Sunday, March 20, 2016

The Park Service Commemorative Coin

The Mint: This was a neat assignment. I was going to the San Francisco Mint to watch the first strike of a new, 100th Anniversary Commemorative coin honoring the National Parks Service. Since I live relatively close to the mint, I thought the assignment would be pretty easy.

Media people entering the facility were required to have their identifications verified in advance. Once inside the Mint, we were escorted through the standard metal detection protocol, identical to what you'd encounter in an airport. One surprise was the stipulation that no loose change could be brought  into the mint. All of this security was a bit bothersome, since all I was doing was coming to make some "snaps".

The Press Release stated that there would be plenty of Photo Ops, and a large projected image of some redwood trees formed the backdrop for the speakers taking the podium. Here is the newly appointed Chief of Staff of the United States Mint Elisa Basnight, Esq., welcoming the guests to the event.

The honor of striking the first coin went to 94-year old Betty Reid Soskin,  the oldest National Park Ranger in the United States, who is currently assigned to the Rosie the Riveter/World War II Home Front National Historical Park in Richmond, California. At the conclusion of her speech, she turned to the giant press, and prepared to strike the first coin.

There wasn't much to see from my current vantage point in the isle beside the seated audience, so I moved closer to see if a better photo could be made. There wasn't much to see, and I concluded there weren't enough visual clues to help the viewer understand what was going on. It's just as well, since the photo is horribly out of focus.

The media was certainly present. An ABC video crew was to my left, and San Francisco Chronicle photographer Paul Chin was to my right. Mr. Chin did manage to get a shot, but he had the advantage of an entire article to support the photo, whereas I had only a few lines of text to work with.

After a faint "chug", the shiny new coin rolled out of the machine and was caught in special chute. Ms. Soskin picked up the coin with gloved hands, and showed it off the the crowd. By this time everybody who had a camera rushed forward, and started making photos at close range. I managed to get two, which can be seen below.
As you can see, I had some real difficulty photographing the coin. Subtle changes in the coin's orientation altered it appearance, and coupled with the variables of gaze and facial expression, the odds were not in my favor. Also, my position was a too far to camera right, increasing the perceived distance between coin and face.

Second Chance: Things were not going well. Then Ms. Basnight stepped up beside Ms. Soskin, showing off the second newly-minted coin. I re-positioned myself to the left so that the coin was more closely aligned with the face, giving me a much tighter composition.
As you can see, the orientation of the coin was critical. Only the second frame gives a hint of  the coins detail, and the image was in reasonably sharp focus. I leveled and cropped the image to get the following final version.

Almost There: Just about everything now fell into place. The coin was sharp, and Ms. Soskin was just a touch out of focus. You can see that my new position decreased the apparent distance between the hand and and the face, tightening up the composition. Still, I was bothered by the lack of detail in the coin. I knew I could live with this image, but tried to find a way to give the view a closer look at the coin.

I noticed that there was a display table beside the podium with two pre-production samples in holders on a black velvet background, so I quickly made a close-up of the "reverse" (tail) side of the coin to match the one held by Ranger Soskin. I left the Mint, thinking that my editor might choose to run both images, side by side, which I felt would be mutually supportive.

When I returned to my office, I looked over my final choice, and seeing the press in the background, felt it didn't contribute that much to the context of the photo. After a small bit of cropping, I superimposed the image of the coin over the upper left hand corner of the base image, resulting in the final image: A smiling Park Service representative, holding a coin, with a inset of the coin in the upper left hand corner.

I've seen photos like this before in publications other than the Journal, and while it was not a true "exactly as I saw it" photo, it's pretty obvious that the only bit of digital manipulation was the superimposition of the coin over the press. I added the black border to remind the viewer that there were indeed two photos, and no attempt was being made to hide that fact. My editor didn't object to the overlay, and the image ran on Page 2 the following day.

If you're curious, the San Francisco Chronicle ran their own story on Thursday too. You can read it by clicking here.