Recently while looking at old photos, I was transported back to the days of my first TV news job. Furthermore, I was reminded that both photography and videography have been in my world for years because I started shooting stills as a teenager.
Whether taking still photos or shooting video, I have always LOVED capturing images to tell stories, professionally or personally. I don’t know how I got interested in photography.
No one in my immediate family had a camera nor did I take formal photography classes in college. Somehow I got my hands on a still camera (remember 35mm film that had to be developed?) while growing up in Memphis, Tenn., and started snapping away.
Pulitzer Prize-winner David Leeson took this photo of me during my Reporter/Videographer stint at KRBC-TV in Abilene, Texas.
Leeson worked for the Abilene Reporter-News at the time.
This photo is my personal favorite. I was covering breaking news and remember asking the man in the photo would he please hold my recorder? Holding the heavy camera, wearing the battery pack around my waist and struggling with the recorder slowed me down, especially on breaking news.
So I learned to be creative
and innovative, constantly.
I took lots of pictures of my late father. Daddy never met a stranger and loved to tell stories about growing up in Mississippi. We visited his parents’ graves one year and he enthralled me with tales about chopping cotton and growing up on a farm. I took a picture of Daddy that day and every time I look at it, I am reminded of the enormous strength and courage he and my paternal grandparents had.
Another picture in the family album shows my mother with my late aunt. They were thick as thieves, as the saying goes. I have a photo of Ma Dear in her 20s, taken before I was born. She totally had it going on and knew it. I wish someone had taken pictures of her with my maternal grandparents on the plantation in Arkansas. I respect and admire the fortitude they possessed in order to survive and, I am proud to be their descendant.
One of the toughest TV stories I ever covered was that of a child who had been run over and killed while riding his bicycle. Listening to the police scanner in order to get to breaking news as quickly as possible was part of the job. I arrived on the scene before any other media and even beat the police – that’s how I got the nickname “spot news queen.”
I looked under the truck and saw this small boy, not moving, his bicycle close by. When a colleague arrived on the scene, she told me I had turned green. I never took any footage under the truck.
The camera attracts all kinds
I had an assignment in Anson, Texas and someone in the audience got upset because I was shooting video. Or maybe it was because she hadn’t seen that many African-American journalists. All I know is that she walked up to me and said, “Turn that camera off. You’re shining that light in my eyes.”
I looked at her, turned away and kept shooting. All shooters know that keeping the camera rolling in such situations is always the smart move. I kept doing the job I was sent there for and the lady eventually went back to her seat. My supervisors in the newsroom told me that if anyone ever laid on hand on me, the company would press assault charges against them.
May we take a photo please?
I must confess I got starstruck on some stories, like when Roots author Alex Haley (above) spoke to students at a Memphis school or when then-ABC World News Tonight anchor Peter Jennings showed up at WFAA-TV’s newsroom one November morning. Those times I got my picture taken with them, realizing this miracle wouldn’t happen again.
Glory and internal fortitude
In this photo, also taken by Leeson, I was on assignment on the road to “journalism glory,” at least that’s what every young journalist hopes for, right? It’s only later that you learn about the long hours and the necessary internal fortitude required to report breaking news that often includes tragedies.
I did experience “journalism glory” in the form of national awards from NABJ, the former AWRT and regional recognition
from the Tenn. Associated Press
Broadcasters Association, among others. While reporting at KRBC-TV, I sold a story to CNN! Now that was glory and good money!
I am very proud of the numerous college and high school students trained in a broadcast internship program I created and oversaw at WGKX-KIX 106 FM in Memphis. Several years ago, I teamed up with fellow Associated Press colleagues in Mississippi and New Orleans. Together we sent several Associated Press Stylebooks to Dallas, Texas for an Urban Journalism Workshop, in what I called “Stylebooks for Students.”
How to shoot your own stand up
One trick I learned was to set a light stand in the exact spot where I wanted to shoot my stand up because in a small market, I was a “one-woman band.” That means doing the following: covering the story (reporting), shooting video, then writing the script and voicing the audio track during the editing process. It’s a great way to learn unforgettable skills.
Here’s how I did it:
First, I set the camera on a tripod. Then I stood next to the light stand and raised it to my height. Third, I got back behind the camera and recorded the light stand to ensure the shot would work. Fourth, I checked the tape. Next, I removed the light stand and recorded a couple of stands up, which I edited into the story back at the station.
The trick to being a great “one-woman band” was to shoot just enough video, so the editing process wouldn’t take long.
Notice I used the word “shoot” or a variation several times because that’s what we called it when we took pictures with the camera; we were "shooting."
Today I use a digital camera that shoots stills and of course video, and it’s light as a feather.
I wouldn’t take “nothing for my journey” with photography/videography in the exciting and always chaotic world of news.
About the Author:
Regina L. Burns, M.A., Project+, is an award-winning multimedia editor and journalist, specializing in Black history and African American stories at Harvest Reapers Communications. Her work has been published in Texas Highways magazine, WFAA-TV, The Dallas Morning News, the Fort Worth Star-Telegram as well as The Commercial Appeal, the Tri-State Defender and The Flyer, among others.