Monday, July 18, 2011

Water, Water... Nowhere...

This Sunday we ran a big water package about the drought in the area. Most of the local lakes are below 50% capacity. Between the fast evaporation rate from more than 30 days of 100+ degree heat this summer combines with the almost three months of no rain (I think there has been measurable rainfall in the area twice in the last three months). So, I ended up taking a few road trips around the area to shoot some of the lakes in the area. Pretty much all but one were in really bad shape, a couple were really just glorified mud puddles, it was really awful. However, it made for some really nice and storytelling photos.
It was really interesting, the first place I went to was Lake Brownwood, south of Abilene. One of the places I went to was a place I had last been to in 2007 when the lake was flooding. It was really crazy since the parking lot I had parked in was under six inches of water. This time when I went out there I took photos of some people tanning near the water about 40 yards from where the shoreline was supposed to be.
It's been a while since I've taken a real road trip around the area that wasn't sports related, so checking out all of these places from a news perspective was a little out of the norm. One of the places I went to was Lake JB Thomas near Snyder. This lake was barely even a lake it this point, it's kind of weird, the lake has never been more than 37% full and it's currently down to only three percent. As I was driving down one of the roads to get to the water I looked down at my GPS (pic below) to see how close I was and it showed I was in what should have been the middle of the lake, yet the water was still about 400 yards from my car! As I went further to the western side of the lake, there were areas that were so overgrown it looked like there had never even been any water in the so-called lake bed ever, I'm not sure if it was bad engineering or wishful thinking or a combination of both. The whole trip was a really eye opening experience that pretty much told the story of just how precious water is in this area.












Thursday, July 14, 2011

Another Day Another Fire...

Saturday, I was headed back from shooting an assignment in Lake Stamford and decided to take a little different route home than I got there, and against my GPS's directions (because I'm not so sure she knows the best route). And, once again as I noticed the all too familiar plume of smoke in the air, and since I was headed in that direction anyway, I figured I'd just keep an eye on it. By the time I got back to Lake Fort Phantom it was really big and the scout plane and tankers were circling to make drops. I jumped out of the car real quick in time to get the big tanker making a drop. But, since the majority of the photos I've shot from wild fire lately has been from air units making drops I wanted to stick around and shoot some of the ground crews, hand crews, or the brush trucks. It sounds easy enough, but with the roads blocked off it's tough to get really good access. But, after waiting it out for a while the game warden who had the road blocked off took off. I'm not sure why, he just left, cool. I ventured down the road a little to one of the burning tree lines. I figured if I hung out there long enough one of the brush trucks would go work that area. And, my bet paid off, plus the field I was standing next to caught on fire too. It was kind of crazy, I got really good access here. I think part of it was standing next to one of the command vehicles, I figured if he was there I was ok too. I was able to get a few shots of the forestry service guys working the fire and decided to get out of there. I was happy with what I had and it was hotter than hell out there. It was time to go.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Spending the Night Staring at the Stars...

This was kind of a last-minute idea. While I was captioning the mud bog photos I was looking in the paper's calender trying to find the proper name of the event and ended up coming across the calender item about the star gazing party at Abilene State Park in Buffalo Gap. I had actually shot one of these parties when I first came to Abilene, but none since. In fact, it had been so long that the last one I shot was done on film. So, this was kind of cool, since now I had a camera that I was confident enough in to shoot with and could make some nice images. I got there a little before the sun had gone down to talk with the members of the Big Country Astronomy Club and get a few shots of them setting up. I kind of knew the shots I wanted for the main photo, something using a long exposure that showed the sky and all the stars.
As the sun started going down the crescent moon was just about to set people started to line up at the telescopes to see the moon, which with these really big telescopes made some beautiful visuals. Star parties are best when the sky is dark, so a new moon or a couple of days after with minimal moonlight are best, so the little bit of time with the moon was just sort of appeasing the folks before the sun totally set. However, it also made for a really nice photo since while I was standing there a dad was lifting up his little girl (above) to look through the telescope.
Now, if I wasn't that interested in the event I probably could have left then. However, the astrogeek in me wanted to see some stars and planets. I actually took astronomy in college and did really well until it got to the physics par, luckily I didn't have to do any physics here or measure the distances between galaxies. It was just looking through the telescopes and shooting photos. And, once it got really dark I pulled out my mini tripod and started shooting some long exposures. It was pretty late by this point and I'd shot quite a few others up to this point. The good thing though was a lot of the people were gone. And when I saw this kid sitting at the telescope for a few minutes I set my camera on the ground and shoot a few of him using thirty second exposures. It got me just what I was looking for, the kid in the foreground with a nice bright sky full of stars in the background (top), the person walking by with the red flashlight that made the red streak was just sort of a bonus.



Monday, July 11, 2011

Lets Go Play in the Mud...

Along with the fireworks for the 4th of July I went to Roscoe to cover their parade and mud bog. Now the parade was well, a small town parade. However, the other part of the celebration was a mud bog. I've covered one other one before and it wasn't too great. Mostly because it was really unorganized and they didn't get started until about 3 hours after when it was supposed to start. This one though, was a lot of fun, there were about 50 trucks competing and it started right after the noon start time. It was a lot more fun than I thought it would be. And everyone was having a good time both the drivers and the fans. And really, how hard is it NOT to make a decent photo with all that mud and a bunch of guys out their trying to get dirty?


Sunday, July 10, 2011

Happy Fourth of July

With the majority of the area going up in flames and the fear of what hasn't burned yet being ready to burn many of the towns around the area cancelled their fireworks this year. However, a few places did keep their shows, mostly the few places that can shoot off the fireworks over a lake... something else that's drying up. So, Clyde was still having their show, in fact they were having two, one on Friday and one on Saturday. Our plan was to run the photos on Sunday, so I really needed to shoot the show on Friday night since our Saturday night deadlines are about 10 minutes before the show would actually start. When I got their and set up I figured I had a pretty decent spot. Then when the fireworks actually started I found out I was way too far back I ended up running with my tripod and cameras up to a few people who were watching from a little bit closer rock. When the finale started I still hadn't gotten a shot I liked, I began to panic a little and started shooting a lot, going with long exposures on my camera on the tripod and wide angle lens, my other camera I had my 70-200mm lens on and went filling up the frame with the fireworks and noticed the reflection of the lake in the shot. As I was leaving I wasn't sure if I had a shot or not, so when I got back tot he office and was looking at what I had it was starting to be a little disappointing, then I saw the above shot, and what made it for me was seeing the people's silhouettes in the bottom left of the frame. A big sigh of relief, I had my shot and luckily it was about the only shot I really liked. But, it worked out well as the main photo on the front page, though it probably could've run a little bigger.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Cowboy Reunion...

For my photo column last week I went up to Stamford to shoot the rodeo at the Texas Cowboy Reunion. It's a really cool event that's been going on up there for 80+ years and for the folks who go, both the spectators and competitors, it's a yearly tradition. Now, I've covered the parade before the event and the fiddlers contest and Saturday events before, but I'd never been to the rodeo before. Not sure why, but it's something I've always seemed to have missed. I ended up getting to the event about an hour early, since I had to shoot and transmit photos from the parade for the next day's paper.
After running into quite a few people I met during Stamford's run to state in baseball, I went to the back and poked around checking out the competitors and seeing what kind of behind the scenes stuff I could get into. It was cool because it allowed me to talk to a lot of folks about the event without bothering them during the rodeo, since I also had to write a short story to go with the photo page. After talking to many of them the theme was the same, pretty much everyone I talked to had been coming here every year "for as long as I can remember." Well, that was easy enough, I knew what I was writing about. And after a couple of hours I had a bunch of nice images that I was happy with.






Wednesday, July 6, 2011

The Biggest Little Fire in Texas...

It is becoming commonplace to see giant plume of smoke in the sky outside of Abilene. And it always means the same thing. Most of the fires are thousands of acres and anywhere from 30-70 miles out of town (and yes you can see the smoke from that far away). So, when I saw the plume of smoke the other day I checked with the office to make sure someone knew about it and that someone was going to shoot it. The fire ended up being just up the road at Lake Fort Phantom north of Abilene.
I ended up getting there pretty quick, and was able to see the flames torching the cedar trees. It looked like the fire was burning right towards the lake. I was curious, the way it was burning if the fire departments would even bother fighting it that much, since it looked like it would just burn itself out going toward the lake. I was shooting from another cove across the lake with a long lens, so I had a great view of the flames, but no one fighting it. I sat and watched it burn waiting to see if I could get anything of the fire departments. After a while, I decided where I moved and ended up finding and old abandoned trailer that had a covered patio on the water. It was nice I had a great view and shade, which is perfect on a 100 degree day.
About the time I was starting to get bored just watching trees burn, I noticed a baby deer running around the fire. As I was watching the deer run around it almost became like a sport watching it dodge flames and try to figure out a way to get away. Finally, it went in the lake and swam around the burning grasses and ended up getting away to an unburned area. Just about that time, I heard the familiar thumping of rotor blades and then looked up and saw a helicopter flying in. Well, I guess my idea of just letting it burn to the shore wasn't going to happen. As I first watched the helicopter it was on the other side of the fire nowhere near me. Then after about 15 minutes it dropped some water on my side then went and hovered over the water giving me a clear glimpse of it doing it's job. Then it went out and made a drop right near the shoreline giving me a nice clear view. I stuck around and shot a few more drops before finally taking off.
When I got back to the office I found out that only one abandoned structure was destroyed in the fire. It's kind of funny, a couple firefighters I've spoken to call these "no glory" fires, since there isn't anything to save. It's not like they fight any harder to do their jobs, but people seem to give them less credit since there isn't anything to save. As long as no one gets hurt it's all good. So, another thing I had learned was the fire only burn 37 acres, kind of crazy considering most of the fires I've been covering the last few months were more on the 37,000 acre scale. However, that day must have been a pretty light day, finally, since the 37 acres that burned in Abilene was the biggest fire in the state that day. Hopefully it's a sign of things to come and not just wishful thinking.




Monday, July 4, 2011

First Stop on the Way to Williamsport...

Shooting bad baseball is not fun, shooting good baseball that means something is one of my favorite sports to shoot. Luckily, during the regular season we're too busy with high school and college baseball to shoot little league. However, during the summer there are no high school and college sports going on, but there are still the district and state little league tournaments. Both of witch have some type of stop in Abilene. The first one is the district 5 tournament. The good thing about it is every team in it is from Abilene or somewhere in the area, the bad thing is... well...the same thing.
Since there wasn't a whole lot going on that night I figured I'd shoot two games one was two local teams, the other a pair of area teams playing right across the street after the first one. The second game was kind of awful, I had gotten there a little late because the first one went long. It was a totally one-sided game. Errors, bad swings, mental mistakes etc. they couldn't do anything. The other team was hitting everything. I didn't end up staying long since I had a few shots and luckily was pushing up to deadline anyway.
The first game between Dixie and Cedar Creek, both from Abilene, was a great game. Cedar Creek was up 4-0 when I got there and I thought it could be a blowout, then Dixie's bats woke up and they took a lead going into the final inning. Down by 2, Cedar Creek tied it up and had runners on first and third with two outs. Then the Cedar Creek batter cranked a huge hit for a three-run homer to win the game. It's one of those things every kid dreams of doing. It made for some really nice shots, from both teams. The only bad part of the game was probably my favorite shot was from a Dixie player coming home after an earlier home run.