Twenty Moments is an annual feature on the blog where I take you behind some of the photos I feel helped shape my year.
Amari Cooper may be the best wide receiver I have ever seen. The young man is a study in fluid motion. I have photographed him for three seasons. His freshman year at Alabama was remarkable. His sophomore year was plagued by an injury. His junior year, this year, has been record smashing. Wow! is not enough but I don’t know what else to say. Teams know Alabama is going to throw to him and they still can’t stop him. I mean, he literally gets all alone on the field and he gets so wide open I think I might be able to throw the ball to him once in a while.
I am always looking for a way to use a wide angle lens while covering football. Why you ask? I used to only shoot with a telephoto during the game but I kept on seeing these beautiful images shot near the goal line with a wide lens. I started to carry a second body, even my own personal Canon 5D, to try and get those shots. I have had moderate success. This photo is far from perfect. It is a fraction of a second late. The Canon 5D original version makes a beautiful file but it is a terrible autofocus camera and it has a painfully slow motor drive that is rated at three frames per second. That is terribly optimistic. Still, I like the camera and it is far better than the Nikon D2Hs that is my work backup camera body.
Alabama was driving the ball toward the Florida goal line. I selected a position about halfway down through the end zone so I am approximately five yards behind the goal line. Sure enough, Blake Sims lofted a pass over the Florida defensive back and Amari cradled it in for a touchdown. Nice stuff. I do wish I had been just a beat faster on the shutter. I think I would have liked it better if the ball were in the air but no picture is perfect and I will take this one until I get a better one.
Now, question time, how do you know when to grab that wide lens and put down the telephoto. No matter how hard I have tried I have not figured out a way to shoot with two bodies at the same time so some of it is taking a chance. You know the situation and you try and guess with the offensive coordinator. I figured Alabama might take a shot at a corner route and they did. It was a good guess or a good bit of intuition or maybe I should have been an offensive coordinator. To get the procedure down for shooting like this try hanging the body with the wide lens around your neck. This allows you to set down the long glass quickly and grab the body around your neck without taking your eyes off the play.
Prefocus the camera so you are focused just inside the boundary line and then all you have to do is shoot. Don’t even try to focus, just bang away. On a day game you will probably be at f5.6 or f8 anyway and that is more than enough depth of field to cover you. At night you will be at f2.8 so it is more difficult but select a focus point and stick with it. Of course, if you are using a great AF body you don’t have to worry so much about prefocusing. My hope is I will get two or three photos a game using the wide lens. When it works the photos look great. This photo is, in my mind, a successful near miss. It could certainly be much, much better but is still a good shot. I will still be looking for that illusive perfect moment. Probably will still be looking for it when I die!
Twenty Moments is an annual feature on the blog where I take you behind some of the photos I feel helped shape my year.
If you have been looking at my pictures for a while then you know the passion I have for covering storms. I do love storms and getting a good lightning photo, no, not a good lighting photo, a great lighting photo, is still on my list. I have lightning photos but I just don’t have THAT lightning photo. I am always looking. This summer was a good summer for storms and I stayed on alert. I shot this photo a day or two after the photo from the little tornado that hit Tanner.
I was working the late shift this summer and had done all my work for the day. Storms were coming in from the west and I thought I would give it a try. Let me take a moment to emphasize something here; daydream often. I sat there at the photo desk daydreaming where I might find a shot. I thought about a place out on the Tennessee River where people sometimes go night fishing. I decided to take a flyer and see if I could get a shot of someone fishing with lightning striking over the river.
My daydream paid off to a degree. I did indeed find Kim Taylor out there fishing. Actually, I think she was checking stuff on her cell phone while her boy friend did all the fishing! That is how I got the light on her face. Her cell was providing that little bit of light. The lighting was going all crazy just beyond the visual horizon. I could see it flashing behind the clouds and once in a while I could see a streak. The angle was going to be wrong to get her, lighting and the river in one shot but I was happy to get her with lightning so I worked that.
I got this frame and maybe one or two others that had light on her face without any motion blur and had some lightning in the sky. I never did get the streak lightning but I was so very happy to have this photo. As the storm got closer the lightning died down. That, my friends, is Murphy’s Law again. Have I mentioned I don’t like that Murphy dude? Of course, being out by the river with a metal tripod in a thunderstorm may not be your best safety option either so Murphy may have done me a favor!
Just a few moments after I shot this photo, Kim decided the storm was a little too close for her and she left. I tried some photos of the man fishing but none of them worked since the lightning deserted me. Then the rain came. Dude, the rain really came. He and I were both sprinting back to our vehicles to get out of that monsoon. Such is the nature of a summer thunderstorm. Now for my safety disclaimer. Please don’t go Ben Franklin and do anything incredibly stupid to make a lightning picture. Down here in the deep south we have limited sight lines due to hills and trees and it can be quite dangerous. If you must shoot lighting then don’t set your tripod up by the river. Find a sheltered spot and shoot from shelter. I am being serious here. Don’t get dead shooting a picture!
Twenty Moments is an annual feature on the blog where I take you behind some of the photos I feel helped shape my year.
I am going to cheat just a little bit moving forward and include more than one photo in my Twenty Moments moments. Hey, it is my blog and I will do it if I want to. I made the rules so I can bend them! Hopefully y’all want mind too much.
Here we go. Way back when in the stone ages of manual focus and film I was so focused on getting action shots when shooting sports I often ignored everything else. That is, of course, a good way to miss nice pictures. Back in the day we couldn’t use the off beat stuff anyway because we were developing film, scanning it into a computer or a Leafax and transmitting via phone lines. To say the process was slow would be a massive understatement. Now, with high speed internet, we can move almost an unlimited number of photos so the off beat stuff gets a place.
The top photo in this post is one of those photos that would not find a place to run apart from a photo gallery. During the pregame warm up for the Alabama vs Southern Miss game in Tuscaloosa I saw this arrangement of players, liked it and did a shot from the hip as I walked past. Obviously, I didn’t waste any time on it but I loved the bright stadium with the guys in a bit of a shadow. I was shooting in aperture priority with about a -1 exposure compensation so I expected a complete silhouette. What I got instead was a pleasant surprise. There was just enough reflected light from the stadium to give some shadow fill and, while the red uniform tops went nearly black, the white numbers and pants took on a funky kind of white glow. I was so very pleased. I shot this with a Canon 5D and a 24-70 f2.8 lens at 24mm.
Like I said, I shot from the hip, not looking through the viewfinder, as I walked past. Why? It just seemed to freaky to me to kneel down that close to these guys and look like I was framing a picture of their rear ends. Not sure what they would have thought about some dude shooting their butts. Know what I mean? The walk by was inconspicuous and nobody freaked out.
The photo at the bottom of the post was an image I shot waiting Alabama players to come out of the locker room for warm ups. I loved the direct sunlight on that crystal clear afternoon and I wanted to try something kinda funky with the sun between the goal posts while the players walked beneath. That shot didn’t work, by the way, because there are lots and lots of people who can, and usually do, get in the way. While I was waiting I noticed the kickers sending field goal kicks sailing into the bleachers. Every now and then a fan would reach out and catch one. As the kickers moved out to 45 or 50 yards the balls began falling nearly on top of me. I had my Canon 5D with a 17-40 lens and grabbed this shot looking straight up at a fan as he reaches out to catch on of those field goals. I like how it turned out.
So why do stuff like this? Number one, I love shooting pictures. Number two, shots like this help keep me sharp. It is like hunting. You stalk that prey and find satisfaction in the hunt. This is me hunting. This is me shooting and getting that big buck. Well, not exactly a big buck but a nice one at any rate. The lesson here is always keep yourself tuned in to the event you are shooting and don’t just focus on the “action.” Look around all the time and find those nice trophy shots everyone else misses. It will make you a better picture hunter and a better photographer in general.
We do a Father’s Day profile every year. This year was no different except this year the father, Tom Rones, was from a mixed race family and he inherited children when he married Denise. This presented him with a somewhat unique set of fatherhood issues.
We met Tom at the family’s home in Athens and he struck me as a soft spoken man. A very nice man too so I could immediately see why his wife nominated him for the story. Tom told us about his life growing up and how he developed his fathering technique which involved a lot of listening to the teenagers and giving them guidance rather than demands.
Sometimes I walk into a story and can immediately see a photo. This was not one of those times. I walked into the family’s modest home and just sat and listened for a while. I pulled out my camera and made few pictures and I knew I wanted to get a photo of Tom and one of the kids talking. He described how he would often sit down at the kitchen table with them and talk. That made a really nice picture, by the way.
I was shooting while our writer Catherine Godbey did her interview. I didn’t expect much out of this situation but I did have some very nice window light and as long as I kept my framing tight the photo actually looked like I added light. The nice glow on the wall could have been produced in a studio but, in actuality, it is nothing more than window light on a semi-gloss paint. The soft light on his face and the soft glow on the wall seemed to fit the man perfectly.
Then he made this great face! That expression pretty well summed up for me all I had perceived about the man. In that expression I could see why the kids loved him and I knew now my picture of him and the teenaged son sitting at the table would be a secondary thing to me.
I made this picture with the Nikon D4 and an 80-200mm f2.8 lens. Nothing fancy just paying attention and shooting pictures. That leads me to today’s object lesson. Don’t get bound up in your preconceptions. Allow the photos to come to you, to play out in front of you. Those spontaneous images are almost always the best.
Blake Sims was a big surprise for the Alabama faithful. He didn’t distinguish himself in spring practice and Jake Coker, a big name quarterback from Florida State was transferring in so most Bama fans assumed Coker would take over for A.J. McCarron. What no one on the outside knew was the respect Sims was gaining inside the locker room and how he was outshining Coker in practice. When Alabama took the field in Atlanta for the Chick-Fil-A Kickoff Game it was Sims, not Coker, who was the starting quarterback. Both young men played in the first couple of games but it was Sims who won the battle and, pretty quickly, the hearts of the fans too.
At the end of last season I thought there was no way Sims would ever start for Alabama. He didn’t seem to pass very well in the games I had seen him play in and he was fairly short as quarterbacks go. I figured, like everyone else, Nick Saban was bringing in Coker because he didn’t think he had a quarterback. Wow! Did Blake Sims every prove us all wrong. I found myself quickly coming to his corner and pulling for him to do well. While I don’t root for Alabama more than Auburn or Auburn more than Alabama, I do find players on each team I am very much rooting for. Blake Sims was that guy on Alabama this year.
Under new offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin, who was himself not a fan’s choice, Sims flourished throughout the season. He led the team to victory in that first game and, aside from a hiccup at Ole Miss, led the Crimson Tide to victory in every game culminating with a number one ranking. He even brought Alabama back against rival Auburn to win the Iron Bowl game in a big way. He has now led his team to an SEC Championship and a birth in the new College Football Playoff. He has set a number of passing records during the season and set the record for passing efficiency in the SEC Championship win over Missouri.
Yes, Blake Sims is a quarterback and an excellent one at that. I love this photo of him I shot after Alabama won the Kickoff Game. The prize is the old leather helmet and they have a trophy presentation after the game. Sims took the leather helmet on stage and placed it on his head. That nearly mischievous look on his face makes me laugh but it also makes me think he knew something about himself that no one else outside the locker room knew, at least not until he showed it to everyone beginning with that opening season win. This is one young man I certainly hope leads his team to the national championship!
Yes, we do have a bunch of tornadoes in north Alabama. Limestone County is an especially attractive place for tornado strikes and the Tanner community seems like a tornado crossroads. When a storm is coming I just go hang out in Tanner and wait. The tornado seems to come and find me.
This was especially true this past June. It wasn’t a “tornado” day but it was a thunderstorm day and they looked pretty big on radar. I drove out to Tanner and stopped at the railroad crossing on Ingraham Road. The rail line is elevated there and I could park on top of the elevation and have a great line of sight. I decided to shoot a time lapse but made one tiny mistake. I failed to set my camera to manual focus so a couple of times during the time lapse it autofocused itself right out of focus ruining the sequence. Oh well.
I was in the right spot. The storm sent this magnificent squall line right toward me. As I watched and shot pictures the storm spun up two small funnels about a quarter mile away. They dissipated quickly but that was all the incentive I needed to move! By the time I got my gear back in the car I was being pelted with sleet, heavy rain and the wind was about to blow me off my perch. I hopped in the car and sped away. I called my boss and told him there was going to be damage but I had another assignment so I asked if I could stay with the storm and get the other job later. As it turned out, that plan worked great not only allowing me to get the photo you see above but also allowing me to make a fantastic portrait against an amazing sunset that I would not have gotten had I run out and done the assignment right then.
After I got the ok to stay I turned back to Tanner not knowing a tornado had actually touched down. I heard on the way back where the twister hit and it was about a quarter of a mile north of where I had been shooting. I drove over and found some minor damage, it was only an EF1 and was of very short duration and width. It did hit one or two house causing damage and it destroyed one garage completely at a house on Winfred Rd. You have to know a little history now. Winfred Rd. was hit hard on April 3, 1974 during the super outbreak that stretched from north Alabama to the Great Lakes. It was hit hard again on April 27, 2011. Both of those storms were F5-EF5 tornadoes. This tornado was just a high wind compared to those monsters.
I arrived and found Genevieve Rich and her family members out checking the damage. Most of the time, people are cool with me hanging out with a camera after a storm like this. It is kind of expected but I always try to gauge their reaction to my presence and see just how long I can stay without causing a problem. They seemed very comfortable with me being there and we talked and walked and I shot pictures. Chiquita Thomas showed up and she and Rich put arms around each other and started to pray. What a great moment. Thomas has her hand lifted and the ladies had emotion on their faces and they were praying and giving thanks that no one was injured. What a wonderful moment to share with them and to photograph.
Below is the photo I shot of the approaching storm front just before I had to leave my shooting position. I did this with my iPhone using the panorama mode.
Running is such a weird sport when you stop to think about it. There is not ball, no field, no scoreboard, just a clock and that clock is like this demon that taunts you. Okay, you have gathered I am a runner. Not a good runner mind you. Certainly not a fast runner either but I am a runner. I have done a few half-marathons and I swore I would never do that. I now swear I will never run a marathon. I prefer to remain only half crazy but who knows what all those miles will do to my mind. Perhaps it will drive me fully crazy and I will attempt to run 26.2 miles. Or not.
This was not a long race. This photo was taken during the Bill Dukes 7@7 run in Point Mallard Park in Decatur. I have run this race. It is a 7 kilometer run in August, in Alabama. For those of you who have never experienced summer in Alabama allow me to just say, it is hot. And humid. This morning was such a nasty hot and humid morning I was very, very glad I was not running.
I set up to shoot the start where the runners are massed. I moved to another place along the trail in a wooded area just over a quarter mile from the finish. I shot the leaders there, male and female. We always try to get the top male and top female finisher but you don’t have to do it only at the finish line. I picked this spot because it was in an area with an “S” curve and I thought it would look pretty cool. It turned out okay and a short move allowed me a second shot looking from the shade out into sunlight and I was able to play with that a little.
After shooting in the woods I moved on to the finish line. It was so hot I knew there would be some good exhaustion pictures. I got a couple of good ones and was about to leave. I looked down the trail and there were these three ladies running together as they came through the final tenth of a mile to the finish. There is a little hill and just as they crested the hill they grabbed hands and raised their hands Rocky style as they ran toward me. I knew I had the picture of the day and I was thrilled. These ladies were not the top finishers. They were just finishers.
If there is one thing I have learned as a runner it is that finishing is winning and it doesn’t matter where you finish, just finish. These ladies were celebrating like champions and, as a runner myself, I could totally appreciate that. Kudos to the three of them for getting out there, having some fun and “winning.” The photo was taken with a D4 and an 80-200 f2.8 lens.
This photo is another from our coverage of the April tornado aftermath. My assignment was to find volunteers out helping people who had storm damage. The Samaritan’s Purse organization had a mobile command post and several teams of volunteers out working the damage area and they gave us a lead on one of their teams that was out helping John Sons on Quinn Road.
This is a standard disaster aftermath story and you can count on finding people helping cut up downed trees, patch holes in roofs and help with the clean up of water damage, things like that. I got those photos. In fact, I made a couple of decent pictures but that is all they were, decent. I never like settling for decent. I noticed Mr. Sons was having a good time with the members of the relief team, especially the team leader, Paul Brock.
Volunteers from American Red Cross showed up and Sons drifted off to talk to them. Them Brock walked over next to him. Since I had seen their interaction earlier I just hung out close as they talked to the Red Cross team. I don’t exactly remember what transpired but the conversation moved toward how Sons really liked the team from Samaritan’s Purse and how he liked Brock. Then he stretched out offering a playful kiss and I was standing there ready for the moment. Clearly Sons’ sense of humor was not dimmed by the tornado.
It was such a wonderful moment I knew I had all I really needed but I hung around a little while to make the requisite wood cutting pictures then left. I love this moment. The picture is far from perfect but you can’t stage manage where people are standing when good moments happen. The background behind the guys is all cluttered with wires and pipes and the edge of the building. It would have been better if only the damaged house in the left background were in the picture but those are not things I could control.
There are three things that make a photo great; light, composition and moment. If you nail all three of those things in one photo you have a truly great image. Not so this one. All I have is a moment but I will take it! This was such a pleasant surprise from what would otherwise have been a very normal photo situation. Any time you can walk away with a great moment, take it! This photo was taken with the Nikon D4 and a 17-35 and I figure it was at the 35mm setting.
Twenty Moments is an annual feature on the blog where I take you behind some of the photographs I feel helped shape my year.
There are times when nothing you try works. This was one of those times. I had a beautiful sky to work with. I had a track athlete whose specialty was the long jump. So far so good. I arrived at the school to get an athlete of the year photo and I really, really wanted an action portrait of her flying through the air with all those great clouds as my backdrop. Then I saw where we were going to have to shoot.
The school is a private Christian high school and they have a new building but some of their athletic facilities are a bit raw. Unfortunately for me, the jumping pit was one of those areas. The shot I envisioned was Rebekah Voss jumping straight toward me with that great sky as the background but the run up to the pit was all under a covered pavilion and not a pretty one either. I tried to shoot it anyway but, turns out, she closes her eyes while she is in the air. Scratch that angle.
Moving to the second angle, I tried shooting from the side and having her sailing across the frame. The only angle without power lines forced me to include the edge of the pavilion roof ruining my perfect sky background. I tried a few more from this angle. I finally got one that semi-worked but nothing like what I wanted. Then another problem arose, or more accurately, fell.
Remember those beautiful clouds I was trying to use as a background? Yeah, they started dropping rain. I have a Lumedyne strobe which has a large battery-power pack combo and this is an old unit. They don’t like water. I was positively desperate and asked Rebekah to just pose for a portrait. I am a very stubborn person and I wasn’t about to give up on those clouds so I had her climb up onto the pads used in the pole vault so she would be above me. I stuck that strobe with an umbrella as high up as the light stand would go and shot looking up. It was okay. At least I had a portrait but it was still flat.
I decided to try one more thing so I asked Rebekah to extend her arms like a bird flying. Fortunately, she was willing to give that a try. I got this portrait then we got back under the pavilion to get out of the shower that was coming up. Metal light stands sticking up in the air are just not really good to be around when lighting starts. I couldn’t get Rebekah flying through the air like I wanted but what I came away with was pretty decent. It had all the elements I wanted in the picture, the girl, the sky and at least some feeling of flying through the air.
Here is what happens on so many photo assignments where you are going to set up the shot. You have a great idea but you arrive and find complications. That wonderful portrait has a horrible background. The time of day is bad. The subject doesn’t want to do what you suggest. Here is where you earn your professional money. You improvise. You adapt. You talk nice to the subject and try to get something that works. In the end you walk away with a photograph that is probably nothing like what you first envisioned and that is okay as long as you walk away with something that is decent. There are many things that went wrong on my assignment with Rebekah but the thing that went right was Rebekah herself. You see, in the end, the photograph is not about me. The photograph is about her. She was the athlete of the year and I think I got a photo that she liked and I liked and it made her look good and that was the goal to begin with.
Twenty Moments is an annual feature on the blog where I take you behind some of the photos that helped shape my year.
Yesterday’s post was about one form of loss suffered in the April tornado. Today is another. Twelve year old Diva Rigney lost her horse. The horse’s name was Sally. Diva lived on US Highway 72 in the Coxey community west of Athens. Her horse was pastured near her home. The area was devastated as the tornado swept across Highway 72 and Diva’s horse became one of the casualties. Maybe to me the death of a horse is not such a big deal. After all, two people lost their lives in a trailer park next to Diva’s home. To Diva, the loss was devastating.
This story is one I discovered during a visit to the Coxey Church of Christ. The church suffered heavy damage and one of the members asked me if I had seen the horse’s grave out front. I had not and she began telling me the story. The only problem was she did not know whose horse it had been. The animal was found badly injured in the front of the church so a grave was dug there and the horse was buried. They suggested I try a nearby farm which I did. The owners didn’t know who owned the horse but a lady out there helping knew the trainer who was teaching a little girl to ride. She gave me a phone number and I made a call. A few calls later and I had a meeting lined up with Diva and her mom and dad.
Diva was still learning to ride and she had only ridden Sally one time and the horse threw her that time. Never the less, Diva had a strong affection for her horse. It was the first animal she had owned and she cared for it daily and was getting ready to ride her again. The tornado hit and all that changed. The animal’s back leg was badly injured and the horse was put down. The church kindly agreed to allow the animal to be buried on their property. Diva was mourning.
The meeting I set up was perhaps the worst time of day for a photograph. One o’clock was the best time for the family and I agreed knowing a photo was going to be tough in that harsh sun with not a cloud in the sky. Diva had erected a small cross on the grave and I knew I wanted to get the photo of her with that cross. Whenever you encounter really bad light like this the best option I have discovered is to turn your subject’s back to the sun and use a strobe to fill. Because of the way the grave was laid out, the writing on the cross and the direction of the sun I could only get her partially out of the harsh light. I had Diva sit down beside the cross and turn her body so at least her face was shaded. I then added light to her face using an SB28 fired through a white umbrella at very close range on full power.
No solution is perfect but I didn’t want to mess around too long with Diva at the grave. She was very emotional and I knew the longer we were there the tougher it would be for her. I did the photo and I tried to get a video interview but the wind was so noisy the video was not especially good. It was usable but that is about all. Diva cried and her mom comforted her and I felt like a massive intruder. Later; however, Diva got several offers from people around north Alabama who wanted to give her a horse. I know she was able to accept at least one of the offers so there was at least a silver lining to her story.