Saturday, August 23, 2014
Inquirer Daily News

Photo Filters

It's not photojournalism, so what do I do with it? Save it in a folder, "Interesting Stuff that's not for the Newspaper?"

Photo Filters

One of the dangers of infrequent blog posting: a lot of stuff inside busting to get out...

The T-Rex was around the corner from a New Jersey Natural Gas crew. The discarded ball, at a high school baseball practice

As with many objects, buildings, signs, details or still lifes I encounter while shooting for the newspaper, they didn't have anything to do with the story I was there to illustrate:

A high school shortstop who is also a straight A student and president of National Honor Society. The baseball wasn't going to end up in the newspaper with the story about this young man. Work crews restoring gas lines in areas devastated by Hurricane Sandy. The boardwalk amusement park has little to do with a story about gas workers.

As often happens, I think, "that's interesting," and I take a picture anyway.

But then what? It's not photojournalism, so what do I do with it? Save it in a folder, "Interesting Stuff that's not for the Newspaper?"

Sometimes, it even raises the question, “why take the picture? This is the stuff I think about, driving between assignments. Is the only reason to pick up a camera is if the job wants me to.

Of course, the answer is no. I will always take pictures when I see something I find interesting. I’m a photographer.

I first started taking pictures because I wanted to share those events, people, animals and even objects, buildings, signs, details or still lifes I found interesting, with my friends and family. So I took a picture, had it developed, and then showed it around at home and school.

Then I got really lucky. I became a newspaper photographer, and just like that, I could suddenly share those events, people, animals and even objects, buildings, signs, details or still lifes with thousands of readers.

Being a journalist has given me privileges most of my family and friends or readers do not enjoy: I sometimes get better access to people and events than they do, and I get a semi-official platform to present the pictures I take to the public.

I’ve always taken the responsibility that comes with that freedom of the press privilege seriously. While I don't pretend for a minute that my taking pictures I find interesting (usually including shadows, reflections, umbrellas, hats, bikes or unusually colored objects) makes me a watchdog that holds the government accountable (our founders' reason for the first amendment), I do always try to remember my pictures are not just a form of personal creative expression, but part of what the newspaper does to serve the public trust.

But nowadays, I wonder, is it that big of a deal. Anybody with a camera (or more often now, a cell phone with one) and access to the Internet can - and does - instantly post their most interesting event, people, animal, object, building, sign, detail or still life for millions to see.

That’s a lot of pictures though. Too many to sort through, look at, digest… What we need is some sort of filter…

No, not that kind. Really, that’s the last thing we need, more hipsamat-o-grams.

The phony light leaks, faded colors, artificial cross-processing and oversaturation filters are NOT what I’m talking about.

I digress, but all I think about when I see so many of these snapshots is someone going through their grandparents’ hard drive someday, finding a folder labeled “family vacations” or “holidays,” excitedly opening one image after another and suddenly turning away as they find one elaborated X-Pro II, Sierra, or Lo-fi-ed photo after another.

Imagine opening a family album and seeing every photo was made with a full frame fish-eye lens.

No, the filter I’m talking about is the one I started this post talking about: editing. Whether it’s self-selecting what I take a picture of, giving an editor a choices of what to use in the newspaper, or deciding what to share with readers on a platform I don’t own or pay for, I try to keep the my audience in mind. And if one picture is good, it doesn’t mean ten or twenty, or even more versions – even with really cool filters – would be better. Just because I shoot it, doesn’t mean I have to share it. Or should.

Tom Gralish Inquirer Staff Photographer
About this blog

Tom Gralish is a general assignment photographer at The Inquirer, concentrating on local news and self-generated feature photos.

He has been at the paper since 1983, photographing everything from revolution in the Philippines to George W. Bush’s road to the White House to homeless people living on the street right outside his newspaper's front door. For his photo essay on Philadelphia’s homeless, he was awarded both the Pulitzer Prize and the Robert F. Kennedy Award.

His weekly newspaper column, "Scene Through the Lens," takes a look at Philadelphia's urban landscape.

Gralish, along with Inquirer colleague and Pulitzer Prize-winning writer Michael Vitez, spent a year visiting the Philadelphia Museum of Art to capture the stories and photos of "Rocky runners" who come from all over the world to climb the steps - just as Sylvester Stallone did in the Academy Award winning film, Rocky. Their book, Rocky Stories: Tales of Love, Hope and Happiness at America’s Most Famous Steps, was published in November 2006.

Reach Tom at

Tom Gralish Inquirer Staff Photographer
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