By Lindsay Steele
As a photographer, both in my work at The Catholic Messenger and in my personal life, I am always searching for the “perfect shot.”
What exactly makes a perfect shot? Being able to properly compose the shot, get it in focus and handle the lighting is essential, but it is so much more than that. More than anything, a great shot is about the content. Does it capture a significant moment in time? Does it capture or evoke emotion?
As with most things in life, what is significant or emotional can be subjective. I know what I see when I look at a photograph, but what will someone else see?
Sometimes, I love a photograph only to have someone else hate it — especially when it comes to portraiture. I may think the picture is beautiful, but the subject thinks it makes him or her look heavy, toothy, etc.
Conversely, the photographs you think are outtakes are the exact photographs that someone else may treasure forever. You just never know.
In November, I covered a Veterans Day event at All Saints Catholic School in Davenport. As I looked around the gym, camera around my neck and reporter’s notebook in hand, I felt a tap on my shoulder. I turned around to the pleasant surprise of seeing my grandmother-in-law’s longtime companion, Bob, decked out in his Korean War Veterans Association (KWVA) hat and coat. He was sitting with a group of fellow KWVA members, all of whom had spoken to students earlier in the day. The vets looked pretty sharp, and I wanted to take a picture. Bob leaned in to the gentleman beside him and I zoomed in to the two of them. The photo looked nice, but as photojournalism requires more of a candid shot than I’d just taken, I didn’t end up using it for the article. It was, for all intensive purposes, an outtake.
About a month later, as Christmas approached, my husband and I needed to figure out a good gift for Bob. I remembered that photograph and decided to frame a 4-inch by 6-inch print for him. Maybe he’d like it, maybe he wouldn’t. I really wasn’t sure. I also wasn’t sure whether Bob and the gentleman in the picture were close friends or not. As Bob tends to be quite stoic most of the time, that lean was all I had to go by.
On Christmas night, as my in-laws and I sat around a long, rectangular table adorned with a red tablecloth, I watched Bob pick up the gift and unwrap it. Once he saw what was inside, he cocked his head thoughtfully to the side. He stared at it for a few minutes. A small, but palpable smile formed on the side of his face.
After what seemed like forever, he said softly, “These guys are like family to me.”
I kept looking at his face, both observing and absorbing his joy. He said nothing else about the photograph that night, but he didn’t have to for me to know that my journalistic outtake was meaningful for him. Even as others in the group continued unwrapping presents, he picked up the picture again and again and smiled.
I later was able to get in touch with Dan, the other man in the photograph, and share the picture with him through e-mail. He, too, enjoyed it.
As much of a rush as I get taking a picture I believe to be good, being able to make someone else happy through a photograph they find valuable is even more rewarding. Making these two vets smile was, by far, the highlight of my holiday season.
(Editor’s note: Lindsay Steele is a reporter for The Catholic Messenger. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at (563) 888-4248.)