Monday, September 29, 2008

Homecoming football... in the daytime

Saturday was something a little different around here. Daytime football isn't all that unusual, it's played a lot during the playoffs (and usually a heckuva lot cooler temperatures). But a homecoming football game on a Saturday afternoon was something I'd never seen. I love daytime football, the light is nice and well... what more do you need than nice light?
This weekend's game was one of those that makes me glad I stuck around the whole time... and that is wasn't played on deadline. First, it was homecoming, which meant the normal 30+ minute halftime lasted even longer along the 45+ minute line, since they had to crown the queen too. Through the first three and a half quarters the game was pretty unexciting. Then, both teams decided to start scoring at will. And it went to overtime. At this point I pretty much knew my shot was going to be a reaction shot.

Full of hot air...

The only thing that contains more hot air than a politician? Why a hot air balloon of course, ok it may be a toss up. This weekend was the Big Country Balloon Fest. One of the coolest assignments I ever got to shoot was a ride in a hot air balloon a few years ago. It is one of the most surreal feelings in the world, no wind, no noise, just total calm. Then you come back down to earth and hit pretty hard and it's over. But the time in the air makes it all worth it, a lot like life in general.
Well, I didn't get to go on a balloon ride this time, in fact I didn't even have a whole lot of time to spend out there because I had to shoot it before a football game that wasn't even going to be close, so I couldn't be late or the chances of getting a shot were not good (Not that what I got was anywhere near spectacular, but that's beside the point). Anyway, although I didn't get to spend as much time out there as I would have liked, I am happy with the shots I got despite only having about 45 minutes to shoot. The light was nice as the sun was going down, so it gave me pretty light and nice long shadows. The only other thing I would have like to have gotten to shoot would have been the balloon glow at dusk, but I was too busy with other work-related stuff to get out there. Oh well, there's always next year.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Crosstown Showdown

I'm actually about a week behind with my posts. Things have been busy. The annual cross-town football game between the two local city high schools was last week. This year was a little different than in the past. Cooper High School dropped down to Class 4A while Abilene High stayed in 5A. So, for the first time in the series this game was played as a non-district game. Basically that means there were no playoff implications on the line... just pride.
This was the 10th time I've shot this game, both teams this year are pretty good. The last couple years Cooper hasn't been very good, a couple of those they flat-out sucked. This year was different, which is a good thing. There were fans filling both sides of the stadium I'm not great at guessing crowd sizes but I'd guess there were at least 15,000 people there. The traffic after the game is awful, it usually takes about 40 minutes to make the normal 5 minute drive back to the office. Luckily, unlike my parents house, the stadium has wifi (Texas high school football is unlike high school sports anywhere else), so I can send my photos back instead of sitting in traffic.
Since anywhere between 10-15% of the city's population is at the game it is obviously a big deal. Leading up to the week we run poster pages voted on the internet as to what photo will run on the back of the sports page in the next days paper (we average about 40,000 votes a day). And on Saturday we have a color story about the atmosphere on the front page, as well as the gamer on the sports front. Needless to say it's a busy night.
Anyone who knows me, knows I'm usually late for just about everything I do. Football games have always been the exception. Even for high school games I try to get there an hour early. Number one, I can get a decent parking space. If you show up for a game here 15 minutes before the game you're going to end up walking a while, for this game it's about 10 times as bad. So for this game I get there by 6pm for a 7:30pm kickoff. It also gives me time to get there and shoot some fan photos for the front page story.
So, when I'm pulling into the parking lot I see these six guys (see top photo) with their shirts off and chests half-painted. I whip into a parking spot grab my gear and run over there. I spent about 30 minutes shooting and waiting for them to get more of themselves painted and the right moment etc. Hey, I had plenty of time since I wasn't late and was going to be sending from the stadium anyway. Well, it turns out they were the blue man group (bottom photo) from the week earlier. They told me "We're basketball players, we don't have anything else to do in the off-season so we're going to do this... even for all the away games." So, showing up early paid off, I was able to get my fan shot for one team, get to the pressbox, set up my computer download and send the pix before the game even started, and I was still able to get on the field 30 minutes before the game even started. Abilene High won the game so we ended up using the fan shot of the AHS girls cheering on the front, but I was able to get the body painters photo in Abilenian our weekly "community news" section... basically another outlet for photos. On another note, my co-worker Victor Cristales did a really cool video from the game that he incorporated some of my photos into, check it out here.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Fair Week and the Rodeo

Fair week, not a whole lot to say, it's one of those things I've both despised and and enjoyed at different times over my nine years here. Last year was one that I enjoyed, before that I leaned closer to the despise side. I think this year the pendulum has swung closer to the liked side. I think a lot of it depends on how many assignments I have there that week and what they are.
This year wasn't too bad, most of my fair time was spent working on a photo page for the end of the week, instead of shooting stories on how to make a funnel cake (this was an actual story one year!). I also, shot sneak-a-peek, the opening night of the fair rides, the bubble gum blowing contest, and the rodeo. Those don't bother me because all have potential of making good pix (unlike the making of the funnel cake story).
There are a few great things about having a photo page to work on. 1) I can spend my free time out of the office instead of in front of my computer archiving photos, well that's great until I fill my hard drive. 2) The deadline is the end of the week, so I'm not in a hurry, I can take my time . Taking my time leads to boredom, which leads to trying to find something quick and letting the creative juices flow. Boredom can be a good thing. 3) Cheesecake on a stick, yum. Nuff Said. 4) At a time that news hole at most newspapers is shrinking like George Costanza's, ahem , in a swimming pool, I get a full page to do whatever I want with! The only drawback was we had a photog on vacation so I didn't get to spend as much time as I really wanted, but I still made time to get out there and enough cheesecake on a stick I mean, photos... to fill my belly, I mean page.
The fair rodeo is a freelance job. A friend who is on the rodeo committee asked me to shoot it for them a couple years ago, and I guess I did ok, because they keep asking me back -- this was my third year to shoot it.
The great thing about working for the people who are running the rodeo is access. The first year it was ok, I was pretty much feeling out what exactly they were looking for and the better places to shoot. This year, I was able to get the bread and butter shots they want, and then some. Basically I was able to go where ever I wanted to shoot from as long as I wasn't in the way or in danger. Which meant outside of roughstock events I could shoot from the arena floor. The shot below is the winner of the mutton bustin competition giving the rodeo queen a kiss after winning a new pair of cowboy boots for his victory.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Parading around...


This is from last week's West Texas Fair & Rodeo parade. Normally I hate parades, but for some reason the WTF parade has made for good photos the last couple years. I think it may also have to do with most parades in Abilene often have more people in the parade than are actually watching on the street, and it's mostly a bunch of cars driving up and down the street, resembling traffic more than a parade. When it actually looks like a parade it's usually easier to shoot a half-decent photo. Below is the shot I got from last year's parade.


Thursday, September 11, 2008

Football Week 2

About 5 or 6 years ago I had this "great" idea to do online slide shows for football season. At the time we were getting one, maybe two photos published in the following day's paper. I felt it was kind of pointless to go shoot a whole game for only two pix. It allowed be to go to a game and be lazy.
So, I got our web guy who was too busy to teach me how to do the slide shows since he had way to many other things to be done on a nightly basis. Well, now it has pretty much morphed into something that was a novelty to something expected. Last year, I didn't do it the first couple weeks (long story, but basically it was a protest and here isn't the place to go into it, besides it's all been resolved) and I was told that hits to our high school football web site took a 20% cut in the number of hits to the site. This year I'm told we are getting 15,000-20,000 hits a week. Now granted, clicking on a photo constitutes a hit, but I've been told we are getting 1,000-1,200 unique viewers a week, which would put those numbers among the top 5 most popular stories a week.
What's the point to all of this? Well, the slideshows have done a lot more for me than just allowing me to showcase more than two photos a week. I figured while people love to look at action photos, no one wants to sit through 30 photos of people running or throwing the ball. But if you throw in some other photos of the band, fans and other featurey stuff the slideshows are a lot more interesting. Doing this made me a lot more aware of everything going on in the stadium not just what was going on on the field. It also provided a challenge which keeps the bordeom away to constantly be looking for not only great action but something different every week. I've always enjoyed shooting football, but now this just makes it even more fun, espcially when you find a shot of a little kid eating a lollipop trying to figure out why the blue man group showed up at a high school football game.

Monday, September 1, 2008

Dove Season... getting help from the newsroom and getting help from an old friend

This is a photo I shot for a Sunday front-page story about the opening of dove hunting season. It was another last minute story that was planned for Sunday, at least it was given to me at the last minute (gotta love newspapers). It really wasn't too big of a deal. I didn't really have to do a whole lot of work. One of our circulation guys knew a dove hunter willing to be in the photo. The only problem was his hunting lease was 150 miles away. And since I wanted him in his hunting gear and dogs, I didn't think it would be too good of an idea to just find some random field to find be shooting photos of a guy with a shotgun in his hand! So after a couple hours of sweating and sending out aimless emails to the newsroom looking for someone who has or would know someone who has a place we can shoot (the photo), one of our page designers suggested calling our outdoors writer (he's a stringer and I don't think he's been in the office in probably 5 years, so he totally slipped my mind). When I called him up, he gave me a lady's name right away who he said would be perfect. After calling her up and getting permission to shoot on her land I figured we were in good shape. Now comes the fun part.

The idea was shoot the photo to have the look of hunting magazine cover. I don't really read hunting magazines, so I just sort of shot it the way I would envision shooting the cover for a magazine.

With it being an illustration/portrait type shot, I knew I was going to have to light it, I also knew I was going to be bring lights like I normally would since I figured there wouldn't be any power out in the middle of the field. I grabbed the set of pocket wizards and a couple of light stands. I usually keep a makeshift "lighting kit" of 3 SB-800's and a couple of SB-28's in my car just in case I need to shoot a portrait in a pinch, or if I need extra lights beyond Dyna-lites I usually use to shoot portraits.

When I got there, the lady was really nice and told me how to turn off the electric fence out in the field and suggested closing the gate so her cows wouldn't bother us. No problem. Jeff, the hunter arrived right on time with his dogs and all his hunting gear. After driving through a maze of cows to get to the back pasture and pulling my strobes, light stands and pocket wizards out of the trunk of my car. I go to grab my D3 and... it's not there!! Nice job genius! I set me D3 down in the studio when I was packing the pocket wizards and cords into a bag and walked off with the camera still in the studio.

Well, going back to the office was out of the question, it was 15 miles away, and I wasn't going to make this guy wait because I'm stupid and the light was right about to the point of being perfect! Good thing I'm such a gear nerd and have my other two cameras in my car! So I grab my D2x, who I'm sure has felt like the red-haired stepchild child since May when it was relegated to backup duty. Problem #1 averted.

Here comes problem #2... while I'm putting up the light stands I feel somthing crawling on my arm, I look down and there's about 10 mosquitoes swarming around me! Motherf@!&er!! I'm shooting this damn photo in a swamp!! Of course, I've got just about everything else I need in my car, sunscreen, windbreaker/raincoat, jacket, gloves, hat (way to be prepared for cold weather in August!), etc. Well everything except bug spray!! Which during mosquito season, which is commonly known as summer, in not a good idea!!

see the black dots all over his shirt? Those are mosquitoes, I had at least that many crawling all over me too!

Luckily Jeff, the hunter, did have an old bottle with his hunting gear, and he was nice enough to share. Turns out these mosquitoes didn't care, they had alread realized my sweet deliciousness, and kept biting me relentlessly!

But, hey, the light was perfect, the sun was setting, there were pretty coulds in the sky. I put one strobe on a light stand to my right with a warming gel pointed at Jeff, and another strobe on the ground pointed up to put some light on him and his dog. Now the only problem was getting the dogs to cooperate. I told Jeff I wanted him looking off to his left, as is he were looking for birds. And I wanted the dogs to be looking in the same direction.

Here is Jeff trying to bribe his dogs with treats to cooperate, you can also see the strobe setup, with one to the right on a light stand and one on the ground to the left shooting up

Well, after a few minutes of using every trick I had to get the dogs to cooperate with me at the same time, one of the dogs noticed the herd of cows about 100 yards away. So it did what dogs do... bark! This turned out to be a blessing because the dog standing next to Jeff started staring in that direction. I told Jeff to look off to his right, in the same direction as the dog. I ended up getting about 8 frames off before the dog became uninterested. But, I had my shot (it was actually the first one, from that burst).

After that I spent about two minutes getting a couple of refernce shots of Jeff pointing his gun, to be used for reference shots, so a graphic designer would have them to make a full page graphic. Luckily they didn't have to be prefect, I make a few frames from all angles around him and we were done.

All in all I was really happy with the way it turned out. Jeff was really cool, the dogs, considering they were still puppies did really good, and while I was hoping to have them both in it, I don't think there's anything else I could have done to make the shot better. And with 20 minutes of mosquito bites, it wasn't going to get better. The top photo is the one we ran on Sunday's front page, it ran huge almost 5 columns wide and about 16 or 18 inches deep. Normally I'm pretty dead set about putting text on a photo, but for this one there was discussion about it before hand and we wanted the "magazine cover" look, so I was able to shoot it with enough negative space to make it look right. It turned out really well.

One last note, I'm not a hunter, but if you've never tried dove, I'd highly reccomend trying it (I ate it at a wedding), it's some of the tastiest moist meat you'll ever eat, very yummy!

TGIF... Thank God it's Football (season)

Finally! Friday was the kickoff of football season, at the beginning of August I get excited because practice starts, but that goes away quick with all the work of putting together our football tab and the long days of sitting in the office spending time pulling file photos. Then in the week after the tab is done it's covering scrimmages, which honestly is the absolute wort thing in the world to cover! It is basically a glorified practice, most teams don't have numbers in their jerseys and everyone is more concerned about not getting injured than making a great play, which makes sense but never makes for good photos.
So Friday, after a month of shooting practices, scrimmages and spending hours pulling file photos from the previous season, this football finally started! And, while the weather this weekend wasn't perfect and my game Saturday night was delayed by lightning I finally got to shoot some real football.
For the last three years, Abilene has held it's own kickoff classic weekend. These have become really popular over the last few years since. It's good for the town since it mean more money, good for me because it's more games to shoot, and I don't have to drive across the state to shoot them (stay tuned I'll do plenty of that during the playoffs). The other great thing about these kickoff classics are afternoon football games! Nothing beats shooting football in the daytime, the light is nice and luckily this year outside of a little humidity it wasn't that hot. Now there's one week down and 15 more weeks to go.