!
This competition always keeps me on my toes, and reminds me that I have a long ways to go. It’s a little easy to become a little cocky as a photographer who has been shooting for a few years. When that happens, you usually stop learning, and you work never gets any better. I have found myself in this situation several times. Thankfully one of my mentors comes along, splashes some cold water in my face, and gives me a wake up call.