Thursday, April 28, 2011

300mph Hanging Out the Backdoor...

On Sunday we ran a special section on the 50th anniversary of the C-130 at Dyess Air Force Base in Abilene. So, in preparation of the section another photog and I were sent up in a C-130 on a media flight. The main reason I was going was to shoot video, yay me (that was sarcasm, in case you didn't know). So, of course there was no way I was going up there and ONLY shooting video. The cool thing about this was we were pretty much given free reign of the plane. Before take off, I got all the basics out of the way. The video interview, which I split up between shooting a minute on my video camera and the rest on my audio recorder to save camera battery (the video function on the D3s suck battery like crazy!). However, I needed something other than just a talking head. Luckily, the super cool crew that I was flying with hooked me up with a headset to listen in on the pilots' and controllers' radio chatter.
After getting some really good audio, it was off to my seat for the takeoff. I'd heard the pilot saying he was going to let us feel like it was to make a true "combat takeoff." Unlike a jet the C-130 can get full power from its engines right away allowing it to take off from much shorter runways. The C-130 only needs 1,500 feet to take off, less than 1/3 of what it takes a normal cargo plane. So, about 15 seconds after the throttle ramped up, we were in the air. Not long after that the loadmasters had us strapped in at the back of the plane and the back door was open. It wasn't long before the older model C-130H and the newer C-130J were flying up behind us in formation.
We spent about two hours flying across the Big Country banking left and right, climbing and dropping and fighting winds and a little turbulence. It wasn't too long before a couple of people pulled back and had their head in the barf bags. To me, it felt a lot like a boat in really choppy waters. It didn't really bother me much except for having a hard time holding my camera still while shooting the video clips. After I made a few nice frames of the C-130's flying past the Trent windmills I decided to go grab some video and photos from the cockpit.
As I climbed up into the flight deck I noticed my coworker with his head in the bag. I got a good laugh and got a good thumbs up pic of it. The cockpit was a little more choppy-feeling than the back, I guess it's because I was sitting down back on the ramp, in the front I was standing and trying to work my way around the pilots, who were awesome. I finished out the flight up front. The whole thing lasted about two hours and probably went a lot longer than we really needed but it went by quick.
Overall it was a lot of fun. As for the video... well, the audio I got was really good, and the video was well received, so I was happy with it. But, it still won't change my feelings on video as a whole, or the importance of it versus a strong still image. And, a big thanks to my good friend and video guru, Rebecca Ducker, for some great advice and encouragement! Here is a link to the final product: 50 Years of the Flying Hercules




Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Earth Day in Downward Dog...

We were doing a story about Earth Day and Good Friday being on the same day. And, as usual I had to get a photo for Earth Day the day before. Luckily, The Grace Museum was having an Earth Day celebration yoga class. I'm guessing they did it the day before thinking no one would show up on Friday. Well it worked out for me, there was a nice big crowd. One thing I did notice, is about 2/3 of yoga poses are not... publishable, most of the time I didn't even bother putting my camera up to my eye.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Texas, the Tinderbox....

It seems like the whole state of Texas is on fire right now, and from what I've been told that may not be too much of an exaggeration, I was told today that this week every county except two have had a wild fire this week... and it's only Wednesday. Since the beginning of the year more than 1.4 million acres have burned from wild fires and there isn't a whole lot of relief in sight right now. To put the 1.4 million acres into perspective, the state of Delaware is only 1.25 million acres.
On Monday, right after I'd gotten finished doing my taxes I got a call at home from my editor asking if I could go up in a helicopter to shoot photos of the "Wildcat Fire" in Coke County, about 80 miles southwest of Abilene. At the time it was the biggest fire in the state at over 100,000 acres.
Seeing these fires from the ground does almost no justice to how big these fires really are. As we were flying in you could see the smoke from about 40-50 miles away. As we got up close we had to go around the fire while waiting on approval from the command plane to let us shoot photos. It was amazing how much smoke was billowing into the air from the tops of the mountain. Looking down you could see all the carnage from the fires that ripped through.
After a few minutes the incident commander in the air let us in to get photos, we had to get high to stay above the helicopters dropping water on the fire. Then we moved over to try to shoot the ground units fight the blaze. From crews setting back fires to putting out hotspots, the thick uninhabited areas they just let burn to the tanker drop, there was no shortage of images to be made.
One part of the fire that I'd never gotten to experience was the radio chatter from the air units. It's pretty crazy how well run things are by the incident commander, who basically spends the whole time circling around in a spotter plane telling the helicopters where to drop and guiding in the tankers to the drop sites. Not to mention keeping us out of the way. However I'll say, my pilot Heath, owner of Polasek Helicopter Services, was awesome. He pretty much got me in position to get every shot I needed, and with a little help from the incident commander had us in near-perfect position for the tanker drop. After that we circled around a few more times to get shots of the ground crews before leaving to get the photos back. It worked out really well, and I think it did a pretty great job as showing the sheer size of the fire. Another really crazy thing I notice was how much the smoke blocked out the sun. All of these photos were shot within a 30 minute time. However, the tanker drop looked like it was shot after the sun set.






Wednesday, April 20, 2011

The Best on the Hardwood...

For our annual basketball players of the year we ended up getting a little bit of a late start and were scrambling to get players in on rather shorter notice than I'd have liked. That, coupled with a few of players needing to come from more than 100 miles away I was really nervous about whether they'd all be able to come in. Well, my fears were correct and for the first time all of the players weren't going to come in. My remedy for the situation was to shoot the photos really simple, with a dark background and some nice, simple light that could easily be copied. Since one of the players wouldn't be able to make it, but had a photographer friend of the family that was going to shoot a photo for us. Not ideal, but given the constraints, it was better than nothing.
For the players of the year, it was a little bit easier as far as the scheduling goes. Both players were within 20 miles of Abilene. I shot Kainon Irons, the boys player first, he was such a nice and humble kid it was kind of hard to get him amped up for the shoot. But, at the same time he was really great to work with and once he started to get into it, things went really well.
The girls player was Peyton Little, a junior from one of the local schools and the player of the year for the second year in a row. I didn't shoot her last year since I was on vacation when it was shot. So, I wasn't worried about having to shoot it different since my style is different than the photog who shot last year's photo. Like most girls, she was more concerned about how she looked in the photo than than the boys player. Once again the LCD screen of my camera helped me out a lot, after taking one look at the shot she was hooked and happy to do whatever it took to make sure the photo turned out really nice. Now, I just need to figure out how I'm going to shoot her photo next year.





Thursday, April 14, 2011

More Track and Some Field Too...

Given that my baseball photos so far this year have been pretty much a disaster, save one decent game, I was glad to see another track meet on my schedule. This time it was a high school meet. The funny thing is often the total amount of talent, from top to bottom, is usually better at the high school meets I cover over the D3 meets I shot last week. Plus, hoping for the chaos I'd seen last week, isn't as good with high school kids.
This meet was a one day, weekday meet. The field events were during the afternoon and the running was in the early evening. I went there for a little while to shoot some of the field events and then wen back later for the running... and the nicer light. It's funny, I got a few decent shot from the field events and had thought about not going back, but in hopes of getting a few shots run I went back for the running and the pretty light. The irony of it was only one of the photos ended up running, little space and a lot of agate made things miss out.



Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Spring Time is Track Time....

I shot my first track meet of the season, a college meet. And while I often bitch and moan about how much I hate shooting D2 and D3 baseball, I LOVE D3 track! Why? Well, two events... the hurdles and even better, the steeplechase. I know it sounds pretty sadistic and awful, but the two best things about shooting track, and one of the reasons I love shooting it so much are emotions and chaos. With championship events it's great because there is no shortage of emotions. However, at the meets with very little at stake (other than practice and attempting to qualify for nationals, something that can be done even after the conference meets), the only thing left is chaos. And at the D3 level, while there are some really incredible athletes, lets just say, not all of them are. So, the chance for chaos is always there. In the steeplechase it's almost guaranteed there will be at least one runner doing a faceplant into the water. Now, I didn't get a chance to shoot the steeplechase the day before. But, the 100m or 110m hurdles come very close in the crash factor.
Now, I NEVER hope for an injury to an athlete, that's awful and I never want to see someone end their career in front of me. However, a trip over a hurdle that leaves nothing but bruised pride or a fractured ego always makes for good images. So, any time I see a pair of legs sticking straight up, I've got to say I get a little excited. And, while the top photo may look like a collision was going to happen, it didn't and no one was hurt other than a little road rash or bruises. After that the other two photos were just me looking for something interesting to go along with the crash.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Flamingo Dancing...

So, we got a press release about the Abilene Zoo getting a dozen new flamingos to its current flock. And I got out there the second day that they were on display after having been in quarantine. So, I get out there and start shooting. When I got there I had no idea which the new ones were and which the old ones were. So, I start shooting the pretty pink ones, since when I think of flamingos I think of the pink plastic pieces of yard art my grandmother had in her front yard. Well, as I was shooting I happened to see one of the zookeepers I know, and asked which are the new ones. Then she pointed me out to the greyish looking ones. Which of course I didn't have much of since they didn't look quite as nice. It turned out that flamingos don't get their bright pink feathers until about two years old. Well, at least I was eventually able to tell the difference.
While I was headed over there I got a text from an editor saying it was going on the front page as a standalone photo, since there wasn't much other decent art with the front stories (I think the only other local photo was from a press conference). I did end up running two different photos with an explanation of why the new flamingos weren't pink. I ended up shooting a lot more photos than I had planned, partially since I shot the wrong ones at first, but I did end up with some photos I liked of both the old and the new birds.



Sunday, April 3, 2011

Baseball Time...

With basketball finished up it's time to start concentrating on baseball season. I have shot a could of local games, but many times the problems with the local games (other than the teams not being all that good) is I often don't get a lot of time to shoot a whole game. So, when I get to go out of town to shoot an area game it's pretty nice. I can usually expect to shoot a pair of pretty good teams, that alone helps quite a bit. So, I can get pretty amped up about it since, if I'm sent to cover one of these games, I know there should be a pretty good chance at seeing some decent baseball.
The game between Stamford and Hamlin was looking to be one of those good small school games. Stamford had made it to the state tournament last year and Hamlin was playing really good baseball. I was also there to shoot a feature on a fan who had been going to the Hamlin games for seven decades. One thing I noticed real quick when I got to the game is how dusty the field was. This, isn't really a surprise considering how dry it has been lately and considering I don't think we've gotten any considerably measurable rain since January. The dusty field did make for some pretty nice photos though, plus it didn't hurt that there was some pretty nice action going on in the game.