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After two weeks on an icebreaker in the Bering Sea, science writer Helen Fields and I have settled into a comfortable groove, cranking out photo essays every night for the Polar Discovery website. This is our process for turning out daily news with an ice-bound, two-person team.
The goal of the Live from the Poles project is to tell stories about how scientists study the polar regions. Our stories fall into two broad categories. If something unique happened during the day, the photo essay will be a “Wow, this amazing thing happened today” narrative. To keep the website fresh and interesting for 40 days, we also sprinkle in stories that draw photos from different days, like the one we’re working on today about the different types and shapes of sea ice. So while I may be shooting for a “daily news” story, I will also have about a dozen other future stories rattling around in my head.
For example, I may be photographing a graduate student analyzing the contents of a mud sample from the seafloor. I’ll shoot not only the storytelling shots showing her doing the work in the lab, surrounded by mud and equipment, but also a few tightly cropped portraits for a possible future story featuring graduate students, plus some close-ups of her mud-covered gloves for a story about working hands. As I walk from the lab back to my stateroom, I notice a textbook example of newly formed sea ice glinting in the light of the setting sun, and I snap that for today’s post about ice.
Throughout the day Helen and I compare notes on our theme and the list of potential photographs that will illustrate that story. I typically take between 500 and 1,000 12-megapixel RAW photos during the course of the day. After dinner I download the images to an external hard drive and edit, deleting the junk and moving keepers into appropriately named collections using Adobe’s Lightroom software. This takes roughly two hours.
Once I have a collection of 20-30 photos, the haggling begins. Helen and I sit down and discuss what shots best tell the day’s story and the order in which they should appear. This means that some of my pet shots don’t make the cut because they don’t fit the story. Conversely, sometimes Helen has to do extra reporting so we can include a really outstanding image.
While Helen is writing, I do some basic tone and color corrections, size the images for the web, and email the photos to the editor and web designer back at our home base, the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution. The entire process is usually finished by 10pm. Then I format the compactflash cards and head back out on deck to catch the last hour of light and some nighttime science operations. It always pays to work ahead because there are no days off until we get back to the pier on May 12.