Viewfinder contact sheet

Joy Rai walks out of Courtroom A after the naturalization ceremony. Friday, June 14, 2019

When photojournalists edited film before the digital age, a common approach was to make contact sheets on photographic print paper, which displayed the image frames captured on assignment. When we were really on a tight deadline, we edited directly from negatives and transparencies with Loupe magnifiers.

We’re a bit spoiled now as we edit digital images almost immediately on camera backs or computer screens. But there is a bigger story to be told seeing the images as a group.

Not only do we look for the image that best represents the story, but we get a glimpse into the mind of the photographer and the decisions made in the moment.

In this example, I was on assignment covering a naturalization ceremony at the Lancaster County Courthouse. The succession of images in order begin at bottom right and progress to the top left.

One of the more difficult things we do, especially on deadline, is eliminate most of the images to pick just one. And this boy, named Joy Rai, and his mother, Dil Maya Rai, from Nepal, were just two of the many subjects I photographed and tracked down later to identify.

There are many different criteria we consider depending on the assignment and challenges. The sophisticated equipment and software we use allow us to shoot quickly in low light and poor color environments. Sometimes there are restrictions on what we can photograph, too.

My editing process in this case was to find the one image that displayed the excitement I sensed from Joy (such an appropriate name) and that moment. I kept returning to the image in the middle of the bottom row because Joy’s expression was at an emotional peak. The background wasn’t ideal, but the faces of the mother and son were.

Sometimes we second-guess ourselves later, but the one benefit of a deadline is the need to be decisive. We sense that instant in time before we trip the shutter, and again when we edit. With experience, it becomes easier to make better decisions or to simply accept what we can no longer anticipate.

THE METHOD: Nikon D4S 24-34 mm; 1/250 sec f-4.5; ISO 12800. Processed in Photoshop and Luminar.

Through the Viewfinder is a weekly feature by LNP and LancasterOnline photographers exploring the art of black-and-white and color photography.