Monday, March 30, 2009

Basketball Players of the Year...

I was recently talking to another photographer who shoots a lot of portraits of pro athletes, we were talking about how much time these pros would give you. He was telling me 10 minutes is an eternity to shoot these guys, if you get 5 minutes you're lucky. Now, this is also someone who gets the luxury of hiring an assistant, so often when he shoots the subject, the photo is ready to be taken, all the person has to do is stand in.
Every year for football and basketball we do a "Super Team," basically the players of the year. For football its four players (overall MVP, offensive and defensive MVP's and a newcomer of the year) and a coach of the year. But for basketball season we have a whole lot more. There are five players, a coach, and an MVP for both the boys and the girls. A total of 12 players and two coaches. For the MVP's, I need to get two different photos, one for the front page and one for the doubletruck inside. For the front shot I try to do something vertical and similar for the boy's and girl's shot to be able to play off of each other. The inside shot isn't as important to be similar for the boy and girl, but the shape needs to be the same, or close.
Now, I don't have the budget to hire assistants. However, I usually have kids that haven't been in the spotlight long enough to get an attitude yet. In fact, most of these kids are having their photo taken for publication for the first time. Most of them come in kind of apprehensive about how things are going to work. This is how digital photography has made a big difference in the way I work. After I take a few frames, I'll usually show the kid how it looks and tell them what exactly I'm going for in the shot. After seeing this, their attitudes usually change from "ok I'm here" to seeing how they look pretty cool and will give you all the time you want to make it look really good.
For the MVP's I usually go out to the schools so I can shoot them in the gym, since I can't get a full-size basketball goal into the studio (although that would be great for those rare nights where there's nothing going on). Plus it usually takes a lot longer to shoot these, and I see it as going the extra mile for the best players in the area. For the other players I still want to make a nice shot, yet have them fairly uniform, which is why I prefer to shoot them in the studio. I don't want one standing out more than another since they are all on the same level.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

The Cramer Twins, I still can't tell them apart...

For a feature on the first round of the soccer playoffs one of our reporters was doing a feature on Wylie High School's Courtney and Caitlin Cramer. They are standouts on both the soccer and tennis teams. They are the defending Class 3A state champions in girls doubles in tennis, and they are both starters on the soccer team. The request for the photo came in kind of late, the reporter called me as I was heading home on Thursday night and the story was running Monday, the only time I could shoot it was on Friday after practice, the same time I was shooting a baseball game, luckily it was on the same campus, so I could go shoot the portrait and only miss a few innings of the game.
Since I was shooting this on a tight time schedule, I didn't have time to set up lights along with finding power for them etc. So, I just used two strobes on light stands, they are more portable and you don't need to plug anything in, the only difference is they don't put out as much power, but for something like this, that wasn't a problem. I just needed to get enough light on their faces to balance the light. And, after getting the two to lighten up (keep reading), the portrait was really east to shoot.
The funny part about the Cramers is they never look happy, I wasn't really sure what to expect of the two of them. After practice they went and changed into their uniforms, they still looked hesitant. That's pretty normal though, most kids do before having their photos taken, it's my job to make them comfortable. As we were walking over to the tennis courts I asked them about always looking miserable when they played tennis. The answer I got was unexpected, one of them points to the other (even after shooting the portrait I couldn't tell them apart, I made the note at the end of the shoot to get them right for the paper) and says, "she always pisses me off, it happens just about every match." After that, things went really well, they were actually really sweet and even smiled for the photos and it turned out better than I expected. They are just very competitive. I can't complain about that, I'm often told I look pissed off when I'm shooting a lot of times too.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Lining the field.... with wedding bells

I had to shoot a baseball game and a wedding as two of my assignments on Saturday. And the best part of it was I didn't even leave the ballpark. Al Scott is a huge baseball fan, his dad is the namesake for Abilene Christian University's baseball field. So he figured what better place to tie the knot than at home plate between games of a doubleheader.
This wasn't a traditional wedding, the groomsmen were ACU's baseball coaches and the bridesmaids, ACU head coach Britt Bonneau's four daughters (bottom photo). Judy "walked down the aisle" through an archway of baseball bats from the team. For a baseball fan it was one of the coolest weddings you would find. I guess since these two were later in life and it isn't their first wedding (Al's first wife died about five years ago) they could break with tradition some.
One of the best parts about it for me at least was there was only a 30 minute break between games. Normally I don't shoot both games of a doubleheader, time constraints prevent me from doing that. But there have been plenty of times I've shown up in the last inning and didn't get much so I had to sit around waiting for the second game to start and had nothing to do. This time, however, I planned it that way. I had a few assignment before the game so, I told the reporter to call me when the fifth inning was starting (college games are 7 innings when playing doubleheaders). This way I could show up and shoot the end of the first game and the wedding and still be there for the second game should I need to. I got a few decent shots in the first game, but since I had nothing else I figured I'd stick around for part of the second game to see what else I could get.
I got a few shots I really liked after the wedding, but it turned out to be a pitchers duel... one of those game I'd love to sit in the stands and watch but not shoot since there wasn't a whole lot. About the only big play in the first few innings was when ACU's Chris Hall took out the shortstop on a double play (above). I was shooting from behind home plate in the stands and got a nice shot of it, including the base runner rolling into the shortstop and the ball flying errantly away. I stuck around for a little bit after that, but didn't get anything and figured I needed to get back to file photos since the wedding was slated for the front page.

A roller girl and her horse....

This is something I found this weekend. I was walking around the Taylor County Expo Center looking for features for a story about the American Junior Rodeo event that was in town for the weekend. I was actually looking for two photos, one for news, one for sports. The one for sports wouldn't be all that hard, just needed a nice action shot. Those are easy enough to find, just go to the right event. But, for news I needed something more featurey than action. So, I was walking around the horse stalls looking for whatever I could find, kids preparing their horses, saddling them, whatever I came across. That's when I saw this little kids walking (at least that's what it looked like from a far) across the parking lot. She had a sweatshirt on an her hat pulled down low on her head , but something about it looked funny. When she got closer I figured it out... she was wearing roller skates. Score! I grabbed a few shots as she rolled by me. After talking to her and her mom it was kind of funny. They told me they were from Junction, and lived out in the country and didn't have paved roads near their home so whenever she is near the pavement, often at rodeos, she pretty much has her roller skates glued to her feet when she's not competing. Well, that was easy, I knew I had my feature shot!

Monday, March 23, 2009

Springing in to baseball season...

Friday was the first day of Spring and the first day I finally got to shoot some high school baseball. And not only was it just a baseball game, I got to shoot one of the best pitchers in the country. I'm a huge baseball fan and love to watch a good game even without my camera. So, when I get to shoot one of the top prospects in the country, well that's just a bonus!
Brownwood High School pitcher Shelby Miller is rated the 9th best pitcher in the country and has a bunch of radar gun toting scouts following him around. The kid has a 97 mph fastball, and coupled that with a nasty 12-6 curveball that should be outlawed in high school baseball, because no one can hit that ball when he's on. This was going to be a game I wasn't going to miss. At the start of the game the kid was just unhittable. I didn't have a whole lot of time at the start of the game because I had to shoot a portrait of a pair of soccer players on the other side of the school campus 30 minutes after the game started. I concentrated on shooting the Miller since there wasn't much of any hitting going on. I was shooting for both the game story as well as a feature about Miller.
So, for the first two innings I spent shooting Miller. I also grabbed a shot of all the scouts with their radar guns, I think there was eight there. After I got back from my portrait I needed to concentrate on the game (high school games are only 7 innings) it was the start of the sixth inning and the score was 1-0 Brownwood. Miller was losing some of his velocity and both teams were starting to hit. The sixth inning was rather uneventful. Luckily in the seventh inning there was some hitting and some decent photos to be made. I was beginning to sweat there until a Brownwood player hit a fly ball to right field and I was able to be attentive enough to get it as he was diving for it. He missed it and allowed what would eventually be the winning run.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Playing I-35 ping pong and eating dinner with Trekkies...

As usual I'm about a week behind. Last weekend was pretty busy, last week it rained for the first time since October. And, I had to go out of town, to Austin again, to shoot the boys state basketball tournament this week. We only had one team this week, Roscoe - the Plowboys. Which I think is probably the greatest name for a high school mascot there is. But, in addition to basketball, the writer and I were going to Waco for the class 3A team tennis tournament too. So, basically we were going to feel like a ping pong ball bouncing back and forth on I-35 for three days.
I had to work late on Wednesday to finish some things up in the office so we had the genius idea to leave for Austin at 4am, since the game wasn't until 10am. That was a mistake. When I got home and got packed and all ready to go it was almost 1am, by the time I got to sleep I pretty much was able to take about a 2 hour nap before it was time to leave. Well, the good thing was the game was all I had to shoot that day.
Not only was I shooting the game but I was also working on a photo column that week about the Roscoe fans. These people were damn near nuts! Over the last couple weeks of the playoffs they were bouncing all over the state... more than me. They would go to the girls game one night then to the boys game the next. The previous week when the girls were playing in Austin the boys were in Abilene in the regional tournament. A number of the fans went to games on Wednesday (in Cisco) got home at about 11pm only to get on a fan bus Thursday morning for the girls game in Austin, then back to Abilene on Friday, then Saturday morning at 8:30am, back in Austin, then leaving right after the game to rush to Abilene for the boys game which started at 2:30. So I guess just having the two boys games in Austin was a cake walk for them! Well, luckily the football coach's wife was shooting the game for the school and pointed me out to a couple of great fans. One of them, Archie Hunter (above), had only missed on game in the last 30 years, and that was because he had to take his wife to the doctor (I guess that's a fair enough excuse).
The only problem with having to shoot the fan story is it kind of took me out of the routine I get into when I shoot state, in that I couldn't go to the upper deck to shoot down on the basket like I normally do in the second quarter. The problem was it's a pain in the ass to fight the crowd to get up there and back. Plus, much of the time it takes getting back to the floor I needed to be doing interviews instead.
The other problem I had was the team they were playing was a bunch of street ballers. They didn't play a whole lot of defense which meant a lot of easy layups for the Plowboys... and a lot of the same shots for me. Luckily, I had enough to send 4-5 photos in, the good thing was having three cameras and being able to use my floor remote to allow for some different photos we have not yet run in print. I had been using the floor remote the week before and used some of the photos on the slideshows but none made it into print. That turned out to be my saving grace. We were able to use the wide shot of of one of the Roscoe players laying in a shot.
Friday was supposed to be spent shooting the team tennis event in Waco. However, since mother nature decided to schedule the first rains of the year it all got rained out, it was nice having a day off to do nothing, but it just meant more work for Saturday. Since we were already staying in Waco, we decided to leave early on Saturday morning for the basketball game which started at 8:30am. I mean, heck it was only an hour and a half as opposed to 4.5, so we got to sleep in... till 6am.
Saturday's game was a lot better, the other team played more defense and it was a lot more physical, which made for a lot of nice shots. On top of that, the game was great! It went to overtime. The best part about shooting a game like this is you know it is the last one, so your shot is most likely going to happen at the end of the game, everything else is just secondary. The other nice part is high school games, even in the big arenas still offer decent enough access to get out on the court after the game and there isn't as much of a scrum to get reaction shots of the winners. Roscoe won the game and with it being in overtime just made the emotions gush even more. The team, which was only seven players, piled on each other at mid-court then they ran over and lifted their coach on their shoulders. Both made pretty nice photos. We ended up using the ones of the coach being hosted by the players, I liked being able to see all the players different faces and varied emotions.
After getting all my game photos sent for the print edition and and web update right after the game we had to head up to Waco for tennis. They were playing an abbreviated format in order to get all four matches in during the day. Photo-wise there wasn't a whole lot that came out of the tennis, plus I was squeezed for time, since it took a while for the match to finally start after we got there and the shortened format made for the match to be over in just under an hour. But the highlight over the trip to Waco was was after we were done and went to eat. We were sitting at IHOP eating pancakes, when the writer I was with, Daniel's, eyes lit up. Standing at the counter was a woman dressed in full starfleet attire! Straight out of Star Trek, and then at her table were the rest of the crew, including one wearing Spock ears! I've seen plenty of people dressed in Star Wars garb, but never Trekkies, sadly I wasn't able to get a photo, but it made for a good laugh nonetheless.

Monday, March 9, 2009

8:30am is too Early for a Basketball Game!!

Well, this weekend was the girls Texas high school state basketball championships. The format is pretty simple the Final Fours of the five classifications, Class A (the smallest division), has two divisions. So Thursday through Saturday there are six games a day starting at 8:30am and going until after 10pm. And, after three days six state champions are crowned.
This year, we had two teams qualify, Roby who went last year and lost in the first game, and Roscoe, who hadn't had a team there since in over 20 years. Both were playing in Class A, the smallest division in the state. Roscoe was in Division I, which is the "bigger" of the two divisions. Roby was in Division II, which is high schools with less than 100 kinds in the whole school. Something I could not imagine considering there were about 3,000 in my school.
Now, here is the problem with covering the smallest schools in the tournament. They get the WORST tip off times!! Roscoe was the first game of the morning on Thursday, playing at 8:30am! Luckily, we were able to go Wednesday night and "only" had to get up at 6am. I was told by one of the Roscoe fans that there was a fan bus that left for the game from Roscoe at 2:30am! Now that's a school spirit I never had for my school! Roscoe ended up winning the game, which meant their prize was another 8:30am game on Saturday... more on that later.
Roby, since they play in the smallest division gets paired up with the 5A teams, so at least they get to play a little later. That ended up being a double-edged sword. Roby played Friday afternoon at 2pm. The game was great, they struggled early and picked it up and won their game, something that was expected from a team that made it there last year and had no seniors.
Then came Saturday... the longest day. Roscoe played at 8:30am then Roby play at 7pm! The good thing was at least I wouldn't have to be worried about my deadline for the Roscoe game. I had everything done, photos sent and a 34 photo slide show for the web, all done not long after noon. And then, I had all afternoon to sit and do nothing, kinda boring. Luckily, Roby was playing in the first game of the session, so I knew the game would at least start on time. That was a good thing since we had early deadlines because of the time change and the paper had to be out at 10pm, normally, we can get photos in at 10pm and they have an hour to work on the pages.
When I shoot games like this it is really nice. This is the only thing on my mind, and I can devote all my attention to just doing this. It's also nice because the games have nice light being played in the Frank Erwin Center at the University of Texas. The other nice thing about it is being able to move around. Since there is an upper deck I always make it a point to shoot a quarter of every game from up there to get something different then the normal baseline shots. I also like to have a remote camera with a wide angle lens on it to shoot floor shots. Something different, that I can't always due, since my D2x has awful looking files over 800 ISO. My normal set up for any basketball game is my D3 with a 70-200mm f2.8 and my D2Hs with a 300mm f2.8 lens. So adding in the wide angle camera makes for a nice change. I also love the way the shots look, even these girls that don't play an "above the rim" game look huge from this angle. Overall, I was pretty happy with what I ended up with. I ended up putting up over 120 photos on the web from the four different games. I also did a gallery of my overall faves from the weekend here.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

More brush fires...

I'm not sure it's ever going to rain here, and as long as it doesn't, these things are just going to get worse. The brush fire last Thursday was pretty big, more than 3,000 acres. It's just recently been completely contained. But, last Thursday it was huge. The fire was about 25 miles south of Abilene and you could see the plume of smoke from town. I was told there was ash falling from the sky more than 30 miles away. A reporter and I headed out there. When we got there the road to near the fire was shut down. So, of course, my natural reaction was to find another way in. We ended up driving all around the hill that the fire was burning on, trying to find photos of the crews that were working the fire. Pretty much everywhere we went we ran into roadblocks, we finally ended up getting to a road where a volunteer firefighter told us to go to to at least get a good view of the blaze. It was pretty amazing to see how high the flames were shooting up and the terrain was so rough, there really wasn't much of a way for trucks to get in there to battle the fires. The only way to do it was by air. The forest service had called in a couple of helicopters and planes to fight the fire.
After getting a shot of the smoke pouring out I figured it would be best to head back to Hwy. 277, the main highway that the fire was headed towards. I figured the best way to get photos of it was from there since the fire was headed that way. We got to a rest area at the top of a hill, where the sheriff's department had its temporary command center. This help both myself and the reporter who was able to get much of the info she needed. By the time we got there the sun was going down, which actually helped. The sunset provided for my favorite photo (top), a helicopter was refilling it's drop bucket with water in a stock tank against the sunset with a whole field of windmills surrounding it. It looked a lot like a scene from "Apocalypse Now" After I shot the photo I had this strange urge to pull up Wagner's "Ride of the Valkyries" on my iPod on the ride back to the office (yes, I really do have it on there!).

Monday, March 2, 2009

Ash Wednesday

A couple hours after shooting my swimming assignment, I had to shoot a church service for Ash Wednesday. Now, if there is one place I hate to shoot more than anywhere else it is church! The main reason being I see church as an extremely sacred place, it's a lot like shooting funerals, not a whole lot of people want to see a photographer there. So when I am shooting in church I pretty much do everything that I can to stay low key. Of course getting the pastor's blessing for you to be there is most important part. That was done early in the afternoon rather than showing up at the last minute. Then I get there and try and scout out a location to shoot from that will give me both a good look at what's going on but allows me to stay kind of out of sight. This one worked out well I got the shot above standing off to the side while shooting with a 70-200mm lens. My thinking on this is not only am I trying not to make a scene, but I also don't want ruin the chance of shooting here again in the future or making the newspaper look bad. In situations like this I will take a subpar photo, rather than making a scene. However, I guess I did something right, since the church's music minister sent me a thank you email the next day saying they loved the photo.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Swimming to Austin...

When it comes to swimming coverage we don't do a whole lot of it. Part of the reason is local swim meets are few and far between. It's actually kind of a shame because swimming is pretty fun to shoot, especially since it makes for a nice change from basketball. This particular story was about Eran Jennings, one of only two local swimmers to make the state meet. The great thing about shooting practice is I can shoot in places I normally can't during a meet. Like on top of the blocks during starts. I shot him doing about 10 or 12 starts, leaning over the water as far as I could. After the first few times I just had this vision of me leaning over too much and going in the pool with him! Luckily, that never happened and I got a decent shot I liked out of it. After getting the shot from the start I tried dragging my shutter a little as he was working on doing his turns and ended up getting something I liked a little better. That's the one we ended up running in the paper.