Friday, May 9, 2014

Q&A #5: Tips from ONPA Photographer of the Year Katie Rausch: Edit tight, have clarity of purpose, get feedback

Vandercook Lake's senior Chad Marriott, is congratulated after his team's win of Thursday night's home game against East Jackson. The Jayhawks were able to overcome an early deficit to pull ahead and win a share of the Cascades Conference championship for the first time since their 1969-70 season. (Photos by Katie Rausch)
Surfers take advantage of high waves generated by a storm over Lake Michigan at Grand Haven State Park. Surfers who brave the Great Lakes often take to the water when the waves are higher during the winter months.  
Katie Rausch (Photo by Nick Dentamaro)
She has only been at the Toledo Blade since 2012, but already the Michigan State grad has made a name for herself.

   The Ohio News Photographers Association (ONPA) recently named Katie Rausch the Ohio News Photographer of the Year (POY) for 2013.
   This is a remarkable win, considering Katie, only 26, was up against powerhouses like The Plain Dealer and The Columbus Dispatch.
   Though Katie didn't place but once in the single categories, her well-rounded POY package showed she could shoot it all: sports, news, features and photo stories. As one of her prizes, Katie won a Canon 5D Mark III body, which retails around $3,000.
   It was rather fitting that she learned of her victory while attending The Image, Deconstructed workshop April 12 at the campus of The University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. Katie is always learning and striving to improve, which is why she is so deserving of this title.
   I can’t tell you how thrilled I am to share Katie’s inspirational words of advice and youthful wisdom. So, without further delay, meet Katie Rausch:
Q: How did you end up at the Toledo Blade?
A: First of all, I’d like to say thank you for your kind words and introduction.
I came to The Blade in July 2012 after spending six months living in my parents’ basement, trying to freelance locally. I was laid off from my full-time staff position with The Jackson Citizen-Patriot in Jackson, Mich. at the beginning of January 2012.
   In 2009 I graduated from Michigan State University and started my third and final internship in Jackson. I’d been interning with the paper for a semester when two positions opened up within the same month. They hired me just before New Years and I continued with the Cit Pat for the next two years. The paper was open to a lot of visual storytelling ideas, and the staff, my editor J. Scott Park and fellow photojournalist Nick Dentamaro, were fantastic to work with. Unfortunately, in the fall of 2012 we were told 71 out of the 100 people working in my building would be laid off together.
   It was a tough transition, and a great lesson about the importance of having a plan B. I will say, though, that in my six months away from full-time employment I was able to do a lot of soul searching. Having that time to really reflect on my life gave me a measure of clarity about the choices I had made. Specifically, my desire to work for newspapers was really solidified. In a way, I’m grateful I was able to get something productive out of such a difficult experience. I’ve always loved documenting the lives of the people around me visually, and I’ve loved working for newspapers from day one. My path here wasn’t exactly planned, but I am so thankful The Blade took a chance on me. It’s amazing to get up every day and go to a job I love.
Gale Hammett meets with her son at the Jackson County Jail.
Q: When you were putting your portfolio together for the ONPA, what was your thought processes on the images you selected?
A: Well, they always say, “Edit tight.” I felt that though I’d shot more than one longer piece over the course of 2013, I didn’t really have enough to put together two strong stories. It seems like every time I watched photo contest judging live, the weakest photograph or element of a portfolio pulls it down, so I made my selections with that in mind. I attempted to make each frame worthy of the one before and after. Apparently, the judges liked that approach to editing.
Q: As we all know, photography is so subjective. Winners and losers depend on the judges for any particular contest. What do you think the ONPA judges saw in your winning portfolio, which included a photo story of medical marijuana usage, and a portrait of a mother with her quadruplets?
A: Again, I think consistency is key. I really tried to make each picture count, and to exclude anything that didn’t fit or wasn’t as strong. There were single frames I really loved that I cut because they didn’t fit the flow or visual feel of the portfolio overall. My portfolio isn’t perfect by any means, but I do think it’s a good representation of where I am in my development as a shooter and what my abilities are now.
   I think it’s also noteworthy that with the exception of one single image, nothing else from my portfolio was recognized by the judges. In this case, I think that’s an endorsement of cohesion of style, purpose and content in a portfolio.  
Q: When you were attending the Image, Deconstructed workshop, what's the one thing that has stuck with you, even now?
A: The Image, Deconstructed was a really wonderful experience overall, so it’s difficult to choose one element that stood out. If I had to pick, I suppose I was really struck by the fact each one of the presenters emphasized clarity of purpose in one way or another. They each had a good gasp of their personal vision and went for it, even when doing that was hard or they were discouraged by outside forces. That common thread seemed present in the success of every one of the presenters, and it’s something I’ve given a lot of thought to since leaving the workshop.
   What is it that I’m trying to say with my work? What is it that I’m trying to accomplish? I imagine if I could answer those questions more fully I’d have a better path forward.
Q: Do you have any advice for photojournalists when it comes to submitting to contests?
A: First of all, I think it’s immensely important to remember that contests aren’t everything. So many wonderful photographers do work that goes unrecognized by contests every day and it doesn’t make any of it less significant or well done. I have had years where the work I was most proud of didn’t even get a second glance from judges and years where I’ve been astounded by what won. So, as you mentioned before Lori, it is really subjective.
   I’d definitely encourage anyone looking to apply to a contest or job to seek extensive feedback from editors and peers. Often times a fresh set of eyes can really help reshape work for the better. I’ve found criticism, while sometimes painful, to be the one of my best teachers. While not all criticism is constructive, being open to seeing something differently can really help you grow. I know that’s been the case for me. 
   But I think the most important thing to remember in any situation is that you need to try. Contests aren’t everything, but they can help your career and it is, of course, lovely to receive acknowledgment. This year I felt like my tight edit would either be very well or very negatively received. I tend to apply rather ambitiously for contests, and would encourage any photographer to do so. That’s the point: you never know until you try. I think that’s a philosophy that’s applicable whether that’s taking on a daunting personal project, tackling a challenging assignment, or applying for a grant.
   On a final note, I want to say thank you again for your time and consideration, Lori. It’s been a pleasure working with you, and the rest of my fellow staffers at The Blade.
Katie in Bogota, Columbia. (Photo by Monica Weeks)
To view her website, go to

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