Woster: Bringing images to life is a gift

I simply am no good with a camera. It has been that way from the start.

Terry Woster
Terry Woster

Sixty years on, and I still haven’t figured out how to work a camera proficiently.

During those 60 years I had the good fortune of working around and with some great photographers. Several of them were nothing short of artists in the way they saw the world through the lens and in the way they captured what they saw so it could be shared with others — readers of newspapers, usually, because the photographers I worked with worked for news outfits, as I did.

Sometimes, those photographers saw and captured more than what was in the lens. The managed – and I have never understood how – to infuse feeling and emotion into the images they captured. They composed the shots meticulously. They used shadow and light and angles artfully. They simply brought the images, black and white or color, to life.

It’s a gift. I never had it. Still don’t, to tell the truth.

Earlier this week I tried to capture our youngest granddaughter in action for the Chamberlain Cubs at a track meet in Miller. She runs the short distances, mostly, so I could use the excuse that she was just too fast for the camera on my phone. But that doesn’t explain the thumb that obscured part of several frames. It doesn’t explain why only her running spikes appeared in a couple of frames. And it doesn’t explain why the one semi-clear shot I captured had her so far down the track that even her parents couldn’t have identified her without knowing who I was photographing.


I simply am no good with a camera. It has been that way from the start. And the start came in 1963, the fall of the year, on campus at South Dakota State. That’s when I took a course called Press Photography.

I never owned or used a camera before that. A few kids in high school had little point-and-shoots, Brownie Hawkeyes or whatever. Those were the days when film came in 12-exposure rolls. Each frame was precious. It sometimes took weeks, months, before a full roll had been exposed and an additional couple of weeks before the film had been sent off, processed and returned as prints. The whole family would gather around to inspect each of the pictures, and to inspected them again, and again.

In Press Photography, we used boxy Crown Graphics. A film plate you shoved into the camera gave you two exposures. Take a shot, flip the plate, take a shot. The flash attachment had real bulbs. You licked the contacts on the bulb before putting it into the holder. I have no idea why. If you have seen ‘40s or ‘50s movie that includes news photographers, you have probably seen people wielding Crown Graphics.

I’m pretty sure I got a “C’’ in my photo course. Nevertheless, my first full-time job out of college was as a photographer at the Sioux Falls newspaper. I was mediocre. No soul. No eye for detail. I once took a picture of three people, and when I got back to the dark room, I saw that each person appeared to have a tree growing from their head because of my failure to look at the background. The editors were happy when I asked to switch to the sports desk.

The photographers with whom I worked were not like that. They saw every detail in every photo they framed. They worked and worked until they could compose and capture an image that told the story. Photographers call it “making’’ a picture. They say that because it is what they do. Never in my life have I said I “made’’ a picture.

I will always remember when my friend Greg Latza crawled through mud puddles down a dirt street in Red Scaffold on the Cheyenne River Reservation to make a picture of a wild-looking dog gnawing a bone. I thought he was goofy — until I saw the photo that became the main piece of art on a picture page about blizzard survival on the plains.

I am never going to be an actual photographer. I would like to figure out how to get my thumb out of the frame, though.

Opinion by Terry Woster
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