How a Hot Photo Was Made From a Mundane Scene

Next Interview

Newspaper photographer Joe Armao reveals his process for making hot photos from an ordinary scene using action and creativity.

PHOTOGRILL: What was your brief for this assignment?

PHOTOGRAPHER: The story was about the kids at Kinglake Primary School who were going to race a fuel-free vehicle that they had designed and built. Kinglake had sent a team to the annual event previously, but the Black Saturday bush-fires made an entry unlikely this year, as parents were too cash-strapped to attend. It’s been a very difficult year and the kids have been under a lot of stress, but they really wanted to do it. So it was a relief, when a commercial sponsor provided funds and the opportunity for some much needed team-building.

PHOTOGRILL: What was your process for designing and making this photo?

PHOTOGRAPHER: On the way to Kinglake , I thought about the best case scenario, a futuristic solar panelled fuel-free vehicle is speeding through burnt out forest. I think I might have expected a bit much from the primary school kids because I was shocked when they wheeled a billy cart around the corner. The picture editor had high expectation for a photo of the students with the fuel-free vehicle. After the Black Saturday fires recovery stories where of great interest to our readers and our editorial team. They would want a page 3 or 5 out of this. We wheeled the billy cart up a slight hill amongst some scrub. The bush around the school hadn’t been effected by the fire. I asked one of the drivers to jump in and one of the other students pushed as fast as they could, I had the other 3 team members cheer as the cart went past. I used a wide angle lens with a slow shutter speed and panned as they zoomed passed to create movement in the image but I wasn’t happy with the result. I needed to changed my approach, instead of photographing from side on I decided to photograph head on, changing the shape of the picture and reducing the amount of the cart that would be seen. It made the picture more about the students, which is the real story, and less about the cart.

Shooting head on meant I needed to change the location to a spot with bush on both sides. Instead of going as fast as they could I asked the students to slow down so I could pan running backward, from in front of the cart using an even slower shutter speed. After trying a various shutter speeds I chose the one that resulted in the most movement, without blurring the driver’s face. Using the motor-drive at 9 frames per second I was getting 1 or 2 useable frames. But with only a few students in  the picture it still lacked atmosphere. The photo needed more excitement.

Kinglake Primary is a very small school, so I asked the principal if we could bring all the students out of their classes to cheer on their school mates. Soon the whole school was surrounding the cart as it was pushed along, and I ran backwards shooting pictures. After 3 or 4 more runs with high fives I finally got a couple of photographs that I could happily file for the editor’s conference.

PHOTOGRILL: Have you used this visual technique on other assignments?

PHOTOGRAPHER: On a more recent occasion I was ask to get the first snow picture of the year. I was off to Mt Buller armed with the name and phone number of the public relations girl. Once again, on the way I thought about what would be the best possible outcome. I had an idea to mount a camera to the front of a toboggan with a wide angle lens. I’d use a slow shutter speed to show the moment and a remote control to activate the camera. I arranged it with the PR by phone. The shoot was off to a good start. When I arrived and met with the my contact, she informed me that there was not really anyone on the mountain. No kids, no students, no tourists. No one comes here until the snow season starts later in the year. But there was a girl in the office who might be in a photo.

PHOTOGRILL: How did you make the photo this time?

PHOTOGRAPHER: I rigged up the toboggan with a clamp, Nikon D3, 14mm lens and remote release. We set out to a nice snow covered slope with trees on both sides. It was a very over cast day, the sky was as white as the snow. So the trees blurring on both sides would be needed to show movement, and to minimise the amount of flat looking sky in the shot. But the mounted remote camera was a disaster, it was too heavy and it dug into the snow preventing the toboggan from going anywhere. I whipped the camera off the toboggan and tried panning but that wasn’t working either. I thought that if I was going down the hill in front of the toboggan looking back, the girl would be in the centre of the frame with movement all around her, and that could look good. So I grabbed a second toboggan and slowly went down the slop backwards, the PR girl guided my toboggan while I photographed my subject on another one.

I was starting to get the result I wanted, except there was too much movement in the girls face because we were going down at slightly different speeds. So at that point I decided to ride the toboggan backward down the snow slope with a camera in one hand while holding on to my subjects right foot with the other, so that we were traveling at the same speed. When I was ready to make the shot I quickly let go of her foot and started a motor-drive sequence as soon my hand was out of the frame. It was just good enough to stop the movement in her face. We did the run 6 or 7 times, shooting about 20 pics each time. I was happy with 3 or 4 frames. I filed the shots from my laptop with a wireless connection in time for 3pm conference.

PHOTOGRILL: What attracts you personally to newspaper photography?

PHOTOGRAPHER: I love meeting people and hearing their stories. Not famous people so much but everyday people, and I love the challenge of making a picture from any situation. I generally do not leave a job until I’m happy with the picture I’ve taken.

I enjoy covering sporting events purely for the photography. People have said to me “it must be great going to the football, sitting on the boundary line taking photos”, and it is great. Though I don’t really like football, I don’t care who wins or losses. All I care about is the getting the best picture possible. Whether it’s the best player on the ground, or a great mark, as long at it happens in front of me and I get the shot, I’m happy.

Next Interview

Buy Joe Armao’s images at






Please Share...

  • Email

6 Responses to “How a Hot Photo Was Made From a Mundane Scene”

  1. We find this stuff interesting.keep it up..!

  2. Robin Ks says:

    I can Feel the speed………kudos to the p.grapher
    via Facebook

  3. Jean Loper Photography says:

    Outstanding photo!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
    via Facebook

  4. Helena Aprelkoff says:

    Incrível a sensação de movimento !
    via Facebook

  5. Nielsany Chua says:

    via Facebook

  6. Dan Crisan says:

    via Facebook

Leave a Reply