Tuesday, June 03, 2008


Back in my sophomore year of college when I was taking the intro to photography class that started me on this crazy path, my photography teacher Cade White told our class that sometimes he would find a frame when he was reviewing a shoot that he didn't think he had nailed, but had. He described it as feeling like God pushed the shutter button down for him. I have had a few moments that I have captured on film or digital sensor like this when I am striving for a moment, but am not sure if I caught it just right or whether a certain element is fixed perfectly in place until I look at my take later. It's not until then that I fully realize what I have. One of those moments occurred last month during a butterfly release ceremony in downtown Midland. The event was sponsored by a local hospice center, with the idea being that those attending could purchase a butterfly and have the name of a deceased love one read aloud during a ceremony and then everyone would release their butterflies at the same time. I had singled out a mother and daughter because the little girl was so precious was so interested in the insect in her plastic cup as she waited to release it. When the time came I shot plenty of frames of her, most of them just missing the moment and then stepped back and noticed her mother was one of the last to let her butterfly go, having had some trouble opening her container. I saw the butterfly emerge and snapped a few frames off again and then took some wider shots of everyone looking to the trees for as the little insects landed all over the place. It wasn't until I got to my truck and looked on the back of the camera that I realized I had the butterfly in the frame and furthermore, highlighted by the sun shining through the trees. While I think I could have composed the photo a little bit better, I feel like a got the the moment. The woman's face and the position of the butterfly are what makes the photo for me. Sometimes we just react to what we see, and attempt to capture a moment that can tell the story and let the viewer in on a moment of time they would never have seen otherwise.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Some night time work

I have been wanting to shoot some slow shutter speed night time traffic photos around loop 250, which runs in a horseshoe shape around Midland. The building of the loop around a decade ago is credited with helping the city grow as much and as fast as it has. I have been thinking about shooting a picture page on the loop or on the city streets at night as I often have an hour or more to kill at the end of my scheduled shift at night, but haven't gone out and shot any photos for it yet. Last night I finally got started, shooting from an overpass to get this shot (this is at Midland Drive and the loop for anyone familiar with the Midland area). I will probably start out just shooting a few images over the next week or so from on and around the loop until I can find a theme I can use to unite the photos in a small photo package or picture page for the paper in the future. Honestly, the whole point of shooting last night was to get out of the office and shoot something for myself, which I don't do as often as I should. I need to keep my eyes fresh.

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

Trying out a new technique...

Stanton High school 800m runner A.J. Lozano

As I've said in another post here portraits don't come so easy for me, and sports portraits cause me more stress than most. When I arrived at work today and found out I had to drive 20 miles away for a portrait of a high school track runner I was a little nervous. I brought several flashes with me but only used one on the final shot as it was the only one I could use in a high speed sync mode with my camera. High speed sync was the only way I could keep the subject well exposed and underexpose the background using my shoe mount flashes without significant and unethical post processing (at least it would be unethical to print in the paper). I go the idea for this technique from the Strobist where I have seen a couple of examples. To be honest, I didn't stray much from what I had seen before because what I was going for was simple and pretty straight forward. One light up high and just out of frame on the left and a lower camera angle were all it took to spice up a routine photo. Next time, I would like to use multiple flashes or try this look with multiple subjects, maybe with some very controlled light, like from a snoot or grid, in a wider shot. I'm sure the opportunity will come up because we always need portraits for our player features.
I should note that stobist is one of my favorite sites. It's on a netvibes tab that I check daily with a few other blogs like A Little News. I will probably post a roundup of my favorite sites pretty soon, with these two topping the list.

Friday, March 14, 2008

Editing Decisions...

Yesterday while editing an assignment I ran into a problem where I had narrowed down an assignment to two photos, and had to pick one for publications. Now this isn't anything new, in fact it's something I do everyday. Yesterday, However, I kept second guessing myself. Self-editing is something I would like to think I'm good at, but from time to time I get stymied on one set of photos. I think the problem usually comes when we get attached to a photo, but often don't want to admit it to ourselves. Usually I can step back and objectively look at things, other times I can't. Yesterday's conundrum wasn't helped by the fact that I didn't have the luxury of time, I had another assignment I needed to get to, and I couldn't step away for a few minutes as I often do. You'd be amazed at how different photos can look to you after taking the time to step out get a drink or water or a soda and maybe a quick visit with a co-worker.
The photos were not going with any story, the one I picked was to run as a stand alone piece of art on the page. The girl scouts in the pictures had just donated several books related to girl scouting to the local library and were getting a tour of the children's area by a librarian. I picked the first one to turn in despite the fact that one of the girls was looking in my direction. I liked the moment with the girl in front and I'm a sucker for framing. I had a really tough time, and in hindsight I think it was my love of the framing technique that won out. It doesn't make me very proud to say so because that's not a very good way to pick out photos. The second one has its flaws as well, one of the girls faces is obscurred by the book and the girls in the back aren't even paying attention. It does tell a little more about the event since you can tell the girls are brownie scouts and with the woman in the foreground holding a book it's a pretty easy guess that she may be a librarian. Since this ran without a story, the second one does convey more info to the reader than the first. However, the first photo does have the interesting angle and composition going for it. Feel free to leave any comments you have about my decision, the photos themselves or which one you would have picked.

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

TAPPS state basketball tournament

I took my first overnight trip last week to shoot three of our local private schools in the Texas Association of Private and Parochial Schools (TAPPS) state tournament in San Antonio with of my paper's sports writers, Mitch Worthington. We took off Thursday since we had an 11:00 game Friday morning and we arrived back in Midland Sunday afternoon. The trip was pretty fun, although it was also very tiring, especially on Friday as I was either shooting, editing, transmitting or riding along to the next venue all day long. I shot in a total of four different gyms, which means four different lighting configurations to deal with. That also meant four different venue administrators who couldn't seem to agree on just where I could shoot from, as well as four different lighting setups with their own challenges. I really have gotten spoiled with just shooting in two or three local gyms frequently, with the Chap Dome and it's ceiling-mounted strobes being the main one. The light at three of the places was alright, but there was one that was a total cave. I ended up shooting at ISO 3200, and using PictureCode's Noise Ninja software to erase some of the noise I get at that level of sensitivity.

Two of our team's made it to their respective championship games Saturday, and the paper wanted photos for both the sports and news sections so I was kept pretty busy at those games shooting not only action, but the crowd and of course the reaction and trophy shots. The biggest challenge for me was often finding an outlet to plug in my laptop so I could edit and transmit, providing I could find a wireless connection. It never failed that my laptop battery would start to run out when I only had about five minutes of work left. It usually took me much longer than that to find a plug and get started again. Little things like this are small challenges that I wouldn't have been prepared for if I hadn't done freelance work and had to transmit to various paper's or offices when I was still in college. It's not hard at all, but it can be frustrating if you aren't used to it. My co-worker Reid Merritt and I have found that when it comes to transmitting if it can go wrong, it probably will, twice. I was pretty lucky this time, but we have some horror stories we tell at the office every time one of us is covering an out of town game just to make sure the other guy knows how bad a night he could have. It's just one of the little ways we look out for one another in the photo department.

The last thing I have to say about this weekend, is how cool it was to get back to the paper Sunday and see all my photos in the past two day's papers. It's not like seeing my work in print is anything new at this point, but seeing which photos made it and how they were used is fun and something I hope never stops being so for me.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Working under pressure...

For a smaller market photojournalist, there are often several assignments to complete each day. On average, I shoot 2-3 assignments on a weekday and anywhere between 4-8 on a Saturday. Let me say right now I am usually up there in the upper end of that estimate on the weekend. The past two Saturdays I have shot 7 seven assignments, often one right after another in three and four hour blocks. Needless to say I have some busy days. The challenge of the job, then, is to still bring back something good, whether I have 15 minutes or and hour and a half to shoot an assignment. A good example of this was last Saturday when I had to shoot a noon soccer game, get to a boy scouts event where they were retiring American and Texas flags at 12:45 and then get back to the stadium to shoot another game at 2:00. When you factor drive time in there things can get pretty hairy. Once I got to the boy scout event I was ready to shoot them burning the flag remnants, but as will often happen to a photojournalist, they were running behind cutting the flags up. For those of you wondering why they do this, it is to make them easier to burn and to speed up the process which can take awhile. Myself and a photographer from another nearby paper were both shooting the boys cutting the flags and looking at our watches. We both had somewhere to be and had not budgeted too long for the assignment. I ended up staying longer since I could stay until around 1:45 and still make it to the soccer game shortly after it began. Of course there was a ceremony and some speeches so I was really wondering if I would even see some flames. Just before I was going to leave they began burning the flag pieces and I was able to shoot for about seven or eight minutes before running to the truck. Despite the event moving along slowly I made several images I was happy with. I have found that I need to shoot very quickly at events like this, especially when they don't stay on schedule, but I must still be thorough, getting names and such for caption info. Often, I feel like someone should be playing "flight of the valkyries" every time I jump into my truck and take off to the next assignment. I have have plenty of assignments where I don't have an 45 minutes to wait around for the action to happen and must get the best photo possible while I am there. I would have had to turn something in still even if I had only had five minutes to shoot. I find that sometimes I thrive in these assignments, but that some of my biggest mistakes come from these assignments as well. Photos © Midland Reporter-Telegram.

The stars of Old Glory burn as pieces of a flag are set afire during a retirement ceremony put on by area boy scout troops at Veterans Park.

Joey Aceves of Weblo Scout troop 129 in Andrews tears pieces of an old flag during a flag retirement ceremony at Veteran's Park Saturday afternoon. Boy Scout officials said the flags are torn into pieces to make them easier to burn.

Boyscout's Jordan Homefeld (front) and Joey Aceves (background) cut up old and worn-out American flags to make them easier to burn as part of a flag retirement ceremony at Veteran's Park Saturday.

A piece of American Flag is thrown into the fire as area boy scouts gather around to watch the flag remnants burn at a flag retiring ceremony at Veteran's Park Saturday.

George Friday, Unit Commissioner with the Buffalo Trail Council, moves around pieces of American and Texas flags to help the pile burn faster during a flag retirement ceremony Saturday afternoon.

Simple is often best

When I get a portrait assignment, one of the first things that usually comes to mind is that I need to check my bag o' flashes and make sure I have everything I need to complete the assignment. Yet, not all portraits require the use of flash, sometimes the light available on site is good enough or even better than hooking up the strobes and pocket wizards. The portrait below was taken of a local businessman, in the restaurant he has run for twenty-something years. The whole front wall was practically one big window, letting plenty of beautiful sunlight in so I decided to go with that instead of something fancy. Mr. Brooks seemed like a straightforward and simple man, so I hope the choice to go available light here adds to the photo and says something about the subject too.

Julius Brooks in his restaurant Mr. Brooks Barbecue, which he will have owned for 29 years in August. Photo © Midland Reporter-Telegram

For the baseball players below, I used just one light at camera right to light up their faces and to even out the exposure. Unfortunately, the sky wasn't blue and cloudy so it's mostly blown out. I include this here because six months ago I probably would have been too scared to even try a one light portrait as I felt I didn't have a good grasp of lighting basics. I have been a strobist reader (www.strobist.com) for over a year now, but I still felt nervous shooting with small strobes on assignment. Thankfully my job has pushed me to not only do so, but to begin experimenting more and more with simple setups that can easily turn a dull portrait into something better. I'm not saying the photo below is great by any means, but it is certainly made better by using a simple flash setup. As I grow better in my lighting skills expect to see some more complex portraits here on this blog.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

The daily grind and trying new things

So I have never been too good at going out in search of wild art of feature photos. It's not that I don't like stand-alone photos, it's just that unless I have a plan of attack, I feel like I it's just a shot in the dark. When I get into my truck I want to know where I am headed and what I plan to shoot. Unfortunately, this viewpoint is not always compatible with the life of a smaller market photojournalist. I often have to go out in search of these photos, mostly for our local section where we don't use art from any of the wire services. Many times, our reporters will give us ideas for assignments where there is a good photo opportunity but not much of a story, often, though, I am just on my own. There can be a lot of pressure here, especially for a young photographer like myself. You are expected to pull the rabbit out of the hat on a regular basis. With that in mind, here are a couple of stand-alone photos I have taken in the past few weeks. Photos © Midland Reporter-Telegram and myself.

The reflections of several downtown buildings, including the Wilco and Bank of America towers, are combined in the rounded windows of the Summit Building II on Illinois Tuesday evening.

A worker with Butts Plastering works on the wall of the Stonegate Fellowship Church Children's Building Thursday afternoon.

The next shot was taken from the rafters at the local college athletic center where most of our local basketball teams host heir home games. I am scared of heights and this photo required me to stand on a chair and lean over a rail so I really went out of my comfort zone for the shot. I think it works, although it could certainly be better (and safer to obtain). I think I might try a remote camera setup sometime in the future for these types of shots and will post about it here if I do.

Lee's Dave Morris attempts a shot from under the basket friday night agianst the Cooper Cougars.

I just liked this one because the shooter's eye is framed by the fingers of the defender's hand. It's one of those times when I didn't see anything special about a photo until I was back at the office looking at my take for the evening in detail.

Jesus Morales gets off a jump shot despite the attempts of Cooper's Darius Robinson Friday evening at the Midland College Chaparral Center.