Thursday, June 30, 2011

Fire Season is Getting Old...

It's almost getting to the point where 10,000+ acres burning is not news any more. In this case the White Hat fire in Maryneal, a tiny blip on the map in Nolan county about 50 miles west of Abilene, burned 36,000 acres. Sadly, 12 structures burned down, however, of the 12 I think only a few of them were currently occupied. Still, it was a pretty big deal so again I got sent up in a helicopter to fly over the fire to get some photos. Now, while hearing about fires constantly starts to get old, the chance to fly never does, I guess it goes back to me wanting to be a pilot when I was a kid. And I have to say, shooting fires from a helicopter is a helluva lot easier than shooting it from a plane, thank god we have a helicopter service in town that accessible and for the most part available. Plus, I think it helps with dealing with the forest service in them giving us access since a helicopter can maneuver around a lot easier, and with a bunch of planes flying around and all the windmills in the way as well, it helps and keeps us low enough to shoot some decent photos rather than the 4,000+ feet.
I was happy with the photos I got from shooting the fire, however, compared to the last big fire I shot they didn't quite stand up. I think a lot of it had to do with being a day late. When we got there we saw a lot of scorched earth and not a whole lot of fire. The tankers were dropping a lot of retardant and the bulldozers had fire lines dug out. It was a huge change from when you could see the smoke plume from 40 miles away. That was good and a testament to how good the forestry service and local fire departments are at containing these fires. I just wish I could have gotten there a day earlier. It may sound pretty crass with all the destruction going on, I never hope for any of this to happen. But talking to a firefighter one time pretty much summed up the way I feel, He said, "You never hope for this to happen, but dammit, when it does, I sure as hell hope it happens on my shift."





Tuesday, June 28, 2011

High School Rodeo...

I spent s few days hanging out at the rodeo shooting my photo column. It's always kind of nice to go somewhere without any real expectations. This year's finds didn't turn out quite as nice as the ones I got from last year, mostly because I didn't have as much time to walk around but I still ended up getting a few shots I liked. Then I went and shot the saddle bronc event on Saturday night and got a few nice shots of riders getting thrown off their horses. I guess since Saturday was the finals they saved the meanest horses for last because it seemed like nearly every one of the riders was getting tossed from their horses. That may not have been what the riders wanted but it sure made for some pretty fun images.





Monday, June 20, 2011

State Baseball....

It's been a while since I've been to Round Rock to cover the state baseball tournament. Last year when Stamford made it to state the game was covered by one of our sister papers who was also covering the games. And after hearing about the five hour rain delay and blowout following, I didn't feel so bad about missing the game. This year when I went down there I figured Stamford having been there would help, since they hopefully wouldn't have the jitters after many of these kids on the team were there last year. And, seeing the team they were playing was a first timer in the tourney maybe it wouldn't be a quick turnaround like last year.
The problem was, they were playing Johnson City, who was coming out of probably the toughest region in the state in baseball. When they walked out on the field the eye test didn't tell me they were going to be world beaters and watching them take infield they didn't look terribly spectacular either. However, once the game started, they showed why they were in the state tournament. Good pitching, really good fundamentals and some nice hitting gave them a quick lead.
The weather for the game could be best described as hotter than hell. And although it wasn't over 100 like in Abilene, it was only in the 90's, that was easily made up with a nice heave dose of humidity. I spent the first five innings baking in the sun in the photo wells along the first and third base lines, and an inning in the stands shooting behind home plate. However, I had been eyeing the left field home run porch most of the game. So in the sixth inning, I put the 2x teleconverter on the 400mm lens and I went up there to shoot for an inning. When I got up there I pretty much wanted to kick myself in the head for not shooting the whole game up there! It was cool in the shade and had a nice breeze blowing in. Basically the best seat in the house. Plus when I went up there, Stamford's bats woke up.
Stamford got down early and wasn't looking great. It was sad and starting to look like last year's mercy rule loss was going to repeat. Luckily, the defense started to pick up and finally in the sixth inning the bats were starting to wake up. Scoring five runs in the inning and closing it to one run. It was looking like they were setting themselves up for a nice comeback win. Well, then in the top of the seventh inning Johnson City blew things open with a 5-run inning and Stamford's bats couldn't finish it. Well, the good thing for them is most of the team was made up of sophomores and juniors so there's always the chance they could be back next year. Although, given that I've never seen one of the local teams win one of their semifinal games in the state baseball tournament, they may not want me covering the game.





Sunday, June 19, 2011

Spending the Day with the FCA...

The assignment I had following the Garage Band Woodstock was the annual FCA football game. However, before that, was the FCA basketball game. I've never been a huge fan of these types of games, mostly because, while I think it's really cool the kids get to be honored for all their hard work during their high school careers, the action is never all that great. Yet, every couple of years, they seem to prove me wrong. This just happened to be one of those years.
Now, just because of my perception of the game no having great potential, that doesn't mean I'm going to slack off in how I shoot it. Doing that just ensures bad photos.
The girls basketball game wasn't a great game, the South team won, like it has every year the game has been played. And it wasn't all that close. Luckily, there were plenty of area players on both teams. The players off the North team at least did have a few moments that they shined, when they were able to break the South's press, which made for some decent enough photos.
In the football game I got there a couple minutes after it started by the time I got into the stadium and fought the crowd. The halftime usually lasts forever, so it's always my goal in this game to get something nice before the half, after that if I get something nice I can either trade it out or have it for the slideshow. In the first drive of the game I got the shot of the receiver reaching for the ball. After that it was just making sure I got enough for the slideshow and making sure I didn't miss anything by falling asleep. The shot of the kid losing his helmet I got in the second half and made a nice photo for the jump page. Well, this year was the exception to the rule, hopefully the start of a streak.






Saturday, June 18, 2011

Getting Down With the Garage Bands...

This was one of those assignments I was just hoping to get lucky with a decent shot quick. I had to shoot the second annual Garage Band Woodstock. My plan was to (hopefully) get two quick shots before heading across the street to shoot my next assignment. I knew one shot would be east enough, getting something of the bands. The other one I had in mind was people dancing. When I got there things had just started, and there weren't many folks on the dance floor, so I made sure to get my band shots out of the way. After that I just walked around observing the crowd, looking for something else. I wasn't seeing a whole lot from the crowd, then I checked back on the dance floor and saw the little kid getting down. Perfect. I kind of sat back shooting from afar not wanting to him to see me and possibly clam up. Then again, as much as he was into his dancing I don't think he would've noticed anything. I got my shots, got names and was out in time to get to my next assignment in time.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Back Outta Town for more Baseball...

It was right around a year ago that I was shooting Stamford beating Forsan for the chance to make its first trip to the state tournament in baseball. On that night I shot probably my favorite baseball photo of the year. Well, this year Stamford was playing again, in the regional finals, this time against Hamlin, and the situation was a little different. They lost the first game of the series so they were going to have to win two. I found myself racing up there since I had a couple other assignments that needed to be done and it was a 5pm game in Graham.
By the time I got there, it was the fourth inning and Stamford was winning a close game. That's ok, while I was afraid I'd missed a lot there was plenty to come. In the bottom of the seventh inning, down by two, Hamlin tied the game up with a homerun. Then in the top of the eighth Stamford's Hagen Hutchinson scored on a great dive into home plate. Thank god for the LCD screen on my camera. I thought I had it but just had to check to be sure. I did, crossing my fingers I zoomed in to be sure it was sharp. Big sigh of relief, it was.
So, now that Stamford had won the first game and I had a great shot of Stamford I needed one of two things to happen. Either, Stamford wins the second game or Hamlin gives me something better if they won. It's tough enough getting one shot I love during a game, so getting two was completely implausible. The other impending problem I was seeing was time. It was nearly 8:30pm when the second game started. And the way the first inning was starting, this game looked like it may last four hours! Stamford scored in the top of the first, then Hamlin scored three, but the inning ended with a great play at the plate. After that it seemed like the wheels just completely fell off for Hamlin. Stamford came out and scored tight runs in the top of the second. Hamlin got back up and couldn't answer. Stamford came out the next inning and put up more. Stamford ended up winning the game in a blow out with a mercy rule win. It was really kind of a sad ending for such a great series and close rivalry between two evenly matched teams. Plus it made Stamford's celebration a little anti-climactic. That's ok, I got to run the shot of Hutchinson diving across the plate. The top photo is actually my favorite, however, I ended up going with the one of him with his hand on the plate (below), I think it did a little better job of telling the story.







Monday, June 13, 2011

Austin Bound, Quick Turnaround...

The Albany Lady Lions' first trip to the state softball tournament started with a 11am game in Austin. After having spent 10 days in Austin just a couple of weeks ago, I wanted to spend as much time in my own bed as I could. So, we ended up leaving at 4:30am for the game. That sounded crazy enough, but this one may top it... if Albany won, we spend the night and cover the championship game on Saturday, that's normal enough. However, should they lose, we were going to turn around and be back home that night. Well... they lost.
The really cool thing about state championship games are the venues. The University of Texas has really great facilities all around and the McCombs Softball Complex is no different. It's a beautiful stadium. And, when I;m covering a game here I try to make sure to shoot some photos that kind of show where they are playing. Win or lose this is a big deal. A couple hundred teams start the year with the goal of making it to Austin, and only four from each classification make it. So, in getting to not only shoot for print but having an online slideshow with an unlimited amount of space I try to show everything happening from warmups, to the game, the fans and the post-game celebration/disappointments.
The game started out kind of ugly. Grapeland was hitting well and Albany was making uncharacteristic errors, both fielding and mental on the base paths. I'd chalk it up to nerves. The did end up calming down and playing better. The problem was, when they did start hitting the ball they couldn't string enough together to score. Or, they were hitting the ball well but to the wrong place and were getting out. It's one of those things, that it just wasn't going to be their day. They ended up losing the game 8-3, which meant that my day had just gotten longer. After filing my photos, putting together a slideshow and grabbing some dinner we were headed home. Luckily the reporter drove the way back and I was able to use my wireless card to get online (with a very slow connection at some points) and build the slideshow. So, by 9pm I was home and back in my own bed and ready to cover baseball the next day.