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Wayne Nicholls

Aug 15, 2014 - By Steven R. Peck

He shot 20,000 photos for The Ranger

Ranger news photographer Wayne Nicholls is one of the few people in Fremont County who could tell you who Robert Capa was.

A photographer who made his name in World War II, Capa shot some of history's most memorable battlefield pictures. When he was asked about photography, Capa provided some wise quotes. Among the most famous was, "If your pictures aren't good enough, then you aren't close enough."

Here's one we like even better. The method of the news photographer is simple, said Capa: "Stand around and wait for a miracle."

Wayne Nicholls identifies with that. In the 17-plus years he has been shooting pictures for The Ranger, including many for our sister papers in Lander, Dubois, Thermopolis and the Wind River Indian Reservation, he did a lot of standing around -- waiting and watching, then acting at the right instant.

That's what you have to do when the actual execution of your assignment takes 1/125th of a second. It's not much time to capture a miracle. Wayne's oft-repeated, two-word lesson in photography to dozens of Ranger news staffers? "Be ready."

Wayne is retiring today from everyday photojournalism. We wish he weren't, but he has decided the time is right. It marks a big change for us, because Wayne, in many ways, has been the face of The Ranger in the community since the mid-1990s.

Counting how many pictures that have appeared in our newspaper bearing his credit line would be a good project for a summer intern (any volunteers?), but the simple arithmetic says it's something like 20,000. And, because most news photographers shoot at least 10 pictures for every one that ends up being published, we'd bet Wayne has raised his camera and clicked the shutter for us a quarter of a million times.

The job is about more than quantity, although Wayne certainly filled the bill there. It also is about comprehensiveness, versatility and imagination. Check Wayne's Ranger portfolio and you'll see prize winners in every contest category judged for the Wyoming Press Association, from sports to news to scenery to feature photos. In 2001, he earned WPA prizes in four of the five possible award divisions.

The job is about more than awards. It is about consistency and dependability. A first-hand observer feels confident in saying that, in more than 4,200 Ranger publication days, Wayne never failed to have a picture ready for page one.

The job is about more than the self. Wayne shot most of our pictures for nearly two decades, but if another staffer shot something better, he said so. Having front-page "art" was his responsibility, and sometimes that meant using his solid touch on Photoshop to get someone else's picture ready.

And the job is about more than the "miracles" that Capa talked about. A big part of Wayne's job was the ordinary -- the check passing, the business presentation, the social club officers, the middle school concert, the simple "mug shot" for the files, the processing of a wedding picture, an obituary picture, a family reunion picture, an anniversary picture. Wayne did them all. It was part of the job.

And the job for Wayne was about more than hoarding knowledge. He was a teacher in our newsroom, and every Ranger news staff member who has held a camera since the summer of 1997 has learned from Wayne Nicholls. He wanted Ranger photos -- all Ranger photos -- to be good.

He is a newsman. He is a trained journalist with a journalist's nose for news, a journalist's curiosity, a journalist's sense of obligation and responsibility, and a journalist's satisfaction in being the one who gets to tell it, and show it, to the rest of the world.

"Call Wayne," we'd say when the siren went off.

"We'll tell Wayne," we'd say when someone called with a picture request.

"Wayne will know," we'd say when there was a question about cameras, film, lighting, guitar playing or motorcycles.

"Don't worry, Wayne got it," we'd say when there was a big moment that the rest of us saw but that no one had thought to photograph.

Wayne Nicholls also was the supplier of hundreds of boxes of doughnuts and bags of Halloween candy to his colleagues. This is a guy who came to Riverton at age 50 and bought a house, joined the Kiwanis Club, got to know hundreds of people, inquired about his co-workers' spouses and treated their children well, who sparred amusingly with sports editor Bruce Tippets daily, who shared stories of all he'd seen, and kept adding to them right up until last night, when he shot the U.S. Senate debate at Central Wyoming College.

He sprinted to the finish line. He will be sorely missed.

Wayne is going to be a college student again this fall, 45 years after he earned his photojournalism Bachelor of Arts at San Jose State. He's beginning a music degree at Central Wyoming College. He'll be a credit to the program, just as he was credit to The Ranger, to photography and to journalism.

He says he might still shoot a picture for us once in awhile, if the situation is right and if time permits. We'll ask nicely, and hope.

We largely are in the business of words. Of the millions of them we've published, we take great pride and pleasure in these four: Photo by Wayne Nicholls.

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