City College instructor contributes to ‘The Bible of photojournalism’

Mariana Santamaria, Staff Writer

Twenty-five years after being inspired by the work on its pages, photojournalism instructor Mike Eliason will have his photos featured in “the Bible of photojournalism.”

A few weeks ago, Eliason received an e-mail from renowned author and photographer Kenneth Kobré, expressing his interest in publishing a special section of Eliason’s photos and tips for safely shooting wildfire in the 7th edition of his textbook “Photojournalism: The Professional’s Approach.”

“I purchased the first edition 25 years ago when I first started shooting, and it was a huge inspiration to me,” Eliason said. “I’ve kept it ever since.”

In 1989, Eliason was hired as a staff photographer for the Santa Barbara News–Press. There he had time to hone his craft, as opportunities for shooting wildfires have been abundant over the years.

“Most people may consider it dangerous,” Eliason says. “But I don’t.”

Eliason has over the years developed a comprehensive knowledge of the Santa Barbara area, which allow him to always be prepared, and in the right place at the right time for the shot.

“Mike anticipates news and the peak moment,” said Len Wood, Eliason’s former editor at the News Press. “Part of that comes from his natural talent, but more comes from his desire to work hard to shoot the great picture.”

Eliason started instructing photojournalism at City College five years ago, and he is dedicated to show his students the real business of the art.

While he said being included in the book gives him a “tremendous sense of accomplishment,” more than personal recognition, Eliason hope his contribution will help inspire budding photography students the way it inspired him years ago.

“It gives the program and the school a lot of recognition,” Eliason said. “Hopefully it will resonate with the students to be able to open up their book and say ‘there’s my teacher’s picture.'”

Students in Eliason’s class have the unique opportunity of learning how to safely photograph fires in a simulation session at the Fire Department Training Facility.

“I hope students walk away from the class after sixteen weeks with an understanding of the complexity of photojournalism,” Eliason said.

Eliason has won dozens of awards from organizations like the Associated Press and California Newspaper Publishers Association, but doesn’t let it go to his head.

“Mike is a really fantastic shooter, and yet he has no ego,” says Robby Barthelmess, freelance photographer for the News-Press and one of Eliason’s former students.

Eliason’s humble nature is reflected in one of the sayings he preaches to his students: You’re only as good as your last shot.

“What pushes me is that no matter if the picture ends up in the [bottom of a] birdcage, everyday you have to start all over again. And that’s the challenge,” Eliason said.

Kobré, a Pulitzer Prize nominee and Professor at San Francisco State University, selected Eliason’s work to be used in his book, which is considered the definitive photojournalism textbook.

“Eliason’s work as a photojournalist is outstanding,” Kobré says. “He has captured some very exciting fire photos, and he knows a great deal about how to cover a fire.”

—James Sinclair contributed to this report