The snow started falling Sunday night. I’d been keeping a watchful eye trained on the heavens all day, hoping to venture out and photograph in its frosty beauty. Alas, nature didn’t reward me until 7:30 p.m., after the sun had already set.
Despite this setback, I still went out, after donning a ridiculous number of jackets and making sure my only exposed flesh was a small patch for my eyes.
I invested two hours in the biting cold. The snow only picked up its intensity and fell harder the longer I stayed out, yet, I lasted long than my iPhone. It died after about an hour in my pocket, even though it was still half charged.
Visibility was the hardest part. Every time I raised the camera to my eye, my breath would fog up the viewfinder. I felt like an impressionist painter, composing from vague shapes and muted colors. I tucked my camera inside my jacket every chance I could get, knowing if I left it out, the cold would halt its autofocus system. With a 300mm lens attached, it wasn’t an easy feat.
When the cold finally broke me, I carefully stood outside my apartment building, peeled off my outermost jacket and snugly wrapped up my camera body and lens. (Internal condensation can form within the lens and/or body when exposed to drastic temperature changes, so creating a “vacuum” of air with the jacket allows my gear to undergo the transition more smoothly.)
When my eyes fluttered open, it was just past 6 a.m. and I had text from our DoP, informing our staff that the University of Missouri had canceled classes and asking that we photograph what we could from where we were and transmit as we were able.
I foolishly thought I’d venture out for just an hour, until the sunrise, to capitalize on the great morning light. Sunrise never came. It got brighter, but the clouds were too dense to allow the sun to fully pierce them.
One hour turned into eight and produced a few more galleries, dozens of Instagram posts, and even some pizza while listening to Pictures of the Year International judges Kim Komenich and Janet Reeves share their insights with us.
Then David spoke. David Rees chairs the photojournalism faculty at MU and is beloved by all equally for his wisdom as well as his wit. A student asked how to convince others of his ambition; how to make others think he wasn’t just another kid hoping to run off and cover a bloody conflict.
David’s reply? Photograph the snow.
In his delightfully concise reply, Rees imparted his wisdom in a gracious and profound way. Some yearn for accolades, recognition, and the right to cover “topics that matter,” usually grand photo epics involving international travel and exotic locales.
Gear alone doesn’t make great stories. Connections don’t. Experience doesn’t. These are all variables that can allow a story to be told more efficiently, but without photographing the snow — without covering one’s own community and learning how to connect with people that you might not ever see again — you can’t build character and instill trust, two variables that matter infinitely more than the most expensive gadget or the industry’s most vaunted connection.
Stay cold, friends.