“A deadline is negative inspiration. Still, it’s better than no inspiration at all.” – Rita Mae Brown

Sometimes a deadline is no big deal, it can be like a goal that helps you reach at the end of a work day. Other times it can feel like a wild beast nipping at your heels and chasing you down for the hunt.

In the newspaper business, we deal with deadlines all the time — and usually they’re not a problem. It mostly takes experience, planning and judgment.

The planning can encompass, in part, the logistics of getting to and from various assignments. It’s easier and more efficient if they are laid out so that one can drive to them and back in a logical order rather than crisscrossing back and forth across town.

The experience is like a clock ticking away inside of you. For example, when shooting, say, a local sporting event, I know exactly how long I can stay before I have to get back to the office without using a watch. When time starts to wind down, I get a little tickle at the pit of my stomach, a bit like nervous butterflies As time starts to run out, that tickle becomes a gnawing sensation growing with every tick of the second hand.

Judgment is when you have to make a call to stay or leave when things don’t go as planned. At every event, an experienced photographer will likely take what’s known in the business as C.Y.A. shots, standing for Cover Your, uh, rear end, photos. They can be of preparations or behind-the-scenes pictures in case one has to bail out before the main event happens. At least you have something, and in the newspaper business you almost always have to come back with something.

Election night last Tuesday was typical of what can happen when you’re on a tight time limit. The photographers’ deadline that night was 10:30 p.m. That allowed the editors and page designers to work their magic with the photos and get the paper “off the floor” and to the printers by 12:30 a.m. to get the newspaper to your door by around 4:00 or 5:00 in the morning.

I was assigned to cover the campaign parties of Stockton city council District 6 candidate Michael Tubbs at the Garibaldi Mexican restaurant in south Stockton at 8 p.m., Galgiani at The Ave and incumbent Congressman Jerry McNerney at Valley Brew, both at 9 p.m. — which wasn’t too much of a problem, because they were both on the Miracle Mile in Stockton about a half-block apart. If everything went as planned, I’d have plenty of time to shoot all the assignments.

I arrived at Michael Tubbs’ event right at 8 o’clock, and as soon as I walked through the door, I knew that this assignment was going to take time, time I did not have that much to spare. A handful of supporters/volunteers and restaurant staff were just beginning to set up for the event. Tubbs was not yet there, which was not unexpected, because in my experience candidates rarely get to these kinds of things on time, anyway. One of the organizers said that he should show up around 8:30-“ish.” I figured that I could wait half an hour or so and still make things work without too much trouble. As I waited, I grabbed a few shots of the preparations. Fortunately, there was a large television on, broadcasting the election results. A few more supporters trickled in, and I was able to get a shot of people cheering NBC’s announcement of President Obama’s victory. As the restaurant started to fill, 8:30 came and went with still no sign of the candidate. Waiting longer, my internal clock started to ring. I checked the time, and it was nearly 9 p.m. I made a judgment call and decided to leave for my other assignments and hopefully Tubbs would be there when I came back later.

I quickly drove the 5-1/2 miles to The Ave bar on Pacific Avenue, getting there at about 9:10. An imposingly stern-looking bouncer-type stood smack dab in the middle the doorway. As I strode up to him I said that I was from The Record, there to cover the event. He stepped aside, and I barely broke my pace as I waked past him. Inside was dark, dimly illuminated by several different light sources (the bane of photographers everywhere) and a D.J. was playing some loud music from the ’70s (Chicago and Earth, Wind and Fire, but since they were some of my favorites, I didn’t mind the volume too much). Galgiani was talking with a supporter, and I quickly photographed them. But it was bit of a static pose, so I waited to see if I could get a better shot. Galgiani then moved over to the bar and talked with supporters there. Unfortunately, there wasn’t a clear shot of her there, so I waited some more. Then Port of Stockton commissioner Ronald Coale came in and was greeted warmly by Galgiani. At that point in the night, Galgiani was trailing badly against her opponent, Berryhill. As she and Coale spoke, I managed to get a shot of Galgiani smiling but with a slight hint of resignation on her face.

From there it was a short, quick walk to Valley Brew, where MCNerney’s campaign was having its event. Reporter Zachary K. Johnson, who was there already, told me that the Congressman was set to make an appearance in 5 minutes. He came out in about 2. I got shots of him as he spoke from a small stage set up in the pub’s banquet room. After a short speech, McNerney was done and started to work the crowd. The shots I got were standard campaign-type photos, and I wanted to get him with some of his supporters, but that familiar gnawing sensation began to creep in, and I knew I had to leave.

I got back to the office at about 9:40 p.m. and was able to quickly download the photos to my computer. After a quick editing, which includes captioning, cropping, the conversion from the raw format (which the photos are shot in) to JPEGs and a simple toning of the photos, I uploaded one shot each of McNerney and Galgiani to our system and emailed a photo to the Modesto Bee. Then I hurried off to Michael Tubbs’ event once again.

I arrived back at Garibaldi’s restaurant at about 10 p.m., and by 10:05 I had gotten a shot of Tubbs’ reacting to an announcement that he had a substantial lead over his opponent, Dale Fritchen, and then once again headed back to the office.

By about 10:15 p.m., I had input a photo of Tubbs into our system. I went back and worked on other photos I shot earlier in the night (15 in total) and by about 10:30 p.m. I was done (not all of the photos would be used in the paper the next day, but they would be included in our online gallery of local election photos shot throughout the day and for possible use later on). In a night of tight deadlines planning, experience, judgment (and maybe a little luck) all came into play that night. Whew!

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  • Blog Author

    Clifford Oto

    Clifford Oto, an award-winning photographer, has been with The Record since 1984. Through the changes from black and white to digital photography, he’s kept his focus on covering the events, people and life of San Joaquin county. This blog deals ... Read Full
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