One summer day a few years ago, former News Tribune photographer Bob King and I were on assignment in International Falls. Our work finished, we were headed south on U.S. Highway 53 through town when we saw a young woman on a skateboard zipping along the sidewalk next to the highway. She was being pulled on two leads by a pit bull and a Great Dane, and they were moving!
King, never one to pass up a chance at a good feature photo, grabbed his camera.
“Let’s get ahead of her and pull over somewhere,” King said.
I was at the wheel, so I goosed the engine and we put a couple blocks between us and the two-dog skateboarder.
Bob saw a vacant lot.
“Here!” he said. “Pull in right here.”
He may have been out of the car before it stopped rolling. He got a few quick shots, and the woman and her dog team were gone down the sidewalk at frightening speed. King jumped back in the car.
“Let’s get ahead of them again,” he said. “I need a couple more shots.”
Off we went in our company car, like bank robbers leaving the scene of a heist. Onto the highway. Down the road. Past the flying young woman and her galloping canines.
“Here! Here!” King said, pointing to another potential pull-out.
I got the car off the road just in time. Out hopped King. "K-shick, k-shick, k-shick" went the camera’s motor drive. I watched from the getaway car, chuckling and admiring King. I was a completely willing accomplice. I knew this was going to be a great photo, splashed across a page of the newspaper the next day.
And it was.
I tell you this to illustrate how rewarding — and fun — it was to work with King and many other excellent photographers at the News Tribune over nearly four decades. They were — and are — pros who pursued their trade with passion and great technical skills.
News photographers have an expression — “f/8 and be there.” The “f/8” is a camera setting that leads to good exposures. “Be there” means just what it says: You do whatever it takes to put yourself in position for the shot.
Sometimes, that meant doing what King and I did in International Falls along the highway. But sometimes it meant doing a lot of scouting and legwork ahead of the assignment. Sometimes it meant snowshoeing up a frozen river or lying in the snow along a dogsled trail. Sometimes it meant engaging people who had suffered a family tragedy. At least once it meant literally getting sick in a small plane flying circles around a radio-collared wolf below.
“Being there” meant being fully present, focused and prepared for that one moment when the perfect image presented itself.
Typically, News Tribune photographers shot many, many exposures of a particular scene. Always, one photo would stand out above the others to tell the story.
It was inspiring for me to work with such accomplished and driven photographers. It made me want to elevate my game, too, so that what each of us brought to the story would advance the overall package.
I’ve always thought “f/8 and be there” would be a good metaphor for life, too. You do all you can to prepare for any given situation, then you show up and adapt on the fly.