Exploring journalism with firearms

Don’t stop exploring. A camera is a firearm. Shoot well, write well. Some of the best knowledge I gained through college.

A bare bones M16 A4. This is the same rifle I was issued in the Army. Much like a camera, a rifle requires a lot of technical know-how to operate efficiently. This includes basic technique in posture, breathing, and grip, but also knowledge of the mechanics of firearms, including trajectory, muzzle velocity, and sighting.

This spawned from a brief college workshop with Bettina Hansen, a photographer at The Seattle Times, and Josh Trujillo, a photographer at the Seattle Post-Intelligencer. If you’re in a creative jam, Hansen said, pick up a new device or a new medium and learn something new. For me, that device was a DSLR camera.

I’d owned cameras in the past, but never seriously considered pursuing photography. Prior to Hansen’s class, my technique (if you want to call it that) was to snap as many pictures as I could and sort through the ones I didn’t like. It was the same effect as shooting a 50-meter target with a shotgun as opposed to a long-barreled rifle.

Cameras are technical the same way firearms are. This was something Trujillo had told us. To shoot well with either, you must have good posture and know-how of the mechanics behind the device. Simply snapping (or firing off rounds) is a sure way to fail.

The technical knowledge I gained from Hansen and Trujillo planted a seed that developed into a passion. I learned how to make good pictures (sometimes), by finding the right angle to line up the shot, the right source of light, and the right ratios on the camera.

A year into photography and I found the same technical approach can be applied to writing.

As journalists, we are trained to mash the subject and the conflict together until they peter out into a conclusion; to beat the story into submission, like a butcher tenderizing meat. This is the core lesson of most early news writing classes. Reporters suck in every sight, sound, and word that they can and then regurgitate it onto a Word document.

But this takes away from the artistry of writing. After it’s done so many times it’s not even fun. It’s the equivalent of a shotgun blast, or a hells-chance blast from a machine gun. It‘s messy.

As with shooting a photo, or shooting a target, it takes focus, concentration, and most importantly, skill.


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