Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Dancin the night away...

This is an outtake from a story about a famous square dancing caller who was in town for the 50th anniversary of the local square dance hall. More on that in a couple weeks after the story runs. I think I liked this shot the best from the night but there was nowhere it fit in with the story.

Monday, October 27, 2008

The fabric of our lives...

I'm not sure why, but I've always enjoyed covering farming stories. I think it may be because I'm from the city and the closest I ever came to experiencing farming was seeing my neighbor in his tomato garden.
The other reason, is because the farming communities are all pretty tight. It's easy, once you develop a source to find what you are looking for. This started two months ago when we were doing a story on the outlook of how cotton would do. For that story I was looking for a cotton gin that was getting ready for the season, since there wasn't anything going on with the harvest to shoot at the time. I ended up speaking to the gin manager in Stamford, about 45 miles north of Abilene, who was putting in all new equipment, he was excited to get the coverage and told me to come up and "make myself at home."
Well, last week our Sunday business front was about the actual cotton harvest and the outlook for the year. The problem was most of the cotton in the area is not ready to harvest. So after calling a few county ag agents, I was told the area up north of Abilene near Stamford had already begun to harvest. So, I called up to the Stamford cotton gin and talked to the manager who helped me out earlier, again, he told me "come on up anytime" that they would be busy all week.
When I got there, I told him I also needed to get some photos of the cotton being stripped. "That shouldn't be a problem, why don't you go get your photos here and I'll make a few phone calls, see me on your way out." Well, I got a few shots of cotton bales being bagged(the cotton gins have become pretty automated to the point where there isn't a whole lot of hands on type work). Afterward, I walked into the manager's office and I was given a list of a few fields and directions how to get there.
Thanks to a good helpful source, I probably saved quite a bit of mileage on my car and even more time from having to drive around looking for a field that was being harvested.
While I will never be known as the most organized person in the world, I always keep every business card and cell phone number of everyone I ever meet. The Stamford gin manager example is just the most recent, but it hasn't been my first and certainly won't be the last example of developing good sources.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

After 7 weeks, finally a good shot...

Saturday was a little unusual, I had to shoot a football game out of town. Now, in about three weeks this isn't going to be all that unusual when the high school football playoffs start. But this week's game was a college game. It's almost unheard of for us to go out of town to shoot a college game. This week's game was pretty big though, Abilene Christian University (#3 in the nation in Division II) went to Canyon to play West Texas A&M (#4 in the nation in Div. II). Not only was this game going to more than likely decide who the conference champion would be, it was also going to decide the number one ranking in the region... and who will probably get home-field advantage in the first three rounds of the D2 playoffs.
The game was everything it was cracked up to be. There was a huge crowd, the West Texas A&M fans know how to fill a stadium and give a hostile atmosphere. The crowd of 19,380 was the bigger than most college games I've covered lately (none of the local colleges bring in more than 5 or 6,000 a game, of course high school games are different... this is West Texas after all).
The game was a 6pm game, which on a Saturdays usually means you have the sports-front photos in by halftime. Luckily, ACU came out big in the first half, jumping out to a 21-0 lead in the first half. Then when WTAM was driving at the start of the second quarter a long pass was intercepted by ACU, and to add to things the WT wide receiver in an attempt to break up the catch yanked on the facemask of the DB as he was pulling it in. I don't often hold my breath after a play hoping I got the shot, I usually know whether I got it or not. On this one I swung my camera to get the shot and was hoping my autofocus was quick enough. Obviously it was, I breathed a huge sigh of relief, knowing I'd have something to send at halftime.
Now, just because I had sent a nice photo at halftime, that doesn't mean I sit in the pressbox the rest of the game and surf the internet. The web being the main reason. Also, if I got a better shot at a similar shape, the front photo could be changed out, or there was more room on inside pages. Plus, if ACU was going to win, a celebration shot was needed, so my job wasn't close to being done.
By the time I had edited and sent my photos and meandered through the crowd to get back to the field it was halfway through the third quarter, and WTAM was making a comeback. Both teams were lighting up the scoreboard, which always makes for nice photos. Passing is a double-edged sword, it makes nice photos, but it also extends the game. Luckily, ACU started running the ball more to kill the clock and the game was over by 9:45. That gave me 15 minutes to download and send my photos. At this time I knew the action shots I sent at halftime would work, so I concentrated on the post-game celebration stuff, which cut my editing time down quite a bit. After that, it was editing the slideshow for the web. I think I put in about 30 shots from the game, but the slideshow is a little more relaxed, since there is no hard deadline to get it done.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Fashion Show

Last night I shot a Fall fashion show benefitting Cancer Network Services, a group that gives emotional and financial support to those being treated for cancer. It started about an hour later than the time I was given on my assignment, but luckily I had about 15 minutes to work my way around the runway, I liked this angle the best it did a nice job of highlighting the model as well as showing the size of the crowd, which they say is their largest in the 5 years they've been doing it.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Ahhh, so THAT'S why I carry all this gear! (This one is for all the gadget nerds, like me)

Saturday afternoon was fun, Abilene High played it's homecoming football game... have I mentioned how much I LOVE daytime football? Especially high school games. Why? Because unlike NFL and college games, which are so damn restrictive, high school games usually let you shoot from just about anywhere... except on the field. The daylight is a plus. The great thing about Saturday was I able to use all three cameras I brought with me.
I'm often given a hard time for all the gear I carry with me. My typical setup for shooting football is three camera bodies (D3, D2x, and a D2Hs), a 400m f2.8 on the D3, 70-200mm f2.8 VR on the D2x, and the D2Hs has a 35mm f2.0 (during night games) or a 17-35mm f2.8 (day games). In my camera bag I keep an SB-800 flash, 14mm f2.8, 1.4x and 2.0x (day games only) teleconverters, extra batteries, flash cards, gaffers tape etc.
My reasoning for carrying all this is, I treat every game exactly the same. Great photos can be made at peewee games just as easily as while shooting the pros. The talent is better in the pros, but the access sucks and there are usually 10 other guys getting the same shot as you. In the peewees and high school the access is a helluva lot better, the talent obviously isn't there, but great photos can be made, you just need to find them... and be ready when they happen.
My feeling on luck is it is a combination of good karma and being prepared. Yeah everyone can be lucky and even the blind squirrel find a nut every once in a while, but with a little preparation and knowledge of what you're shooting your chance of getting lucky goes up. That's where 20 or 30 something pounds of gear comes in. It is physically impossible to switch lenses in the amount of time that a pass is in the air before it hits the receiver's hands (at least for me is). So, having a camera around my neck with a wide angle lens zone focused to a few feet in front of me and set to f8 (daylight football gives you this nice latitude, it's f2 at night) allows me to shoot blindly. Composing the frame is second to getting the shot, on plays like this the first thing you do is raise the camera and bang off the shutter as I'm bringing the camera to my eye. More often than not is doesn't work, or not that well... but damn when it does it just makes the day!

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

It's nice to get lucky every once in a while...

Friday's game was a little different than normal, I covered Abilene Wylie High School against Brownwood. A class 3A game, in the past few years this game has grown into a rivalry of sorts, however, it's been ratcheted up a notch this year since they are now in the same district. And, while this may be the opening game of district play, there is a very good chance this game would play a huge part in who would be crowned the district champions.
Well, the game was everything it was made out to be a close game right to the end, and after covering Abilene High this year, it was a welcome change. Brownwood, with two players committed to play college football, quarterback Casey Pachall (TCU) and offensive lineman Stavion Lowe (LSU), and Wylie who is consistently one of the best coached and best disciplined teams I've ever seen.
The game was back and forth the whole night, Brownwood took it down the field on the opening drive, then Wylie answered on their first drive. It was looking like it would be a shootout without a lot of defense. But after the first two drives it calmed down a lot and both defenses settled in. The final score was 31-28, to which I need to give major props to our Wylie beat writer, Daniel Youngblood, he nailed the score dead on with his prediction on the game.
Turnovers played a big part in Wylie's win. And that is where the luck comes in... at least on my part. The top photo is of an interception. And while I'd LOVE to tell you I planned to have someone standing on the other side of the defensive back with a flash to make a pretty halo around his head just as he was pulling in an interception near the Brownwood goal line... well, I'd just be lying (then again knowing where the ball was going to go would probably be pretty lucky too). It was just dumb luck I caught the shot at the same time the other guy was shooting. The nine frames a second of the D3 may have helped a little too.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Finally a decent shot... and this happens

I hate shooting volleyball. I enjoy the sport, and watching it, but I've never been all that strong shooting it. I'd have to say of all sports I've ever shot, volleyball is by far my weakest. So, last week when I was shooting the Abilene High game I decided to try shooting from a different vantage point. The AHS gym has seating on the second level, I've shot up there plenty during basketball and previous volleyball seasons, but usually it was from the other side of the net, shooting the hitters spiking the ball over the net, this time I decided to concentrate on the defensive players digging balls. I've tried this plenty too from lower angles and not gotten a lot I was happy with. However, shooting from up high made it nice, since the girls look up as they are digging shots. Well, after nine years of shooting volleyball, I actually made a frame I was really happy with... and I couldn't use it!! Why? Well, I found out from my reporter it was the coach's 300th career win. Luckily (or maybe unluckily in this one particular case), Sam is a good reporter and told me BEFORE the match that this was going to happen should they win. They way I would be able to stick around for the whole match (I often try to duck out early for deadline reasons).
So, I stuck around and got a decent reaction shot of the coach celebrating as the match ended. There was a small ceremony, but it didn't make for much. Normally any other night I'd have been perfectly happy with the reaction shot, but, like I said I finally got a decent volleyball shot. Oh well, I gotta follow my own rules... the photo should ALWAYS tell the story. What's the point of running a great picture if it doesn't tell the story? My personal feeling has always been it is a disservice to the readers if you have a story-telling photo and run another. Oh well, at least through the wonders of the internet I get to show it off here.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Is being a pessimist THAT bad?

So, I can admit it. I have a tendency to be pessimistic sometimes, especially going into those assignments I'm not so sure about. It usually allows me to go back after a really shitty assignment and say "I told you it was going to suck!"Luckily in my never-ending quest for perfectionism it doesn't happen often. The reason, I think, has a lot to do with attitude.
Hold on, I'm gonna make sense out of all this... at least it does to me in my round-about sense of logic. And, it will all makes sense why these pictures go with this.
So, Thursday night I was sent out to shoot photos of a pool tournament at a local bar... there just wasn't a lot going on. So of course my pessimism kicks in, why am I going to shoot a damn pool tournament?What am I going to get out of this? How bad is this gonna suck? And, how many drunk people are going to ask what TV station I'm with (I still am amazed by the amount of people who can't tell the difference between a still and a video camera! But, that's a totally different post for another day!).
When I get to this place it doesn't even look like a bar walking in (the bar is in the back). I tell the lady at the counter who I am and ask "Are you guys having a pool tournament?" Of course she was really happy about the coverage, the place had only been open a week and they wanted people to know about it.
Now, I've always had a rule... no matter how pissed off I am, or how awful or shitty I think the assignment is I NEVER leave the office with that attitude, or if I do, I change it before I get to wherever I'm going. There's a couple of reasons for this: 1) Going in with a bad attitude will ONLY produce bad photos. Going in positive will at least show people I want to be there, if you go in looking pissed off and miserable people will know. 2) No matter how BAD I think this story is, it means something to someone, and while I may not read the story someone will, so I might as well make it worth reading. And, no matter what I think, this story means something to someone, that's what matters.
The tournament wasn't all that big, only 8 people, but they were pretty fun guys, not that great, just there to have a good time. Most of them knew each other, and called each other by nicknames like Smoothy and Hot Tamale Joe, no one took themselves too seriously, most of them were in the tournament as an excuse to drink beer together. It was your typical bar, dark, the only lights right above the pool tables. I ended up only have about 20 minutes to shoot photos since they started late and I spent a lot of the time standing around talking to the guys and Jerry, the owner. But, I was able to make a few nice images and get back to the paper before missing deadline.
My favorite assignments are always the ones where I go in expecting nothing and come out with a couple of nice images. I think the only thing that could have made this better is if I could have stuck around for a few beers with these guys, they were pretty fun. I'm thinking I may go back in a few months and make a photo column out of it. So, I guess being a pessimist isn't really that bad?

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Early morning, little sleep...

So, after getting home at 3am, I got an email saying our original Sunday centerpiece had fallen through and I needed to be at the National Guard Armory at 7am to get photos for a story we were doing about the $40 million training center that was just approved to be built at nearby Dyess Air Force Base. On top of an obvious lack of sleep (I'm not a morning person anyway), I had no idea what would be going on, so it's not like I could show up late, I had to be there on time. To top it all off when I did get there and found the first two doors I tried to get in were locked, I get in there and the 1st Sgt. in charge had no idea I was coming! And, he seemed a little irked I was there and asked I wait in his office while he gave orders. Here I am thinking great, he's gonna tell me to leave or something. Luckily, someone else got the phone call about me coming and he wasn't as pissed at me when I finally talked to him, and he turned out to be pretty helpful. When we finally did get to talk, he said there wasn't a whole lot going on in the morning. This is something I hear all the time, I told him, luckily there was SOMETHING going on. First thing they were doing was PT tests, which turned out pretty nice since the sun was coming up at the time. That made for nice light and cool looking long shadows.
After the PT test Lt. Gilbert showed me over to the motorpool, where the guardsmen were doing preventitive maintainance on vehicles that had just come back from doing hurricane support from hurricanes Gustav and Ike. Again, I was able to make decent pix, but nothing that I was totally happy with. After talking to the guys in charge again they told me that later in the afternoon they'd be putting together a "sight line" for marksmenship training. That I was hoping would be the shot I was looking for, I gave my card to the Lt. and asked him to call my cell phone when he knew a time they'd be shooting. Well, he did... and they were doing it at the same time I had a soccer game to shoot. Normally, being in two places at once isn't easy, luckily have a good reporter help you out is a good thing. I went to the soccer game, shot the first 15mins. then went back to the guard armory, and got some nice shots of the soldiers shooting lasers at targets (top photo), the best part was when I called the reporter, he said the game was tied and was just about to go into overtime... which ended in a tie! What a boring game... at least I was happy with the gaurd photos, despite my three hours of sleep.

Three games, three days...

Football season is in full swing here. This weekend was the "slow" week of the year in the high school season. Most teams are taking their off weeks before the start of the district play. Of the 40-something 11-man teams that we cover only 11 were playing last weekend, and two of those games were on Thursday. I've already talked about Thursday's game. Friday was a rare chance for me to go out of town and cover one of our area teams. But, since none of the local teams were playing in town though it gave me the chance to go shoot a game out of town, about a month early (during the playoffs I'm going all over the place covering games, it's kina fun... but more on that in a few weeks).
Something else rare happened, something I never really thought about until I got there and noticed this peculiar green stuff coming out of the ground. You see, I think it has been about five years or so since I've shot a game that was played on actual grass! I chalk this up to an "only in Texas" thing, but most of the bigger teams that we cover and then later on in the playoffs almost exclusively on field turf (since all the grass fields are usually dead by then). Saturday's game was ACU, in another game that was gonna be a blowout, which wasn't a bad thing since I was going to have to leave at halftime because of deadline issues (and I had been working since 7am). The photo below is of Bernard Scott who should probably win the Div. II version of the Heisman Trophy, I think he had about 300 total yards rushing and receiving.

Monday, October 6, 2008

Dirty hit and the gloves are off...

On Thursday Abilene High played in Ft. Worth in one of the most one-sided games I've ever seen. The final score was 81-3!! Normally, I'm not too big of a fan of running up the score, but there are times I feel it is justified. When a player who is losing intentionally takes someone out with a cheap shot, I say take the gloves off! The only other time I see it a being good idea is in video games :D
That's exactly what happened after the AHS starting center was taken out of the game with a cheap shot, by a Ft. Worth Paschal defender. The Abilene High kid was taken out of the game and probably gone for the season, I was told by one of the trainers that he had a severely broken ankle. The Abilene High coach was clrearly pissed off after the play, and with good reason, the referees did a horrible job of not seeing the kid get hit, then nothing was done, until the Paschal coach pulled the kid out of the game. I'm pretty sure the kid was thrown out by the coaches since I noticed his pads still on the sideline after the game and the kid was no where to be found. However, the damage was done and it was payback time. After seeing how pissed off the coach was, I thought these guys may score 100 tonight... well I was 19 points off! By halftime it was 60-0 and the game was obviously over. The 2nd and 3rd team players were in for the second half and still managed to score three more times. Normally, when AHS is up by 40 or so they call the dogs off, but I think they were justified by the dirty hit to show that it was a bad idea. I've read a number of message boards disagreeing, but I doubt most of them were there. Personally, I'd hate to have been the kid who made the dirty hit and see how pissed off my team was at me for getting beat by 80 rather than 30 or 40!