Archive for the ‘feature’ Category
This is the twentieth, and final, post of the Twenty Moments News series for 2013.
You are already smiling! I like that. What a great way to start off the new year. School assignments are not always this entertaining. In fact, far too many involve children looking at computer screens. This assignment was for a fall festival at one of Decatur’s elementary schools. The schedule of events didn’t look all that visually promising except for the pumpkin seed spitting contest. Needless to say, I spent most of my time there.
In fact, I shot one class going through their competition and left to go to another area of the school. Something was nagging me about that seed spitting contest so I went back a second time and went through it with another class. These kids were a bit older and I shot child after child, and a few teachers, taking turns at the spitting line. Some would run up and try to launch the seed with the force of their run and jump. Those didn’t tend to go all that far.
I was having a hard time with my autofocus and I think that is what was nagging me. As I reviewed images I could tell there was a consistent AF problem. This was the only time I noticed the AF trouble I mentioned in an earlier post apart from sports assignments but there was a lot of movement and the AF was not tracking well at all. This little girl toed the line and she launched her seed. I had no idea she was making the entertaining face until I reviewed the image. I zoomed the viewer and was delighted to the point of laughter when I saw the image come up with that great expression and I was even more delighted when I saw it was tack sharp!
I shot a couple more kids before moving on. I knew I had my shot but I did want to finish out that class. No point in making the kids feel bad I didn’t shoot their picture too. It was nothing to me but a couple of extra minutes but these things matter to children and I try to accommodate them whenever I can. This one was easy.
Well, Twenty Moments is over for the year. I had a really wonderful year and there are many, many more images I wish I could show you but one or the other of us would get bored. I hope y’all made it all the way through both the sports edition and the news edition. I have no idea if I will ever do that again. Writing forty posts is no joke! Still, it is so much fun for me to share these images with all of you. I hope you all have a highly successful and prosperous new year. May your days be blessed with life, health and lots of love.
This is the seventeenth post in the Twenty Moments News series for 2013.
July 4th this year will be more famous for the weather than the fireworks. The rain fell so hard for so long it caused severe flooding. I was on vacation at the time and never covered a moment of it. Some roads and bridges were washed out and one of those bridges was located on Danville Road near Danville High School. The road crews were working hard to get the bridge back in service before the start of school. My assignment was a simple construction update on that bridge.
As happens all to often, I showed up at the exact moment the crew was about to begin their lunch break. Danville is too far out from Decatur to go back to town and then come back later so I waited and chatted with the crew as they ate. I noticed one guy had found himself some shade under the big track hoe near the bridge. I didn’t think much of it at the moment and continued to chat with some of the other guys.
Finally, the opportunity for a nice photo finally broke through my thick head so I excused myself from the conversation I was having and tried to get into a position to shoot before the man noticed me and moved or became self conscious or started acting out. I was able to grab a few frames of him unobserved. I then walked up and asked his name. We had a very entertaining conversation while he finished his lunch. He was a very funny guy.
I loved the photo but I also knew it wasn’t the photo I needed to report the story. This image is one of those I am always advocating for here on the blog. It is a photo that is beyond the expectations of the editors. I knew it had nothing to do with the bridge construction so I didn’t turn it in with the regular assignment. I held it for a week and used it in our weekly Behind The Lens photo column. Our editor saw it and asked my photo editor why this wasn’t turned in with the assignment. Sometimes you just can’t win. John explained to him the photo wouldn’t have run because it had nothing to do with the bridge construction and we moved on.
Moments like these make going to work something to look forward to. There is no predicting when or where you will find a moment like this. There is really no predicting if you will find a moment at all. These things happen on good assignments and bad ones. They are available, sometimes, or not. You may go months and not see anything like it and then you may shoot three assignments in a row and have something special from each one.
There is only one secret to finding pictures like this and that is to be looking for pictures like this. Make it a habit. Push beyond the expectations of the assignment and keep your eyes open. I have said it over and over again in the Twenty Moments posts but I will say it one more time; always look to exceed the expectations of the assignment. Don’t shoot for editors. Shoot for you. If you are happy with the work you are producing then it is likely your editors will be too.
This is the fourteenth post in the Twenty Moments News series for 2013.
National Geographic photographer Jim Richardson is from Kansas and he has done much work in his native state. Granted, he has traveled the world on assignment for Geographic but I think his most heart felt photographs have been produced in his home state. There is this photo that remains one of my favorites of his showing a couple of farmers harvesting wheat with a gigantic summer thunderstorm approaching.
This year was a big wheat year across the part of north Alabama I cover. Farmers use a rotation system with cotton, soybeans, corn and wheat. The wheat is a winter crop that is harvested in early summer giving the farmers time to plant soybeans behind it. This wheat field is one of my favorite spots in Limestone County. It is in a place called Peets Corner at the intersection of Mooresville Road and Huntsville-Browns Ferry Rd. I have been in a few real messes in that spot and I guess that accounts for my affection. Honestly, I don’t know for sure I am spelling it right so pardon to my Limestone County friends if I have it wrong.
I was in that field back in the D1 days when a small funnel cloud came twisting out of the sky right on top of me. By right on top of me I mean literally, right on top of me. It didn’t touch down and it was small so I would probably have survived even if it did. Then, on April 27, 2011, I got caught beside this same field on the open road as an airborne tornado passed almost directly over my head. This one was no joke. I was terrified, couldn’t see a thing and the hail was falling like rain, car rocking back and forth in the wind. Anyway, that is why I go there when it is stormy.
This day was not going to be a horrible day but a storm was coming and I passed Peets Corner and saw the harvesters coming in from the fields trying to beat the weather. I parked beside the big old oak tree and grabbed my gear. As I headed into the field, the drivers parked the harvesters. Don’t think I wasn’t thinking about Jim Richardson’s amazing photo. Then, out of the harvester, hops this little boy in the red shorts. Sometimes you see something and your heart skips a beat in a good way.
The approaching storm was not going to give me a Jim Richardson moment but the little boy in the red shorts gave me a beautiful moment. I guess he had been riding with his dad who got out behind him. This is another of those images that I would never claim is great. It won’t be in my portfolio but it strikes one of those rich memory chords for me attaching itself in some small way to that photo by Richardson. I will keep on passing by Peets Corner and I will keep my eyes on the sky. I also have scoped out a spot where I can take cover should another big tornado come crashing through there!
This is the twelfth post in the Twenty Moments News series for 2013.
If you ever get a chance to ride in a hot air balloon, take it! What an amazing feeling. If a man could walk on a cloud I am guessing it would feel like riding in a hot air balloon. We have the Alabama Jubilee Hot Air Balloon Festival in Decatur every year. It is a visual feast from the ground. From the air it is beyond description.
When you first take off from field in Point Mallard Park the ground is covered in balloonists inflating and lifting off. It is as colorful a panorama as you are likely to see. Then you have balloons all around you in the air. Some fly higher than you are and some lower, some much lower. On flights that go over the Tennessee River some pilots will dip their baskets in the river. I beg the pilot I am with not to do that. Digital cameras don’t mix well with the Tennessee River.
In the evening the pilots all gather back on the launch field and do a balloon glow, one of the more beautiful things I have seen. Right at dusk, all the pilots inflate and use their burners to illuminate the balloon. Truly a beautiful sight. Yet here I am telling you about all these photos and not showing them to you. I am teasing you but I hope the photo I am showing you hits a sweet spot for you. I know it does for me.
The wind direction this year took us away from the river and over the main part of Decatur. As we flew over Walter Jackson Elementary School, my pilot was flying over another balloonists and we were both drifting toward the baseball diamond behind the school. I saw this picture happening and I was very excited. The shapes and the colors were just right and I shot a series as we flew over. The only thing that could have made it better would be a game going on but balloonists fly early, way before baseball games are played.
I shot this on the D4 with a 17-35 lens at 35mm. It was an immediate favorite and it is still a favorite. I love the color and texture and the light and I always love baseball fields, just seldom get to see one from above. This whole photo assignment was visually rich. I could show you thirty beautiful images. Such a fun and wonderful assignment. The only thing I don’t care for about flying in a hot air balloon is the landing. We dropped down in a residential neighborhood. It was a new neighborhood with very large houses. The pilot skimmed so close to the roof I could have reached out and touched the shingles! I kept thinking we were going to scrape shingles off.
Good for us he actually knew what he was about and brought us down like a feather in the middle of the driveway. Nice ride, nice pictures and a thoroughly enjoyable morning.
This is the tenth photo in the Twenty Moments News series for 2013.
When I was a little boy growing up in Rogersville, Alabama, my mom used to take me over to Aunt Reba’s house. During the summer months we would pull up to her house and the picnic tables in her backyard would be loaded down with tomatoes waiting for canning. My great grandmother and I would walk around and pick out the ripe, juicy, red ones and we would eat them out there under big oak trees. Man, I do love that memory and I still love to get a tomato and eat it just like I would an apple. Good times!
I was driving around looking for feature art one day when I happened across Dewitt Widner selling his tomatoes by the roadside in Falkville. Talk about a photo opportunity that struck a memory chord. I saw Dewitt out there eating some of his tomatoes and I was transported back to Aunt Reba’s backyard. I knew I had to stop and make a picture. This is such a simple photo. I mean, really, anyone happening by with their iPhone could have shot the same image, or pretty nearly the same image.
Never the less, I love this image. Maybe I love it more for what it represents to me than for the photograph itself. Like I said, there is no craftsmanship here, just see a picture and shoot a picture. You know, sometimes that is the best thing to do anyway. Maybe as I get older I am getting more nostalgic. I hear that happens to old people. I don’t think I am there yet but lets just say I have developed a greater appreciation for things like this than I used to have.
I think our visual appetites change as we mature. Images like this strike so many memory chords and make us feel connected. I don’t imagine many of you know Dewitt Widner but I imagine you do know someone like him, someone he reminds you of. Maybe, like me, the whole photo takes you to another place and another time and reminds you of people you love. That is what I so love about the power of visual storytelling. It can connect us to people and places and times in ways that no other media can.
I did a gallery of images on my web site this year I called Slices of the American Pie. It is a collection of images like this one that make me feel connected to all of you, to all of America. Photography is powerful like that. By the way, Aunt Reba had a root cellar beneath her house. For you city folk that is a cellar below ground level that usually had dirt walls and a dirt floor. It was no place fancy for sure. At Aunt Reba’s house you went down a tiny little rough sawn wood stair, IN THE DARK, and had to fish around at the bottom of the stairs for the pull cord on the over head light bulb. It was every bit as scary as any horror movie you have ever seen, right up until you turned the light on. Once the light was on it was a place of great delight. The walls were lined with shelves filled with jars of canned fruits and vegetables, a regular rainbow of garden colors. The smell was earthy and I loved it, right up to the point when I had to turn the light off. You never saw a little boy fly up stairs as fast as I could after turning off that light!
Being a photojournalist has many appealing aspects and some noteworthy negatives. Among the negatives are the seasonal photo assignments. Christmas may be the worst of all for seasonal, highly repetitive photo assignments. The longer I have worked in the community newspaper world the more I have come to dread December.
First of all, I hate shopping so there is that, which means I also hate shopping photos. Secondly, I have come to hold a pretty low opinion of Santa Claus. I know, he is putting me on the naughty list right now. I can’t help it. I used to love the whole Christmas thing, Santa and all; however, after photographing a bevy of jolly old impersonators, I have about had my belly full of Santa, photographically speaking, of course. Thirdly, I have no desire to ever photograph another Christmas light. Fourthly, is that even a word, I have about worn out on manger scenes as well.
Over the years there has been one particularly, nearly demonically, difficult Christmas photo assignment. The annual Parade of Lights on the Tennessee River has been an assignment to run away from for years. I remember trying to make a picture out there using a Nikon D1. Oh My! There may have been a beautifully lit boat somewhere out there but one would have had a devil of a time finding it amid all the digital noise. The D1 didn’t like black too well.
Then there was the D2h and the D2hs. No great shakes there either. Then, I must have gone unconscious for a few years or, more truly, just didn’t work the night shift and have to deal with that assignment. This year; however, I could not dodge it. I approached the job with a measured dread. All the bad memories of horrible photos shot on the black river came flooding back. Then, I suddenly remembered, I have a D4!!!
I think the Hallelujah Chorus began somewhere in my mind. Perhaps it was the angels singing from on high. I could shoot at any ISO I wanted to. I could turn the dark, black river into a medium gray river if the notion struck me! I got a touch of the Christmas spirit. Well, almost. I did remember the dynamic range would be far, far beyond what any digital sensor can handle but I would at least have a picture!
Now all you amateurs, put away your little strobes and don’t even pretend to use one. Have you ever actually shot with a strobe, at night? The night sucks up strobe light, like a sponge. The strobe also blows out your highlights and does nothing for those black shadow areas. So just don’t do it. Find a happy medium between whatever ambient you have and the Christmas lights and hope for the best.
My strategy was two fold. One worked, one worked a little. I went down on the river bank at a place I had never shot from. I was across the river from Decatur so whatever light I had in the background, say street lights, would create light streaks on the river thereby breaking the darkness into slightly smaller slices of darkness. The closer to the water you get, the longer those streaks of light become. My other idea, and the one with the highest chance of success, was to get the boats as they exited the harbor where there was actually a fair amount of light from the other boats still in the harbor. This worked okay, not great, but okay. I think a giant softbox suspended from the Hudson Memorial Bridges would have been ideal but since the ALDOT would have a little problem with that, I just winged it. Besides, a softbox big enough to do the job would have required its own nuclear reactor to power it. Brownsferry was definitely not down with that!
The surprise, and the reason I almost got some Christmas spirit, came as I was leaving. I parked on the elevated section of highway leading up to the bridge. It overlooks the water, but there is a lot of random tree growth that obscures the view. However, as I walked back to my car, I looked over my shoulder and saw the boats strung out in a line right over the roof line of the Hard Dock Cafe. I was freaking out. And actual picture could be made here! I shot a bunch of frames hoping I would have one sharp enough in the foreground and the background to use. Sure enough, I got one. I was very, very happy.
You can see people out on the deck of the restaurant, a canopy of light over them, and the boats out behind them. I had beat the black hole and the Christmas lights demon at the same time. SWEET! I swear, just like the old Grinch standing on Mount Crumpet, I think my heart grew three sizes right then and there. I almost said, “Ho, ho, ho,” as I got into my sled to drive back tot he newspaper. Okay, almost.
There is kind of an art form to finding quiet moments as life blasts past you at super highway speeds. That art form has a name; looking! Quiet moments are going on all over the place from crowded rooms to busy streets to, yep, even quiet places. Finding them comes down to looking for them. Many times I like the quiet moments I find better than the photo I was assigned to shoot.
I am doing something with the photos in this post I never do, that is, converting the pictures to black and white. There is a method to my madness. I want you to see the moments, not the color. I want you to see just the basics of what the subjects are doing without anything to interfere with your perceptions. I am a big advocate of shooting in color. You may have noticed, life happens in color. I am adamant about not converting images to black and white for contests because we live in color, work in color and shoot in color with the only black and white images existing because the printing press doesn’t have the capacity to print color on every page. Don’t freak out. Color will return!
Finding quiet moments comes with practice. Make yourself slow down and look. Literally, wander around the edges of an assignment and look around. If there is a pack of journalists hounding a subject, back away and look for what they are missing. You know why journalists do that? Simply put, fear. They are afraid they will miss the one thing an editor sees on TV or in another newspaper and sometimes that is exactly what editors will do. Don’t ignore you primary subject but after you get the shots you need back off and let the mob do the mob thing. You do the different thing.
As you roam around shooting the fringes you may also find new stories opening up to you. Talk to the people around the edges. Listen to what they have to say. You may find that one thing that can make your report completely unique from the competition. They will be sitting around their photo office cursing you for beating them and only you will know how you did it. (Clearly, your competitors don’t read this blog!)
Besides all that, shooting things other people don’t see is fun. It is not that I am competitive or anything – what would ever give you such an idea – but I do like to win and many times in the news business you can define winning as getting the shot the other guy doesn’t get even when he is at the same assignment as you. Like I said, I am not competitive at all. But how did we go there? This is about quiet moments, not about ripping out your competitions heart then dancing on it. Oops, there I go again. I am really a mild mannered photojournalist who loves to see my competitors do well…really.
Truthfully, the reason some folks don’t shoot like this is because they have lost the joy of simply shooting. I have done this. I have gone to work and shot and shot and shot and not done anything I really liked or was proud of. This stretched from months into years. At one point, I had gone three years without much to show before I woke up to the joy of why I do this to begin with. Internet photo galleries have given a place for these wonderful little moments to get published so there is a reward beyond the pure satisfaction of finding a nice moment.
Hopefully you are now inspired, unless, of course, you are a competitor in which case I hope you can’t read or you find this post ridiculous and never do any of this stuff. But I love you, really I do. Oh, and if you are working for the Tuscaloosa News, by all means, disregard everything I just wrote and rest upon the laurels of your newly minted Pulitzer because I want you to become complacent SO I CAN WIN A PULITZER!
This is the eighth installment of the Twenty Moments 2011 series.
Nearly two weeks into the tornado coverage I was fading fast. My work life was consumed with the disaster and it was definitely coming home with me. When I wasn’t shooting I was thinking about shooting or thinking about the lives that were changed, destroyed or ruined. My body was doing fine but my brain was on overload. I was emotionally spent but I wasn’t about to quit working this story. I was heavily invested in it. I am, in fact, still heavily invested in it. But, I needed something.
Holly Hollman and I were waiting to meet Kevin and Sarabeth Harrison and a video crew from CNN at their ruined home on McCulley Mill Rd. They were not on time. I was standing around watching Colton Richter and his younger sister Madison playing together. My mind was not registering what I was seeing. There was this massive incongruity between happy children playing and my mental and emotional state and the obvious ruins all around us. I was numb enough that it didn’t register that these kids were just the kind of picture I needed, not to tell a story, but to refresh my spirit.
I finally told Holly that I had to go shoot a picture. Their father was removing some debris from what remained of a rental property. They had a wheel barrow and were pushing one another around in it. The photo of Colton pushing his sister was cute but not exactly what I wanted. When they switched positions I knew I was going to get a nice photo. It didn’t take long for little sister to dump big brother. They laughed. I laughed too, maybe not on the outside but inside, where I needed it most.
This picture was like a drink of cold well water on a blistering hot day. It was refreshing. I didn’t even know if the newspaper would publish it. I didn’t care. I was the one who needed it. If the editors decided to share it with the readers that was just fine. The image of these two children playing with those ruined homes behind them was just the metaphor my soul needed. This photo says to me that, while there was a disaster, life would prevail. Two kids playing in the sun was a sign of hope, a sign that life would return.
Did you ever look up at a big, full, harvest kind of moon and wish you were there? Unfortunate though it may be, you are not going to make it. Shooting the moon is about as close as any of us will ever get but even that presents a few obstacles. The most obvious is the moon looks a good deal bigger to your eye than it does to your camera so pointing your 70-200 toward the heavens leaves a little something to be desired.
I have been frustrated for years trying to get good, tight shots of the moon. Lacking a telescope with a photo mount, how do you go about it. First, lets look at what most of us have as our most difficult limitation, focal length. Lets say you are limited to a 200 or 300 mm focal length. The moon is just too small to get that dramatic appearance on digital media that you see with the mind’s eye. The best way to overcome this problem is use something else in the photo to give you context. I recently shot the fingernail moon over the Decatur skyline. The moon was just too small all by itself but including the skyline with the last glow of sunset allowed me to use an 80-200 at 200mm and get a really nice shot of the moon that included the foreground which really helped with perception. The 200mm actually looked better than a similar shot with a 300mm in that situation.
Friday evening of this past week I noticed a nearly full moon in the late afternoon sky and did a few quick mental calculations and decided I would have my best shot at getting moonrise with enough ambient in the sky to make a picture Sunday evening. I made my plans. When I got to work Sunday I made sure to grab a 2x converter and the 300 f2.8. I wasn’t planning to settle for some skyline picture this time. I wanted the full orb hanging right over the horizon in all its fall splendor. I arrived at the river around the time I expected and waited. Then, just at the opportune moment, an editor called sending me to a fire. I had not yet seen the moon so I just bagged it and was getting in my car to leave. That’s when I saw the full moon just over the tree line on the river. Arrrrrrrggggggghhhh!
I jumped back out and hand-held the camera with the 300 f2.8 and 2x converter and grabbed a few shots using traffic as a foreground. Not what I had envisioned but still something that was usable and I was resigned to the idea that was all I was getting. I drove to Hartselle to cover the fire but it turned out not to be too big to begin with and was out with the fire units clearing up before I could get there. So here I am with a great big moon still on a half hour or so above the horizon. All it’s orange color was gone but it was there in all its glory.
Now an empty black sky with a bright moon is a pretty boring photo so I began looking for something to place in the foreground. Since our part of north Alabama is not resplendent with tall buildings I settled on steeples. Many steeples have crosses on top and that makes for the highest point in most towns. I drove all over Hartselle trying to find a suitable cross facing in the right direction. I finally remembered a church just a couple miles from where I live and raced down to it. I found a double treat when I got there. Not only did the church have a cross but it had a blue, neon cross. I couldn’t have planned it any better.
I set everything up on a tripod and fired away. The tripod steadies the wiggles inherent in using really long lenses and allowed me to stop down to f11 to get some sharpness in the cross as well as having a tack sharp moon. I left very delighted with the picture and was only a couple miles from my own church where they were serving a Thanksgiving meal. Not only did I fill my appetite for a good shot of the moon but I also filled my belly with food and my life with good friends. All in all, not too bad a night.
As a technical note, the moon will often appear orange when it is near the horizon. That is because you are looking through accumulations of dust and dirt in the atmosphere and since you are looking laterally across a long expanse of atmosphere filled with dust and dirt the moon will take on the orange color it is picking up from all that stuff. The atmosphere also has a magnifying effect on the moon which always appears larger when it is near the horizon than it does when it is at the apex of its trip through the sky. As the moon rises it moves clear of much of the atmospheric dust and becomes whiter as it goes higher in the night sky. One final note, the moon is far brighter than you might think. Take a spot meter reading off the moon to get an accurate exposure or you will have a really blown out orb in your sky.
The images in the gallery represent several other attempts at moon photos from Sunday. My favorite is at the top of the post. You can see how I played around some with the compositions before arriving at the one I like the best.
Photos copyright Gary Cosby Jr., The Decatur Daily. The opinions expressed in this blog are my own and do not necessarily reflect those of my employer.
My dear overly politicized climate scientists. I wish to call your attention to the fact that 49 of 50 US states had snow on the ground Friday. It might also be worth noting that in the US Capital they couldn’t see over the mountains of snow. Uhhh, have you guys checked your temperature gauges lately? More appropriately, have you guys checked with your political handlers lately because someone has missed something.
You might have guessed that I am not too concerned with the whole global warming hysteria. In fact, even if the globe does warm I don’t think anyone could say whether that would be good or bad. All I know is it is cold in Alabama and has been for some time now. We had a little light snow in the southern part of the county Friday which meant I did some feature hunting. I was very, very fortunate to find a couple of kids out having a snowball fight. The snow was light to begin with and didn’t last very long. The heavier snow was falling south of our area and some even fell in the Florida panhandle. Imagine that!
Snow in the south can be a very bad thing. Even a little bit of snow down here can shut things down completely because there is no capacity to clear any snow or ice from the roads. Go to New York where my wife is from and they can have a blizzard going and still move around. Here, a dusting sends people into a panic. Watch out bread and milk vendors. By the way, can anyone actually explain the bread and milk phenomenon? Why bread and milk? Why not steak and fries or lobster and shrimp? Really, it happens every time it snows and I am just flummoxed over why.
Snow in the south also means that photographers will be on the prowl. We joke that if a single flake falls someone better be there with a macro lens to shoot it! Snow does make for nice pictures because people just go crazy over it and it is a pretty diversion to the normally brown winters we have. Our youth pastor grew up in Michigan and he begins a pray for snow campaign every winter. He must be doing pretty well this year. We have already had two or three small snowfalls.
These photos are all done with the Nikon D3 and an 80-200 lens. Nothing special to report on the technical side of things, just a 1/3rd stop of + exposure compensation and let it rip. Hope y’all are all warm and cozy as you read this one. If not, grab a handful of snow and have some fun.
Photos copyright Gary Cosby Jr., The Decatur Daily. The opinions expressed in this blog are my own and do not necessarily represent the opinions of my employer.