Winter Play: Behind the scenes, capturing the moment

A person holds a camera while a woman steers a sled behind him
MPR News visual journalist Ben Hovland holds onto his camera as sled dog guide Dawn Lanning steers their sled through the trails at Lake Byllesby Park near Cannon Falls, Minn. on Jan. 17.
Ben Hovland | MPR News

When 10 different reporters set out to try new-to-them winter activities, how do you begin to plan visual coverage for their stories? If you’re the photographer assigned to the project, you might just find yourself trying a new activity or two yourself. 

A person films four people dipping in an ice hole
MPR News visual journalist Ben Hovland films a group of ice hole dippers on Lake Harriet in Minneapolis on Jan. 25.
Courtesy of Nettie Magnuson

As a visual journalist at MPR News, my main goal for this project was to bring our radio stories to a digital audience through compelling photos and videos.

I worked with freelance photojournalists Stephen Maturen, Derek Montgomery and Ann Arbor Miller to film and produce vertical videos that were posted on MPR’s social media channels, and Ben Garvin took the lead on editing each video piece.

A person selfies in a deer stand overlooking a snowy trail
MPR New visual journalist Ben Hovland takes a selfie in an abandoned deer hunting stand on the Arrowhead State Trail near Kabetogama, Minn. on Jan. 30.
Ben Hovland | MPR News

New approaches for new audiences

The digital team at MPR News has made huge strides in growing our audiences through social media engagement. Whether on Instagram, Facebook or our recently-launched TikTok account, it’s clear that we reach a large (and often younger) segment of our readers through these digital-first channels.

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The resulting series of nine unique video pieces and accompanying still images was truly a team effort, featuring the work of talented visual journalists from across Minnesota. 

Two people take a selfie. They are wearing bike helmets
MPR News photojournalist Ben Hovland (right) takes a selfie with reporter Kirsti Marohn while fatbiking at Cuyuna Lakes Mountain Bike Trails near Ironton, Minn. Jan. 14.
Ben Hovland | MPR News

New experiences all round

Turning the cameras on my own colleagues was a new experience. All of them rose to the challenge of learning a new activity in stride, and I appreciated the vulnerability they showed by sharing their cold-inspired apprehensions and fat tire wipe-outs

I think those moments really resonate with anyone who is trying something for the first time.

Did our team run into unexpected challenges along the way? Absolutely. I learned that even a GoPro action camera will overheat when you bring it into a bathhouse steam room and that the autofocus motors on my mirrorless camera’s lenses become sluggish when the temperature falls below zero.

Steam obscures the figures of two people
MPR News reporter Simone Cazares (left) and producer Samantha Matsumoto immerse themselves in the steam room at Watershed Spa in Minneapolis on Jan. 27.
Ben Hovland | MPR News

What notable winter activity did I experience for the first time? Well, I managed to get minor frostbite on my fingertips when I was photographing the Arrowhead 135 ultra marathon in International Falls, Minn. 
But that’s another story.

A photographer holds up the peace sign
MPR News visual journalist Ben Hovland poses for a photo on Lake Harriet in Minneapolis on Jan. 25.
Courtesy of Thuy Anh Fox