Wednesday, July 15, 2009

The "X" Factor

After reading my "Photographer's Swan Song", Angela Rao from Stockholm commented:

"Hey CY! I have to agree with everything you've said here. Those pictures were outstanding....nothing like it in the papers now! Hope you pass on some of your "oomph" to the younger generation at the Star. The picture of the doll and the slippers were freaky!"

Thank you Angela and that bring me to a very often asked questions from GEIC, MD and Editors of newspapers that I worked: "Why can't you train your photogs to shoot better news pictures?" or "After two years as Picture Editor, why can't they shoot pictures LIKE YOU?" or better still, and this actually came from a top Editor of The Star in Malaysia, "Why can't they shoot like LIFE magazine's photographers?!!" DUH!!


I once made a comment that "Good photographers cannot be trained, sad but true..."; because of that I was accused of being arrogant and a prima donna by my ex bosses!

What I actually meant was a good photographer has to have that "X" factor first, that creativity factor is inborn and coupled with a good guidance from a dedicated Pic Ed, he/she will become a very good photographer indeed.

If what I claimed is hot air, then explain to me WHY so many photogs are still lousy snappers after a life time working in the media?

Contrary to my ex bosses believes, training and "cultivating" a young person into a good photojournalist is a lengthy and tedious process!

Here are some of "MY WAY"... take note, Frank :-)

The Interview

I look at their portfolios, talk to them about photography; ask them technical questions like what is DOF and how well they know their camera and lenses.

This is the first stage that I "sieve" out those with "X" factors, the success rate is about 80%... yes, I made bad judgment call too :-)

The Probation

Usually three months, extendable to six. The candidates are initially send to simple news jobs to get them into the pressurised work flow.

By the second month he or she should be covering all kind of jobs, if manpower allowed, the candidate should tag along with a seasoned photog on the same job.

The Monitoring

During the first three months the Pic Ed will have to look at EVERY SINGLE SHOT that the candidate took.

During the pre-digi era, I always have a good 4X loupe around my neck and going through hundreds of rolls of negatives everyday!

Digital make my job easier because you can now see the image in positive form in a monitor!

Either way, a lot of time you still "vomit blood" sieving out the good shots from the bad and the men from the boys!

The "TALK"

The candidate is being told which shot is good, which is bad and WHY... advice are given on how to improve, sentence like; "if I was shooting this job, I will....".

If a senior was with the rookie, you go through his shots too and compare and comment.

Sometime this can get very emotional and dramatic because most senior think they can shoot BETTER pictures than you!

Which make me wonder how someone can become a Pic Ed of a major newspaper WITHOUT even being a news photographer first!

Also, I learnt that there are TEACHERS of photojournalism in private colleges without any experience as a photographer! Does that make sense to you?

The "WALK"

As a working Picture Editor with more than 50 photographers under you, you not only just "talk the talk" but you got to "walk the walk"!

In many instances I actually have to go and re-shoot the jobs myself to show the rookies and seniors how it can be done better.

Believe you me, it is NOT easy to get respects from a bunch of prima donnas!

But what is that elusive "X" factor?

Put simply, the uncanny ability of a photographer to see AND capture what others cannot, especially a DECISIVE MOMENT!


I think the ultimate reward for being a photojournalist is to see your work publish! Especially if it is printed BIG!

I remember fondly that even after 35 years in phojo, I still get a real "high" seeing my work in prints!

Famous Last Words:

What if I think I do not have the "X" factor?

Well, go get another job... just joking!

But that is not such a bad idea, I feel everyone should find out in life what they can do well for a profession.

So to recap what I think make a good photojournalist:

1) Born with "X" Factor.

2) Recognised and selected by a dedicated Picture Editor.

3) Train and guide by the Pic Ed.

5) ALWAYS wanted to shoot better pictures than the rivals in EVERY jobs.

Contrary to popular believe, even with the said "X" factor; breaking into the circle of GOOD photojournalists involved a lot of hard work and self disciplines... during my working life in various paper, I am indeed blessed to work with the following photographers who have that "X" factor!

Ng Ah Bak, Chief Photographer of The Star and his young K.T.Goh and Sam Tham. C.H.Loh, ex Star and now NST. Goh Chai Hin, ex Star and now AFP. Jimin Lai, my favorite ex Star prima donna and now sadly out of phojo and trying to make his million. Martin Hunter, ex Dominion, now freelance. Greg Baker, ex Dominion, now AP.

Go pursue your dream..... happy shooting!


iml said...

I agree. It's the X factor. Took up digital camera photography but I am not able to capture 'That Moment' 'That angle' Still so much to learn. Glad you finally decided to blog again.

CHLoh said...

Not many photographers can see the X factor, agreed with my Sifu CY 101%, you always learn in photography after my 38 yrs in the press I am still learning, and now in a different field. The Digital Archiving, haha, lots to learn from Sifu, please write more in your blog then the young photographers will see the"X" factor one day.

heather said...

Ha ha!!
How many grains of rice did Kojak eat before you got the decisive "Kojak moment"? An interesting and informative well balanced article re the "X"factor.I can see that without a good work ethic the "X"factor counts for nothing and vice versa.Nevertheless, I can see that it would be a rewarding, albeit stressful job.
Re your statement "Good photographers cannot be trained, sad but true" credence to the old adage,"You can`t make a silk purse out of a sow`s ear"