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Shoeleather Journalism in the Digital Age

Shoeleather Journalism
in the Digital Age

1ON1: Through the lens with Arizona photographer Arianna Grainey

Photo by: Leavitt Wells / Leave it to Leavitt Photography
By Terrance Thornton | Digital Free Press

There is no stronger combination in media than compelling writing coupled with expert photography enhancing an outlet’s ability to tell meaningful stories that matter to local residents.

Queen Creek resident Arianna Grainey is an expert news and sports photographer who has single-handedly transformed local news pages into pieces of media worthy of being framed, admired and something to aspire toward. Ms. Grainey is a freelance photographer working throughout the Phoenix metropolitan area turning visual storytelling to something beyond “copy and art.”

She comes from Toledo, Ohio, but calls the Town of Queen Creek home having attended Basha High School and a graduate of the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication at Arizona State University.

While in college, she interned with Pete Vander Stoep, staff photographer of the Arizona Cardinals and Arizona State University athletics. Her first job was as a freelance photographer for (East Valley) Tribune Newspapers from 2014 to 2015.

After graduating in 2014, she worked for Independent Newsmedia covering Queen Creek and Apache Junction. She has also worked for major universities, including Arizona State, Oregon, Western Michigan, Duke, Illinois State, South Dakota, Wichita State and Texas Christian. She has also photographed for local professional teams, including Phoenix Rising FC and FC Arizona, and been contracted by the U.S. national soccer team, Sports Illustrated, the Pacific 12 Conference and the Arizona Republic.

Over the past decade, Ms. Grainey has dominated the local journalism award circuit receiving more than 50 awards for news coverage with most coming from the Arizona Newspapers Association and the Arizona Press Club.

Her photography both locally and across the nation award repertoire is staggering.

Furthermore — in 2016, 2020 and 2021 — she was named photographer of the year by ANA. In 2019 and 2020, she was named photographer of the year by Arizona Press Club. Her awards have been for photography and writing, as well as video news packages. She was a finalist for a Mark of Excellence honor in television sports reporting from the Society of Professional Journalists and received an honorable mention from the Broadcast Education Association in the TV sports news program category.

In 2011, she was a finalist in a National Archives and Records photo mash-up contest, in which her photo was featured in a postcard book. In 2022, she was named a finalist in the World Sports Photography Awards.

To better understand the woman behind the lens, the Arizona Digital Free Press & Scottsdale Daily Beat asked if Ms. Grainey would sit down and explain her approach to photojournalism. This is what she had to say:

1ON1 with Arianna Grainey:

•Where does your love for photography come from?
I have always loved photography. My parents got me a little Polaroid camera when I was about 5. I have been enjoyed taking photos on family trips. Because of my dad’s job, I was in 20 countries before I was 15 so I was always taking photos on those trips. But I fell in love with sports photography when I was in college. One of my professors gave me a credential to cover high school football. Then shortly after that semester I reached out to ASU to shoot their gymnastics team. I was a gymnast growing up and loved it but stopped competing when I moved to Arizona.

•What do you think makes an image special?
An image that is special is one that makes the viewer stop and spend more a little more time looking. We are surrounded by all images all day, every day. But to find that one thing that will capture and tell a story is the challenge. Anything can make an image special. Sometimes it’s the colors, sometimes it’s the shadow. Sometimes it’s the story behind the image that no one may ever know.

•Is it the equipment or the photographer that makes the end result one-of-kind?
It’s both. Ultimately the photographer is the one seeing the scene and pushing the button but there are instances where you need a long lens to tell the story. You aren’t going to be taking a sports action photo with a 16-33mm lens and expecting to get a great shot when the football player is 40 yards out. But that lens may make an incredible image if there is a dust storm rolling in over the football field.

1ON1 with Arianna Grainey:

•What do you think makes a good news photograph?
The makings of a good news photograph comes from being able to tell a full story in a single image. A lot of times, we don’t have a lot of space in the printed papers, so we have to be able to tell that story in one shot. But then I start looking at a way I can show something a little more creatively.

•How do you approach shooting a live event?
First I try to get my “need” shots. Those are the standard front facing person at the podium or exterior or the building. Scene-setting shots that will run. Then I spend the rest of the time using other lens to get a little more creative. I’ll look to see if there’s something I can stand on to get a higher angle. I may start to play with highlights or reflections. Then I will look at other details that might make a good shot. Tight shots on someone’s rings or their shoes.

•What equipment do you use and do you bring different gear for different assignments?
I use a mix of Canon and Sony bodies and lenses. For most assignments I bring three lenses: a wide, a telephoto and a super telephoto. I use a 16-35, a 70-200 and a 200-600. It allows me to cover every inch of a room with a quick switch of a lens.

•What is your favorite assignment to take on?
I have a few. I love to photograph sports — any sport, any level. Some of my favorites are gymnastics, football and high school baseball. Pro and college sports are super amazing experiences but there is something about shooting the game at the high school level where there’s tons of emotions.
I also love community events including parades, and festivals. The community events are just a wealth of great images. You can always get kids doing cute things. One of my favorite community shots I took at a parade where a little boy is waving an old-style military truck in a veterans’ parade.
I also love anything with animals. Dog park opening? Animal Shelter? Zoo? I am there! It’s a known thing with one of my clients that if I am at a community event and there are dogs there, I will find and befriend every single dog and photograph them.

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