Ask A Pro
J. Conrad Williams
Examples of Work
Gymnast on balance beam at the 2000 Olympics
Torch bearer lights flame of 2000 Olympics
Lone kayaker in Peconic Bay
A woman walks her dog in a snowy Central Park
A hot day and a cool pool in Queens
J. Conrad Williams
j. conrad williams
J. Conrad Williams
How did you get interested in photojournalism?
I took interest after becoming an adult. I was about 24 years old. I bought a camera for two reasons. One because I always wanted a camera and the other, is because my brother and his family were coming to town to visit for Christmas. I had not seen him in many years. So I thought this was the right time to invest in a camera. Once I did purchase my new Olympus OM1, I could not stop taking pictures. I was shooting every single day. I did not want to do anything else.
I am also the type of person who enjoys spending time alone. Having a camera was a great companion. Anyway, during this time, my mother, who is an artist (she was very good with oil painting), told me I had talent and that I should consider doing it professionally. I thought that was a great idea. At that time there was no question as to what type of photographer I wanted to be. I was very good at teaching myself to do many of the things I enjoyed so I taught myself most of what I needed to know about being a photojournalist. And my college studies in have a degree in industrial technology. I studied industrial design. That was not my first choice but I had to do something. The photography came a little later.
What do you carry in your photo kit?
I carry two digital cameras, sometimes three depending on the assignment. I carry four lenses:
- a 14mm
- 17-35mm zoom
- 35-70mm zoom
- 85-200mm zoom.
I also carry two teleconvertors -- a Nikkor 1.4x and a 2x. Convertors make your lenses longer when you use them. For an example a 2x used with a 200mm lens makes that 200mm lens a 400mm lens. I carry two flash guns so I could light a scene with two lights to make it look more natural and or interesting. It depends on how you use them.
I carry about six flash cards, each giving you about 99 pictures on a card, (digital photography only). I don't shoot with film any more. I also have two extra batteries for the digital cameras, and extra batteries for the flash units as well. I use a light meter, so I carry that as well.
I keep a radio remote in case I wish to fire a flash off camera. I do this by putting it on a light stand or a bookshelf -- in a location away from the camera itself to make the picture look more natural. I also use the radio remote to fire a camera when I have to put it in a place where I would not be able to stand. Like on a race-track where horses are racing, or on top of the backboard at a basketball game so I could get shots of the players from a different perspective. These are some of the main things I carry in my bag.
I also must mention I carry a laptop computer because I shoot digital and it is expected of me to move pictures to the office from the site whether it be from a basketball game at Madison Square Garden or the most remote places in South Africa.
Do you prefer film or digital?
I like using digital more than film because of the speed in which I can get the work into the office. Time is so very important in this business.
Sometimes you have to take pictures of tragic situation. How do you separate yourself emotionally?
I think my camera acts as a shield around me whenever I have to shoot pictures of horrific things. I seem to just react. I don't really think about the horror. I think I begin to really think about how I might tell what I am seeing in the most poignant and informative way. Not to disturb readers, but giving them enough to feel the story through my pictures. After it's all over I have a lot to deal with. It depends on the story.
For every single image printed in the newspaper, how many photos on average did you take?
That depends on the event. I can cover a sporting event and shoot about 400 pictures and only one, two or three photos will appear in the paper. It depends on the day and the importance of the story being covered. A news job I might shoot 20 pix and one shot will be used. Again, it depends on the story.
Do you prefer color or black and white?
I like using color. I see color when I shoot. There are times when a picture is best seen in black and white. I like color most, though.
How do you get the subjects of your photos to relax and not be self-conscious?
I like to talk with my subject about things they enjoy talking about. I like to feel them out by asking question so I could get to know them in the short span of time I'll be with them. Another way is to spend time with the subject. Your objective is to become a fly on the wall.
Our school newspaper has a lot of boring posed photos of groups of people staring into the camera.
I would suggest that you look at the daily newspapers in your area and try to draw a parallel with the stories you see in the daily paper and your paper. I am talking about the story style. Look at the photos that accompany the stories to get an idea on how to change your style. We at Newsday stay away from group shots of people looking into the camera. At times we must shoot them, but for the most part we stay away from them. Sometimes it is good to get the group to talk to each other while you photograph the group. This way they will look more natural and relaxed, candid.
What advice do you have for aspiring photojournalist?
I would urge you to take pictures every day. Do not let a day pass without a meaningful picture being taken by you. Also, look at the work of others. Read the newspapers and magazines as well as looking at the photos. Understanding what the story is about help you to understand why a photo was taken the way the photog shot it. I must mention that the work is hard so be sure that it is in you heart to be a photojournalist
Photojournalism is a great career. If you are good it will take you around the world. But you should know about that world first. It is very helpful for you to learn and know your history. Not just American history but the history around the world. Knowledge is your greatest tool.