Sunday, November 30, 2008

Post Turkey Day Football...

The great thing about Thanksgiving weekend, well besides leftovers, is football on Friday afternoon, and then another on Friday night. This Friday it was two small school battles. And, all four team were area schools. The first game was a blowout and was kind of expected.
Afternoon football is awesome, the light is nice, I don't have to worry about stadium lights, and even better I don't have to worry about hoping something will happen in the first half because of deadlines.
This Friday afternoon I covered Albany High School vs. Gorman in Graham, about 100 miles northeast of Abilene. This game got pretty ugly. Albany is traditionally a good program, Gorman was outclassed by a bigger and more physical team. Albany ran all over them.
Friday night's game was a lot tighter game. It was a six-man game. Now if you've never experienced six-man football it's pretty crazy. The field is a little smaller, and so are the players and there is a LOT more scoring. Well, there is USUALLY a lot more scoring! The game I covered on Friday was a defensive battle with the final score being 38-24.
Now, I know in a normal game 62 points for two teams is pretty high scoring. But when the winning team is typically scoring in the 70's, and a team scoring over 100 points isn't that uncommon, then 62 points total is a defensive battle!
The game was in Trent, a small town about 30 miles west of Abilene. I was kind of pressed for time, since it was 130 miles from Graham to Trent, after fighting a line of cars to get into the stadium, the game had already started. But, I wasn't too worried since I was expecting quite a bit if scoring. Trent High School has probably the nicest six-man stadium in the country. Most six-man stadiums are tiny crappy little stadiums being played on dead grass, rotting wooden stands, and the original lights that were put up probably 40+ years ago. Trent's stadium was built last year soon after its new high school. I'm told it is the only six-man stadium in the country to play on artificial turf, the reason being it was going to cost as much to run a water line the half-mile to the stadium as it would to just put down turf, so they went the waterless route, and built a six-man Taj Mahal of sorts. There are nice metal bleachers and new lights which aren't half-bad for a high school stadium. The funny things is, despite the nice new stands, people still watch the games from their cars, well it was cold that night.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Playoff mileage total: 1211 miles

I took a little break on Saturday from shooting football. The Brownwood High School volleyball team was playing in the state volleyball tournament and if they won their semifinal game on Friday I was going to San Marcos, about 250 miles south of Abilene. Well, obviously they won, since these are the photos from the game.
After shooting football in Stephenville on Friday night I got out of town as quickly as I could after the game. I headed down to Georgetown, just north of Austin, to spend the night. Georgetown was about 40 minutes north of San Marcos, I left about 11am for the 1pm game. I got there a little more than an hour before the game. Since I had never shot in the Strahan Center before, I got there while the Class 2A game was still going on so I could scout out places to shoot from. I also wanted to check the light, which wasn't that bad, good enough even to use a teleconverter on my 300.
I know I've said it before, but volleyball is not a sport enjoy shooting. Way too often I find my shots mediocre at best so this one was going to be challenging. My plan was to basically make my way around the arena changing up my shooting as much as possible. I started up in my regular spot on the floor, then moved beside the Brownwood bench to shoot some wide stuff.
After the first game I moved up high to shoot down on the action. Instead of bringing a 300mm and 400mm lens, I upped my ISO and used a teleconverter on the 300mm lens. I spent most of the second game shooting from this position, and got ok results but nothing spectacular.
For the third game I shot from the TV camera deck up high at mid-court (it was empty, the only broadcasting being done was a webcast and they were shooting from lower levels). I liked this angle because I could shoot some nice stuff of the net players and the opponents blocking at the same time. It also allowed me to shot the players in the back row at the same time allowing me to shoot both. Normally when I'm sitting by the bench or in the backcourt I can only shoot one or the other.
Sadly I was only able to shoot a little more than half of the game from up there, since Brownwood was losing the final game and was looking to get swept I had to make my way to the floor to look for reaction shots. Now, my job as a journalist is to tell the story not hope for one team or another to win. Any while it's not a big deal to me that they lost since I didn't have a dog in the fight, I was hoping they would at least win one game so I could work this angle that I felt I liked the best.
But, it wasn't going to happen, so I made my way to the court to wait for the reaction. This also game me a little time to shoot from behind the players. I was able to make a couple shots I didn't ever really think would get anything from back here, so it was a pleasant surprise.
My plan in sitting behind the players was that they would turn around and face me when they reacted to their loss. Well, it didn't quite work out like that. The one girl that collapsed, sat down with her back to me, so it didn't quite work out as planned. Oh well, it was worth a shot. I can say that now, since I was able to make some decent dejection shots from before and during the medal ceremonies.

Monday, November 24, 2008

More football...

This week was another busy week. I shot two games, one on Thursday, on Friday. Thursday's game was one of those old school games, but at least I didn't have to travel far, since the game was in town. A lot of running and maybe four passes the whole game. Sweetwater played Midland Greenwood, both teams played a Wing T offense and I don't think Sweetwater had thrown a pass in three games. The good part about this is I could shoot the whole game without deadline worries despite earlier deadlines.
The bad part about shooting teams like this is much of the option offense is based on deception. Including who gets the ball. I'm so used to shooting spread offenses, it's tough to adjust. The other problem is a lot of the runs are up the middle. The old adage of three yards and a cloud of dust still ring pretty true... sans the dust since most of the games I shoot now are played on artificial turf. The action photos I got were nothing too spectacular, but I was able to pull out some nice jube stuff, luckily the photos was secondary.
Friday's game was in Stephenville again, where I shot last week's Abilene High game. This week it was a 2A playoff game between Merkel and Brady. Brady isn't in our coverage are but it seems I've shot them as much as any time I've covered this year. It was the third time I've shot them. Shooting in Stephenville has it's good and bad parts. The press box has a lighting fast internet connection, which allows me to send full rez photos and not compress the heck out of them. The one big problem with the stadium is the lights. This place is lit worse than most small high school stadiums. Even at 6400 ISO on my D3, I had to shoot at 320/f2.8 and still needed to lighten the pix up.
The game, like the last couple I've covered lately, started out pretty slow, but got better near the end of the second quarter. Brady started throwing the ball at the end of the half, which was nice since I had next to nothing and needed to send photos to our sister paper in San Angelo, who had an earlier deadline.
By the time I got my photos edited and sent it was nearly halfway through the third quarter. I was able to make a few more shots for the rest of the quarter and the start of the fourth. It was looking more and more like Merkel wasn't going to make a comeback. I focused on Merkel since it wouldn't have mattered if I got photos of Brady since it was past San Angelo's deadline. There was a lot of dejection, I decided to keep my eye on the quarterback who was the catalyst of the team as well as its leader.
Despite the awful light and really cold conditions - it's finally starting to get cold in Texas - I was able to make a few decent images. The good part was the game again was over fairly early, since I was heading south for more playoffs, but not football this time. More on that in the next post.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Shooting Beyond the Field...

Saturday was a fun day. It was a day game and the light was really nice. Plus Cooper's uniforms look really nice during the day, the reds and blues of their uniforms saturate really nice during the day. They are a major pain in the ass, however, to tone right during a night game and they look even worse in black and while... it turns to a muddy gray. But Saturday, against a pretty blue sky with no clouds, it was great!
The sun was low in the sky and on it's way down. The shadows were getting long which made some fun shots of the drill teams. High school football game halftimes are a nightmare on Friday night's when you are working on deadline. But, when you have an afternoon game the 30 minute halftime gives you plenty of time to let the creative juices flow. And with an online slideshow for the game, that allows for the perfect outlet to show your work. It also does a good job of breaking up 30+ action shots.
On a normal Friday night, I'm running to the press box to download photos and do a quick edit to at least get ahead of things and possibly send in a couple photos in case the game is going to go long. On Saturday, as I was headed up, I noticed the sunlight coming from the stands and it was making a nice rimlight on the band who were wearing their uniforms for the first time in a couple weeks. So, instead of going up and dumping my cards I figured I'd stick around and work the pretty light. My old boss, Woody Marshall, at my internship at the Macon Telegraph told me my first week I was there, "When God gives you good light, don't f**k it up." You can fill in the blanks, but I find it words to live by and always have. God gave me good light Saturday.

3 Games, 3 days, 606 miles...

Thursday night started the high school football playoffs in Texas. The playoffs in Texas are sort of a high school version of March madness that lasts six weeks. For those who've never experienced it, there is nothing bigger this time of year than high school football. There are two state champions crowned in each of the five classifications, a big school and small school division. It's pretty odd, but just means more work. Just about all the games are played on a neutral field and our newspaper has a LOT of teams playing the first week.
1114StamfordvsWinters0149For me, that means a lot of driving. The first game, on Thursday, was played in Sweetwater, a short 90 mile round trip for a game between Stamford and Winters in a Class A game. Class A is the smallest of the divisions playing 11-man football. The game was played at the Mustang Bowl in Sweetwater, which is probably one of the coolest high school stadiums I've ever been to. It's about 70 years old, a 7,000 seat concrete bowl that can get very loud and they play on artificial turf, like most of the bigger high school stadiums around here.
The game wasn't that close, Stamford scored early and never made it look like they were in trouble. I made a couple of nice images. The first one was a long pass that would have been perfect, I didn't have time to switch cameras so I went ahead shooting really tight with my 400mm and it turned out great, I got a really nice tight shot, that filled the frame and you could see both his eyes real big as the ball falls into his hands (top photo). The only problem was the defender reached in as pulled his arm down to break up the pass. It didn't matter, about three plays later the same kid, Omar Garcia, hurdled a defender into the end zone for a touchdown (above). It also didn't hurt that he ended up scoring three of Stamford's four touchdowns that night.
I had my shot in the second quarter of the game, which did a nice job of keeping my stress level down, I was able to send photos at halftime. Then I spent the rest of the game shooting for the online slideshow. Also, since my photos were already sent, I didn't have to worry about whether I was going to have time to shoot the postgame celebration. It's been a few years since Stamford made the playoffs, let alone win one. So I knew they'd be pretty excited. They didn't let me down (above).
Game two, was on Friday night in Stephenville, a little over 200 miles round trip. Abilene High was supposed to blow away Mansfield High. AHS was ranked #3 in the state going into the game. Well, I guess that's why they actually play the game, b/c nobody bothered to tell Mansfield they were supposed to lose. The game was a pretty big upset. AHS had a chance to win the game when Mansfield missed the PAT on their final touchdown. But an interception ended the game with about 2 minutes left and no timeouts. In a game like this a reaction shot is pretty much the only option to tell the story. And while it may seem like I'm being cruel to the average reader, it is my job to tell the story, so a shot of the team's quarterback upset after the game is the shot to have. That's what we ran, it's not the first time and won't be the last. Despite the phone calls complaining about it (as far as I know, we only received one).
Game three was the longest drive. Lubbock is a little over 300 miles round trip, and was the site of Cooper High School's first Class 4A playoff game. Cooper just dropped down a class and was making the best of things this year. The best thing about this game was it was an afternoon game. So, the light was going to be nice, and since daylight savings time had passed, the later in the afternoon, the better the light got.
The game started out pretty slow, the first quarter was spent with neither team moving the ball too much. Cooper had a decent drive but turned the ball over on downs. At the start of the second quarter our videographer Victor Cristales came up to me and said "I don't have one highlight yet," I laughed and told him I had nothing either and hope it gets better soon. About three plays later, it did. Cooper's Reese Williams took a pass and went for a 60-yard touchdown (above). Not long after that Cooper's Stefphun Hazlett tipped and bobbled and interception that he held on to and ran in for a touchdown (below). My spot behind the end zone allowed me to be in good position for both shots.
Cooper was another of those teams who hadn't had great success over the last couple of years. In fact, if there was one of the three local teams that was going to lose I would have said it was going to be them. So, when they were up 35-0 with about four minutes left, I traded the long lens for the wide angle and went to hang out in the bench area (one of those nice things about shooting high school football as opposed to college and the NFL). There was a lot of hugging and goofing around. It had been six years since the school won a playoff game. I found cornerback Will Ford and pretty much stuck with him, he was one of the team captains and one of the best players on the team. I guess I picked right, because as time expired Ford led the team out on the field with his hand raised.
Well, despite spending all most as much time in my car as I did covering games the first week of the playoffs went pretty well photo-wise. I was happy with what I got from all three games, which is rare. Hopefully the next 4-5 weeks will work out just as well. The mileage will probably only go up since the teams I cover will start playing teams from towns even farther away. Stay tuned.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Practice makes perfect....

Now, I've never claimed to be perfect by any means. I'm pretty damn imperfect, actually. But the Albany High School girls volleyball team is perfect. They are 40-0 on the season so far this year! What's even more amazing is in 40 matches they have only lost a total of FIVE games!! That's pretty damn amazing if you ask me.
So, on Wednesday I went up to shoot the team's practice before this weekend's Class A regional tournament. One of the things I enjoy most about shooting practices is being able to show something different than you would normally see in a game. For some reason officials and coaches don't like you going on the the court and sticking your camera over the net during a game... go figure. But during practice, they don't say a word. Well, the coach did say "Watch out she's going to be hitting it your way" a few times (which was greatly appreciated). But otherwise I was left alone to make pictures.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Local Kids Playing Big Time Football...

Last weekend I went to Lubbock to shoot the Texas Tech football game against Oklahoma State. The main reason I was going was for a story about some Abilene kids who are playing for Tech. But, only one of them gets any significant playing time. Most of them are backups. So, I was there to shoot the game as well, since after all Tech is the number two team in the country.
There are four players from Abilene, wide receiver Lyle Leong, #19, is the only one who gets any regular playing time. Backup quarterback Taylor Potts, wide receiver Landon Hoefer and defensive tackle Britton Barbee are the others that played for the local schools.
However, even though he never played here, quarterback Graham Harrell also has deep roots in Abilene. Both of his parents went to Abilene Christian University and his younger brother just transferred from the University of Tulsa to ACU to play football. So, I was also shooting him.
Since most of these guys don't see regular playing time I was able to get shots of all of the players during warmups to cover myself. The only way I would see many of these guys was if there was a blowout and the backups came in. With Okie State being ranked so high I didn't think this was going to happen, heck I wasn't even sure Tech would win.
Since the game was late, I had to really push myself to get something worth sending at the end of the first half. Well, it sounded good at least, the problem is the I was on the wrong side of the field for the Tech's two big touchdowns... it happens, but I also knew if I kept trying to be on the right side I may never be there, so I figured I'd just stick it out. Normally, when I'm shooting football I tend to camp out in the end zones as much as possible. However, in looking through my stuff, I saw some decent images but nothing real tight that I liked, so I knew I had a nice touchdown catch by Tech receiver Micheal Crabtree, so I figured I could challenge myself to get some tight stuff.
My feeling about shooting higher levels of football after shooting years of high school is it is easier. Both have their pros and cons, the college and pro games are a lot faster but offer more "big" moments, since high school games don't, my feeling is I need to make sure to get EVERY moment. I think that prepares me better, I hold myself to a lot higher standard, I expect to get THE shot from every game, no matter what level I'm shooting. The big difference is usually THE shot in a high school game is the only shot. In college and the pros, if you miss one, you can usually get another. I expect myself to get both of them.
The great thing about digital cameras are I can do some quick editing to find what I'm missing. I knew both that I had a few good shots, but also told me I needed some of the tight stuff, including some more shots of Harrell doing something other than just throwing the ball. Especially this year, Harrell was doing a lot more than just throwing the ball. He was getting under center and diving for first downs instead of just dropping back and passing, like he had been doing the last couple years. Five or ten years ago, you only needed a couple shots for the next day's paper. Now, there is a slideshow with nearly every sporting event I shoot, so now instead of needing one or two great shots I need 20-30. Ahhhh, isn't the internet a wonderful thing?

The Plight of the Homeless...

This is from a story we were doing on the homeless in Abilene. The original story was about the homeless population in town spiking during the winter, but no one could back that up, so it turned into a story about the safety of the homeless. This photo was from an annual tent revival that is held for the less fortunate, a lot of the attendees are homeless. The guy in the photo is, his friend that he is holding is not. Paul was a pretty nice guy and really open about his situation calling it a "dip in his life."

Monday, November 10, 2008

Small town, big expectations...

This year's football season has been completly different from the past. With Abilene High and Cooper now playing in different classifications they couldn't set up their schedules like in the past, so there was a couple of times both teams were out of town, which meant I got to out out of town and shoot games in some of the smaller towns. It's kind of nice to get away from the norm, it allows me to look at things in a different way.
The smaller class games have both their advantages and disadvantages. One of the best parts is with so many area teams, if the writer picks right, it's usually a pretty good game, unlike some of the games I've shot this year, with the starters being pulled after halftime. The bad things of course are awful light (not as big of a problem now with my D3), and finding places to transmit from. Despite these issues it's still nice to get away every now and then. And, with the playoffs coming up, I'll get to do plenty of that over the next few weeks.
This game was between Bangs and Brady for the district 8-2A title. Brady was the clear favorite undefeated coming in to the game, but Bangs was a scrappy defensive team. Both were unbeaten in district. It turned out to be a really good game. The Bangs defense was all it was cracked up to be. No real standout players just a good team and good team speed.
There wasn't a whole lot of offense, something I've grown accustomed to this season. But there were a few big plays on both sides of the ball. And, somehow, I happened to be in the right place for a lot of them. That, coupled with a really cool fog coming in over the field during a timeout in the second quarter made for some really nice photos. It also didn't hurt that Bangs which, had been a traditional power hadn't made the playoffs in a few years and it had been 6 or 7 since they won a district title. The whole team and crowd was going nuts toward the end of the game. That's usually a pretty good indicator that I'm going to get some nice jube shots.
So, the last couple minutes of the game, the long lens came off and the wide angle came out. That's another thing I like a lot about high school games. You can pretty much just go hang out in the bench area shooting features without being thrown out. And towards the end of the game the players were so excited about the win they totally ignored me allowing to make nice photos without worrying about them trying to mug for the camera.
Something else I noticed about Bangs was their coaches were a lot different from the typical coaching staffs I see on Friday nights. The Bangs coaching staff was really animated! Now, plenty of coaches get pissed off at a bad call and will rips the referees, and jump around plenty when things are going bad. But these guys, they were jumping around high fiving kids after big plays and genuinely having a good time. They almost look like kids out there themselves. It was really cool to see. There are way too many people out there who let the stress of their jobs get to them and they miss out on having fun. It happens to me every once in a while, but when I'm out shooting games like this I realize how lucky I am to have such a cool job.