Erika Schultz has worked at the Seattle Times as a staff photographer for nine years. Her work has been recognized by the Society of Professional Journalists and several other organizations, and she was part of a Seattle Times team that won the 2010 Pulitzer Prize for Breaking News Reporting.
Originally from Wyoming, Schultz started out wanting to be a writer, but was captivated by a photojournalism class she took in college. Several jobs and internships later, she joined the Times as an photo intern, where she has since worked as a photographer, videographer and sometimes writer.
During winter quarter of 2016, she is teaching COM 364, Journalism in a Diverse Society, incorporating photojournalism into the course work.
On February 6 she was a guest of SPJ UW’s first winter quarter meeting of 2016, where she shared examples of her work, told behind the scenes stories of creating it, and offered her advice to students.
Advice for young journalists
“Just say yes to everything,” is one piece of Schultz’s advice to early-career journalists. Because no one will give you a dream job right away, it always helps to work on small projects (even if they’re unpaid) to build up a portfolio of work. Schultz said she worked as hard as she could, and she advises others do the same. Treating others well and not cutting them down can go a long way. So can manners.
Internships, and especially mentors, are very important. Aspiring journalists should choose a mentor with a similar vision, who they can show examples of their work and get feedback
“Don’t be afraid to tap people.” Schultz gave the example of a photojournalism student she knew who made a point to have coffee with a professional photojournalist almost every week. Professionals are usually happy to hear from young people and see their work.
For students interested in improving their photography, Schultz recommends attending conferences, following websites like the Online News Association and drawing on all sorts of sources for inspiration: newspapers, magazines, online media. “Trust what’s interesting to you.”
“Don’t be afraid to tap people”
Schultz brings a camera almost everywhere she goes so she’s ready to capture fleeting moments of beauty.
“I just think life is really beautiful,” she said. Being open to this beauty is key to improving as a photographer.
Nuts and bolts of shooting video
As well as being a photographer, Schultz shoots videos for the Times, often in collaboration with staff videographers Corrine Chin and Lauren Frohne. She avoids trying to shoot video and photos at the same time, as each requires a lot of attention. On video shoots, Schultz brings a tripod, one or two cameras and one or two lenses to switch out.
An important part of her process is conducting a pre-interview with the video subjects. This way she can find out what opportunities there are to shoot video, such as following someone in their daily routine. The pre-interview also gives her ideas for good questions to ask while the cameras are rolling.
When interviewing for video, Schultz recommends asking twofold questions to get more complete answers. For example, “What is the most important part of your day — and why?”
“Why” is often the single most important question to ask people, Schultz said. She’s always hoping to learn what her interview subjects are working to overcome in their lives — what challenges they face.
“I just think life is really beautiful”
Another important part of making videos is making sure the subjects know how the process will go — how long it will take, and where it will be published. Schultz makes sure to find out if her subjects have any sensitivities or concerns about being on camera.
Sometimes, people have too much stress in their lives to be at the center of a video at a particular time. And for people with a difficult or controversial past, it’s essential they know that any story about them published online will likely follow them forever.
A behind the scenes look at Schultz’s work
Schultz showed several examples of her videos and photos, and talked about the work that went into creating them.
The first video she showed, was created by Schultz, Lauren Frohne and Corinne Chin, and followed two military widows who met after learning their husbands were buried close together.
Early in the process, Schultz felt the story would lend itself well to video, since it dealt with events that happened in the past.
Schultz touched on the challenges of covering such an emotionally charged story. She said dealing with other people’s emotions gets easier with time, and sometimes the camera can act as a buffer.
Photo and video journalists always strive to not influence the reality they’re recording, but this is always inevitable on some level. Although it’s important for the journalist to minimize their impact on the scene, Schultz said she is definitely not a “fly on the wall” journalist. It’s important to her to form a bond with people, and “ask a million questions.”
The next video Schultz showed, The Family Brand (created with Frohne), follows a young female rancher in eastern Washington who wants to someday take over her father’s ranching business.
While shooting this video, the ranchers were sensitive about how the branding of cattle would be portrayed. “Every time you want to work in a community you have to build trust,” Schultz said. Connecting with the community of ranchers meant eating meals with them. Schultz has found that almost anywhere you go, a good way to connect with people is sharing food, or having the community’s children befriend you.
Next up, Schultz showed the photos she took to illustratea story about immigrant housing issuesin the Seattle area, and a video (created with Corrine Chin) which followed an Iraqi refugee in Seattle who had left his homeland after he was targeted for working with American forces and shot six times. The video shows the man visiting his doctor, cooking and spending time with his family, and skyping with relatives.
Schultz said that when doing stories about other cultures, it’s not uncommon to make mistakes, but the key is to learn from them and move on. For the Iraqi refugee video, she had to make sure not to include footage the family wasn’t comfortable with (such as the man’s wife without her hijab), and they had to make sure naming family members in Iraq wouldn’t put them in danger.
Lastly, Schultz showed a recent Seattle Times piece about online dating.
For this piece, wanting to do something innovative, she took photos taken with an iPhone or camera and put them through a Polaroid filter, then put the photos together in a grid surrounded by an off-white frame for a Polaroid look. The Times team then created an interactive curated video on online dating, inspired by Tinder.
Check out links to that piece and other work by Erika Schultz below:
See more work by Erika Schultz on her online portfolio: