The Free Lance-Star Photography Department shares the stories behind the photos.

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Broken trees, snapping pictures …

damaged tree

Signs have been posted looking for information about who damaged trees along Washington Avenue in Fredericksburg, VA, on Oct. 19, 2010. (Mike Morones/The Free Lance-Star)

People get really excited about different things.

At The Free Lance-Star, we get numerous calls each week from the public:  ”you have to take a picture of my 5-foot-tall tomato plants” or “you need to write a story about the cover up of these side by side dinosaur and human footprints.”

These calls don’t always pan out, but tips from the public are an important asset to our work as journalists.

What I dread about these calls or when an editor comes to my desk with the “can you go snap a picture of this thing/miracle/dinosaur prints” is when I know it’s something that’s not necessarily going to lead to a very good picture.

Such was the case with the vandalized trees near the intersection of Washington Ave and Mary Ball St. I’m not saying that the story is not important, but photographically it’s not what I consider the best opportunity for quality photojournalism. It also didn’t help that the editor added “and people put up signs around the trees.”

A sign picture has as much journalistic worth as a classified ad. You can take my word on that. I went to a high priced college to learn about these kind of things.

So I was pleasantly surprised when Chief Photographer Mike Morones brought back the above picture. The subject matter is a broken tree and won’t mean much to those readers who aren’t directly affected by the vandalism. However, through Mike’s vision and technical prowess he created an image that gave the subject matter much more weight. Will it win a Pulitzer? Hardly, but that’s not the image’s purpose.

Snapping a picture is what you do when you’re taking a group shot at the family reunion. Everyone’s doing that weird head tilt in a futile effort to show more love for the person next to them and the dog end’s up with devil eyes. Beyond making sure that you can see Uncle Bob standing behind your seven-foot tall cousin and pressing the shutter button, there’s not a whole lot of thought that goes into the image making process.

Our job as photojournalists is not to go out and randomly snap pictures. We tell the story through visuals. We focus the reader’s attention on what’s important. Our pictures draw you in when you might not otherwise be interested.

This should have been the image to run in the paper, but the vertical composition created page design issues that could not be overcome, so I was forced to turn to the more obvious image. So I present it here for all to see.

This image had the power to illustrate a story that was important to some of our readers,  but would have been more interesting to many others.

I would stake my expensive highfalutin (I actually looked up the spelling) education on it.