Roughly six months after Logan Hannigan-Downs took the diploma walk at Philomath High School, this young man approached me about the possibility of shooting photos for the Philomath News.
Logan didn’t ask for any money and in fact, he had been giving me money through a $7 per month membership. He just wanted in-the-field photography experience while building a portfolio so that he could pursue a professional career.
Letter to the Editor: Every once in a while, someone steps out of the peripheral of our lives and makes a positive impression on how we see the world. Such has been the case as I’ve gotten to know Logan Hannigan-Downs over the past several years.
Well, his career is off and running with a full-time position at The Eagle, a daily newspaper in Bryan-College Station, Texas. Among his assignments will be shooting photos of Texas A&M athletics, including a pretty successful football program, along with the variety of day-to-day breaking news and features.
“In high school, I didn’t even want to go into photography, I wanted to go into disaster management working for FEMA or the Red Cross,” Logan told me a few days before he left for Texas last week. “But once I decided I wanted to do photography … I sort of bet on myself, as people say, forming connections, meeting people and talking, and just being friendly. That’s a big part of it.”
Networking can go a long way when it comes to pursuing a dream. Logan’s very good with presenting himself. Make no mistake — there were sacrifices that he had to make along the way.
Starting with Philomath News, I wasn’t in a position to pay him anything over those first months as he started shooting for me less than two months after I launched. I gave him my spare Philomath News jacket to wear and told him that I’d continue to list him on the Wall of Support but that I’m not taking anymore membership money from him. I know, small stuff for what he was contributing to my cause but it’s all I could do at the time.
Eventually, I reached a level of comfort with the finances to give him a meager $25 per assignment — which is very low pay for what he was doing for my news site. And whenever he covered something for me on the road, I’d give him some cash to cover the gas expense.
“There’s been a lot of sacrifices — knowing that I needed to spend a fair amount of money to get the gear I wanted … and working for free and building a portfolio,” Logan said. “I’ve always looked to other photographers’ work. Some Getty photographers really inspire me just because they’re the best of the best. So, I try to make my images sort of look like Getty — clean backgrounds, peak action, straight horizontal lines, good color. Just going through that and finding my own vision and what I want my photos to look like.”
My background in journalism is primarily as a writer. Sure, I took photojournalism classes in college millions of years ago and one summer at a daily handling darkroom duties, but for years while working at large newspapers, I wasn’t required to operate a camera. When I started to settle down into family life and opted for smaller newspapers, that’s when I got back into it. Of course, it’s a big part of my job now.
The point with all of that is I didn’t have a ton of great photography advice for Logan. But you know, he didn’t really need that from me because he already had enough experiences to find his way pretty well. The only real advice I passed on were the sort of ground rules for shooting sports (which is what he did the most for me) — don’t interact with the athletes or coaches during games, pay attention to the OSAA’s photography guidelines and represent Philomath News as a professional.
Late last spring, Logan came to me and talked about an internship opportunity he had with the G-T and D-H over in Albany. Right up front, he offered to pass on the opportunity if I felt weird about it — him knowing that my employment with that particular company didn’t exactly end on a high note. Of course, I wasn’t going to ask him to not take advantage of the gig. There’s only so much you can get out of freelancing for the Philomath News.
At the daily, he’d be able to gain experience as part of a professional photography staff working on deadline and enjoying more exposure than I’m able to give him. So, yes, he needed to do the internship to enhance that résumé and further build his portfolio. Plus, I remember my internships back in college — I learned more about journalism doing those than I ever did in the classroom.
Still, even without the internship, Logan had done quite a job for himself building his “clips.”
“Last summer, I was able to shadow a New York Times photographer at the Caldor fire near South Lake Tahoe,” Logan said. “I was down there for a week and it was one of the coolest experiences I’ve ever had. In California, photographers and media are allowed through fire lines and can just go wherever they want. So you had to think about your safety and the firefighters’ safety and you can’t just go run wild.”
Logan’s wildfire photos weren’t published — he did it for the experience. Another example of sacrifice.
“I didn’t make a dime from that trip — gas money, hotels, but it was something I wasn’t going to pass up,” he said.
Beyond the shooting experience, he also learned in other ways.
“On one of the days, we couldn’t find any fires, just helicopters working, so we hiked about a mile down a 30, 40% grade through forest,” he said. “And then the winds shifted and the fire started coming right at us. We hightailed it up the hill … it was about 8,000 feet elevation and we were both exhausted. But we made it to the vehicles. I learned my lesson.”
I’ve known many photographers over the years and Logan has that same mentality. They will often put themselves in danger to get the great award-winning shot. Sometimes, they just can’t resist. But hopefully, he’ll think through any future situations and keep himself out of danger.
Logan also picked up some great experience through an internship with TrackTown USA. He covered all of the big meets, including the World Athletics Championships last summer in Eugene.
“That was super cool. I had creative liberty, too with cameras wherever I wanted, so we tried some fun things,” he said.
For example, putting camera mics right above the water in the steeplechase pit facing out. “We got a pretty cool result from that.”
Logan also was able to shoot the NCAA men’s basketball tournament in Portland, which included Gonzaga.
Sports, he admits, is his favorite to shoot but he also has an interest in general news.
“I also want to get into breaking news — conflict, natural disaster photography,” he said. “I think that would be really interesting.”
I knew Logan pretty well when he was in high school. He’s always been a friendly kid and he would even go out of his way to line up interviews for me with students — like when he was a student manager with the girls basketball team. He was also an athlete himself in a few different sports so I also knew him in that way.
Over the past year, he has taken some classes at Linn-Benton Community College and he served as the sports editor of its newspaper. But he’s primarily bypassed the traditional college route and plunged himself right into the middle of the profession he wants to pursue.
“I’ve been told, especially in photography, that your work will speak for itself,” he said.
So now, he’s in Texas. I took a look at the newspaper’s website Thursday and sure enough, Logan had the top photo on Page 1 above the fold.
“Seventy percent of my job will be covering Texas A&M sports and high school football,” Logan said — and remember, he’s in Texas, football at every level is a big deal.
Where would he like to see his career go?
“I especially want to be, I think, a staff photographer for the AP or for Getty would be amazing, or the New York Times, Washington Post, European Press Agency, Reuters, any of those,” he said. “Working for a wire would be my dream job either in conflict coverage or sports.”
Logan drove to Texas with his mom a week ago and even in the days before his departure, he was trying to help me. A week before he left, Logan showed up to shoot a Philomath High football game for one last assignment with the Philomath News.
Rising to the top of the profession will be a challenge, no doubt. But I have all of the confidence in the world that he’ll get there. Best of luck, Logan. I’ll be — heck, Philomath — will be watching you.
(Brad Fuqua is publisher/editor of the Philomath News. He can be reached at News@PhilomathNews.com).