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Staying sharp: A veteran news shooter seeks new challenges - Continued

High Jump: Stefan Holm of Sweden winning the men's high jump gold medal at the 2004 Olympic Games in Athens. Nikon D1H, Nikkor 400mm f/2.8. (Photo by Jens Dresling/Politiken)

Dresling's embrace of new challenges does not necessarily extend to radical experiments in style. He has maintained what he thinks of as a "classic" photojournalism approach even as some of his colleagues have gained notoriety for a more stylized look, sometimes called the "Danish wave". This newer style is characterized by, among other things, heavy use of very wide angle lenses close to the subject, unusual framing, and intentionally dark or even silhouetted exposures.

"It's photography where ... you would go more for the feelings, rather than the hard news," says Per Folkver, who has seen plenty of it from his editor's desk and believes it is a waning trend. "Sometimes the young photographers are standing in front of the story. They're preventing me from seeing the story because they are saying, 'Look at me, I'm a good photographer.' I say to young photographers, 'I don't need you to tell me you're a good photographer. I need you to tell me a good story.'"

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Great Danes: The Danish women's handball team captures the gold medal at the 2004 Olympic Games in Athens (they won gold in 2000 and 1996 also). Nikon D1H, Nikkor 80-200mm f/2.8. (Photo by Jens Dresling/Politiken) 

What Dresling calls the "classic" news photographer approach relies more on telephoto lenses, exposures and compositions that clearly reveal the subject and content of the picture, and an observer's point-of-view, rather than a participant's.

"I'm taking pictures for the readers," Dresling says. They should be able "to see what's in the picture. I always try to keep my pictures in balance, so nothing is on the way out of the picture, and people are not looking out of the picture, and there's not half a bottle in the bottom of the picture or something."

When the circumstances require it, he will not hesitate to put himself in the middle of the action with a wide-angle lens, the photographer says. But he doesn't believe it should be standard practice for every assignment. "It makes you part of the scene. I'm old-fashioned. I don't think it's wise to interfere with what's going on. I am as low key as I can get. You can't be invisible. It's impossible. But you can be as much out of the scene as possible."

Describing Dresling's observational approach, Per Folkver says, "He's very fast. He has a very good eye. He is very aware of what the exact concentrated moment will be in different stories. He is prepared to press the button when he feels it's now."

Despite calling himself  "old-fashioned", Dresling is careful to emphasize that he has no blanket prejudice against new shooting styles. "You have to keep an open mind and look into [them]," he says, "because otherwise you'll just be an old-timer sitting there mumbling in your beer and doing nothing. But if it's not holding water, I'll just drop it and say, 'Okay, fine, do that, and I'll do this.'"

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One Light: A portrait of Social Democrats party leader Helle Thorning-Schmidt at the Parliament in Copenhagen, 2005. Canon EOS-1D Mark II, EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS USM, ISO 200, photo is lit by an off-camera Canon Speedlite 580EX. (Photo by Jens Dresling/Politiken)

Some of the stylistic adventurism that makes Dresling wary arises from trying to wring a great picture out of an assignment, or a scene, that can't support it. Like any news photographer who still cares about what he's doing, Dresling is constantly negotiating a tricky balance. On one hand is his desire to make something different and better. On the other hand is the basic production reality that the paper needs pictures every day no matter what.

"When the Americans entered Iraq, you got two or three weeks of good, solid news photography," he says by way of example. "Then things calmed down a bit, and nothing was happening. Then you started to get tilted horizons. You can do that, if there's a story there - all four corners of the frame. But too often it's just frustration - there's no picture there, so I'll tilt the camera.

"If you're working on a daily paper, you have to compromise all the time, in a lot of different ways. Sometimes I get really good assignments, and sometimes the assignments are not so good. I work for Politiken. I'm paid to do this job. If you're on the night shift, and they really need a picture for page two, and it's a lousy picture, but it will save the newspaper for tomorrow, you're going to shoot it. You have to get the story and go on to the next one."

Compromises or not, to talk to Dresling about news photography is to speak to a man who is doing what he was made for. Lars Krabbe, a staff photographer at Denmark's largest newspaper, Jyllands-Posten, has been Dresling's friend and competitor for nearly twenty years. "He's a real newsman," says Krabbe. "He doesn't want to miss anything. He's driving around with his police radio. He trades his weekends so he can be at the best spots, the best games. I admire that he still loves to play. He still thinks it's the most wonderful occupation you can have. He is always trying to improve and see things in a different way. And he doesn't keep the new techniques a secret. He always shares them. I really learned a lot [from him] in my old age!"

"No matter what assignment you do," Dresling says, "it's a fantastic job to work at the newspaper. No two days are the same. I like shooting sports. I like shooting spot news - shooting anything where you can't [redo] it. It sharpens your skills. I like working close to deadline, because it makes my concentration better. I like late games, transmitting fifteen minutes before deadline. I think the best thing about this job is when I go to work I don't know what the day's going to look like. It can start slow in the morning and then suddenly everything is happening."

Fast Shadow: A soggy race at the World Championships in Athletics in Helsinki, 2005. Canon EOS-1D Mark II, EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS USM, ISO 400. (Photo by Jens Dresling/Politiken)

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