Job shadowing photojournalist Neil Blake

The first time I knew what I wanted to be I was in 7th grade reading a book about a journalist working at a magazine. Hanging on every word, I thought to myself: ‘is this job fiction or just the storyline???’  Much to my relief, the job was real! And flashback to September, when my dream turned reality for the night.

Neil Blake is a graduate of the photojournalism program at Central Michigan University. He now resides in Grand Rapids where he works at mLIVE Media Group. His work experience includes The Midland Daily News, and The Herald (Jasper, Ind.) or the Concord Monitor.

The office of mLive is located in a building that overlooks the skyline of Grand Rapids from Rosa Parks circle. When I walked in the office I was lead up steps that were suspended and modern. When I reached the second floor I was at a loss for words. The windows lended to the newsroom reaching from floor to ceiling, creating a contemporary and uplifting workspace.  At 5 o'clock on a Friday, people were still bustling about finishing their tasks for production. The walls were lined with pictures and whiteboards, planning the next edition to the paper and online edition.

Before we headed to Holland for the game Neil did some prep work in the office, this helped things run more smoothly once we were on location. He showed me how to create a code in a program that matches the roster of players. This helped him caption quickly before uploads. He also did a batch caption, meaning every photo when pulled up on photo mechanic had the same ending sentence telling when and where the photo was taken. The photographers at mLive are responsible for live posting their photos, the idea being they upload photos before the game, during half time, and immediately following the conclusion of the game. This creates a work environment that is fast paced and heavily reliant on efficiency.

Neil has a strong sense of spotting the story telling moments of the game. Rather than focusing only on the action of players, he concerned himself with the entire dynamic of the game. He would photograph the players on the field, and then would turn around between plays to see what the crowd, bench, band, etc. was up to. He positioned himself to capture compelling pictures of the crowd, cheerleaders, and coaches.

A good example of this came about third quarter. He told me one shot he still wanted was a crowd reaction. He waited until kick-off to station himself in the front of the student section. I think the reason he waited was because the students often react to the camera, and we know first hand that rarely makes a compelling photo.  In this particular moment the home team kicked off, and the away team returned the ball for a touchdown. There were a row of girls in the front row of the home teams student section gasping and shouting. Afterward he got their names and class standing for the caption.

When the game was over we headed to the press box to finish editing for the post game upload. For the final gallery each mLive photographer is expected to have anywhere between 30-40 photos in their gallery. The first five are posted before the game, the second five are posted at half time, and the following 20-30 are posted after the game.

A great point to take from my experience with Neil is the obligation of goals. I use the word obligation purposefully. Obligation is defined as “something by which a person is bound or obliged to do certain things, and which arises out of a sense of duty or results from custom, law, etc.”

One of the most powerful things he told me was that his dream job post graduation was to work at the Midland Daily News. He stressed the words dream job. It was a goal, with disregard to its attainability, it was a goal. He reflected a lot on how there were times on this journey that he genuinely tried to quit, but doors would just open for him at the last minute, and so he went on. Within two years of his graduation, his dream came true.

Sometimes I am apprehensive to set goals/dreams simply because it reminds me a lot of this quote: "Whenever I draw a circle, I immediately want to step out of it." - R. Buckminster Fuller

Often times when I imagine myself just doing one job I get a fit of anxiety. How could I possibly choose just ONE path? And what if I make the wrong choice? Is it even possible to make the wrong choice? I walk around with an incredible pull toward the concept of my future, but I have a hard time committing to a vision, as it seems altogether unreliable. While I am still fairly uncertain about what my next step will be after graduation I realize the necessity to figure it out. I am determined to find some kind of goal that is not only obtainable but appealing. I want to work relentlessly towards it.

Hanging out with Neil proved to me that believing in yourself and your goal is the start of your journey, not the finish.