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The Secret To Success

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Gary Cosby Jr./Decatur Daily   Worshippers join together for a sunrise service at the No Fences Cowboy Church Easter Sunday morning in Falkville.  Cowboys on horseback greet the sunrise and arriving worshippers.  This is a case of f8 and be there but it is also a case of seeing something and getting into position to capture it.  This is a good example of the old fashioned zoom lens - your feet.  Use them to put yourself in a good position.

Gary Cosby Jr./Decatur Daily Worshippers join together for a sunrise service at the No Fences Cowboy Church Easter Sunday morning in Falkville. Cowboys on horseback greet the sunrise and arriving worshippers. This is a case of f8 and be there but it is also a case of seeing something and getting into position to capture it. This is a good example of the old fashioned zoom lens – your feet. Use them to put yourself in a good position.

I was reading a Facebook post the other day from a friend and it said something like, there is no secret to success.  I paused.  I thought about it.  Maybe there is no single secret to success.  I don’t actually know but something about the statement didn’t sit well with me.  That is usually a good thing because when I start to cogitate on something I don’t initially agree with I usually learn something.

Success, especially in photojournalism, is a funky formula of being in the right place, at the right time, with the right equipment, looking in the right direction and having the right vision.  There is an old Photo J expression, “f8 and be there,” that comes from the days of the Speed Graphic camera with the big flash bulb.  Be there and be ready and get it in focus was the essential message.  That is the first and most important part of the success formula.  If you are not there you certainly can’t get the picture.  Reporters can do big parts of their job on the phone.  No such luck for us.  We have to be there.

Some folks say that luck is not really some blind set of chances that combine out of the blue rather, luck is the intersection of planning and preparation with a moment.  In other words, luck favors the prepared.  Sometimes a photo does just drop out of the sky in your lap, so to speak, but those are very rare.  Luck is planning and preparation – the right place with the right equipment – and then witnessing and capturing the moment as it unfolds.

These seem to suggest there is more to photography than pushing a button.  Indeed!  Consistently high quality performance is not something you get from Joe Citizen with his new camera who just happens to be standing in the right spot.  Consistently high quality performance is what you get from a seasoned photojournalist who is continually putting himself/herself in the right place at the right time with the right equipment and who is paying attention to what is happening in front of the lens and occasionally behind their backs, off to the sides or behind the tree where no one else is looking.

This suggests something that has not been said.  I have a great friend and mentor who passed away on New Year’s Eve.  Dave Martin, whom we all affectionately knew as “Mullet,” and who was one of the legends of the Associated Press, once told me something that I will never forget.  He said, “Gary, I am not the greatest photographer the AP has but I get great assignments because my bosses know when they send me on a job I will work harder than anyone else.”

Hard work is the last part of the success equation.  I remember Mullet showing me a portfolio of images of sports jubilation he was putting together.  I was expressing my amazement at the collection of images and that was when Mullet gave me that little secret to success.  I know I am not the best photographer in the world but I also know that I can work harder than anyone else and put myself into a position to succeed.

What does hard work for a photojournalist actually look like?  I tell people all the time that watching me work is about one step below watching paint dry on the excitement scale.  After all, what am I doing; pushing a button?  Yeah, that, but what I am really doing is what goes on before I push the button.  When I am shooting sports I tend to be very active, not always, but most of the time.  I run, literally, from one place to the next to get into a position to shoot something I think might happen.  Sometimes I miss.  Sometimes it doesn’t happen or doesn’t happen the way I think it will.  But more times than not I find myself in the right place at the right time with the right gear and then I push the button.

The same goes for breaking news.  You have to be there and you have to be there at the opportune moment.  That is where the work comes in.  Getting into a position to shoot breaking news can be the biggest challenge.  A weather event is tough to predict and tough to get into a position to shoot and still maintain a margin of safety that gets you in and out in one piece.  Many times you will have to deal with police barricades, road closures, property issues, personal safety concerns and you still need to get the photo.  The hard work comes in getting yourself into the right place to do the job.  Then, of course, you have to get the photo or video on the web as soon as humanly possible – or sooner.

How about shooting a portrait, or a standard news feature assignment?  What is hard work there?  Much of it is mental.  It involves imagination and it involves planning and you finally get to execute the photo.  Many times I am making my plan on the fly while driving to an assignment.  I usually don’t have a tremendous amount of advance time on a job so I have learned to quickly adapt and to minimize gear except in rare circumstances.  For instance, there was a portrait I did a few years ago of a couple who reconstructed a log cabin on their property.  I wanted to do a portrait at dusk that showed off the cabin and would have them standing on the front porch.  I strung together ever light and every pocket wizard I could come up with.  I think I had six strobes, maybe it was seven, hanging here and there to get the natural effect I wanted.  I love the shot but it took a ton of work to set up and execute.   That is the exception.  Most of my portrait work for the job is a one light umbrella set up that is light and portable.

What about you now?  What will your secret to success be?  Whatever it is, please don’t outwork me.  That is what keeps me employed!

Written by Gary Cosby Jr.

May 27th, 2014 at 8:53 am

On Finding Photos

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Gary Cosby Jr./Decatur Daily   A referee tries to explain to Austin coach Jake Miles why his player was called for a foul while dunking the ball during the first half of the boys game between cross town rivals Austin High and Decatur High at Calhoun Community College Friday night.

Gary Cosby Jr./Decatur Daily A referee tries to explain to Austin coach Jake Miles why his player was called for a foul while dunking the ball during the first half of the boys game between cross town rivals Austin High and Decatur High at Calhoun Community College Friday night.

Being a good photographer has relatively little to do with the camera in your hand or the lens mounted to said camera.  Being a good photographer comes down to finding moments and capturing them with whatever camera is in your hand.  I am a community photojournalist and every single day I am faced with the challenge of finding a photograph.  I know something is going in the paper regardless of how good or bad I do, something is going to be published so I have the challenge of finding the moment in every assignment.

To be honest, there are days when I don’t want to try.  There are days when I would rather just grab the easy shot and get on out of there.  In truth, ninety-nine percent of the time the bosses wouldn’t say anything as long as they have something to fill that slot.  The problem is my name is under that photo.  That alone motivates me to make every shot as excellent as I can make it.  Maybe you don’t have that everyday challenge or maybe you do and it has worn you down.  That is the thing about newspaper photojournalism, it really can wear you down.  Exactly how many high school basketball games can there be in a season?  How many community play promos are you going to shoot?  Do I really have to shoot that festival again for the umpteenth year in a row?  All that stuff weighs you down and makes finding a shot difficult.

The question then is how to stay fresh and keep on finding those nice moments amid the mundane routine of life?  I like to think of edges.  Take a piece of paper and look at it.  Pretty dull isn’t it.  Now, tear the paper into two parts.  Tear it any direction you like.  Now hold it up and look at the torn edge.  It is vastly more interesting than the straight, factory cut edge.  It has character.  I has something real about it.  Now, take your photo assignment and just rip it up.  Yeah, I know, you still have to shoot the assignment but look at it differently.  Tear up the assignment and find the edges within the assignment.  Find where it is ragged, real, alive.

To do this doesn’t take nearly as much work as you might imagine.  You already know what is expected so go ahead and grab that straight edge of the paper photo and get it out of the way.  Now, look at it differently.  Rip it up and look for a moment within the assignment.  Life is real even when it is being stage managed and manipulated.  There are still real moments there.  You will see a photo with this post of two women hugging beside a house.  That is a very typical assignment for a Habitat for Humanity home dedication. They do the same thing at every one of these and I have shot at least a dozen, maybe twenty of these home dedications over the years.  This moment happened before the ceremony began with the director of the Morgan County Habitat hugging the new home owner.  It was my best shot from the day and it was not the “planned” photo.

We do frequent play promos. Mostly the night guys get that assignment but I was working a night shift and caught one.  This one was based on the Aristocats.  One of the directors was teaching the geese how to waddle before the rehearsal.  I was overhead in a balcony and had a great angle for a shot.  That was my favorite image from the night.  The cop photo was from a shooting.  It happened in the parking lot of a cheering academy and I had all the standard cops investigating images.  I was looking for a better angle and noticed the little girls peering out the window.  It turned a normal cops photo into a cool image.

I was at a high school football practice one day and arrived near the end.  I shot the expected photo to go with the story and noticed the kids in the tubs.  I walked down to investigate and started chatting.  The kids were sitting in the ice baths after practice to cool down and help with recovery.  I had a wonderful shot because I took a little extra time to look around.  The kid spitting seeds was another photo where I already had plenty of shots but came back one more time because I just wasn’t satisfied.  This kid was one of the last ones to compete and I got this wonderful expression as she spit her pumpkin seed.  Again, I took a few extra minutes and came away with a much better photo.

Sometimes you just have to turn around and see what else is going on.  I love shooting sports action but many times the photo is going on behind me.  The kids reacting to the touchdown is a classic example of noticing something behind me that was better than what was in front of me.  I mean, how many times can you make a photo of a football player scoring a one yard touchdown?  The kids reacting to the one yard touchdown was far better than any action photo I could have made.

Maybe you are seeing a pattern.  Look around, be curious, spend a few extra minutes and work for something beyond the ordinary.  Trust me, it is far too easy to capture the ordinary and simply walk away.  Force yourself to never be satisfied with ordinary.  Look beyond the assignment.  Literally rip it up and look for those torn edges where the real picture is waiting to be captured.  You will be happier with yourself and your bosses will be much happier with your work.

Written by Gary Cosby Jr.

February 16th, 2014 at 10:04 pm

Two Decades In Decatur

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Homes in the McCulley Mill Rd. area are completely destroyed following a strike from an EF5 tornado that cut a path through Lawrence, Morgan and Limestone Counties.  Kevin Harrison and his wife Sarabeth hold their children, Mason and Sophie as they emerge from a safe room, the only thing that survived of their house.

Homes in the McCulley Mill Rd. area are completely destroyed following a strike from an EF5 tornado that cut a path through Lawrence, Morgan and Limestone Counties. Kevin Harrison and his wife Sarabeth hold their children, Mason and Sophie as they emerge from a safe room, the only thing that survived of their house.

Today, assuming you are reading this on February 14, marks two decades for me at The Decatur Daily.  Wow!  That was never my plan.  I grew up in north Alabama and, when I moved to Virginia to go to grad school, I never intended to return.  Then I got married and we started having children and suddenly there were four and an opening came back near home.  I moved back with a five year plan.  I would stay here five years and move on.  Five became ten, then four more children came and now ten has become twenty.  Crazy.  I have no idea where the time went.

People sometimes ask, “Why are you still in Decatur?”  Well, I ask myself that question sometimes too.  The answer is probably tied to the first paragraph.  We chose family over a great many things and that includes money and it has meant that staying put and raising that family we chose has been the best thing for us.  I haven’t always liked working here.  In fact, there have been times I have hated it.  There have been times I have loved it too.  I once thought it would be great to move on to a big newspaper but after all these years that seems pretty unlikely.  Still, plenty of opportunities have come to me right here.  Some have stunned me.  I just hope when I am done I can look back and say that I gave my very to this job.  After all, it is likely enough this is my last photojournalism job so why not make it the very best job I can.

I have had great colleagues over the years, absolutely great.  Some amazing talent has come through the doors of The Daily’s photo department.  Some are still in photojournalism while others have moved to other lines of work but they have all been good people and I can’t think of a single one of them I don’t love to this day.  Every single one of those colleagues have enhanced my life and I hope I have done the same for them.  If I had to leave tomorrow I would say I have worked with some of the best people anyone could want to know.

I get the question all the time, “What is your favorite picture?”  I usually stammer around and end up saying I have a lot of favorite pictures.  You can see some of them with this post.  I mean, twenty years, try and boil that down to a favorite picture.  Since that is a good question, let me break it down a little bit and look back over some of my favorite photos and memories.

The best assignment I have ever had is one I gave myself.  The Upside of Down, a look at people with Down syndrome will always hold a special place in my heart.  My precious son Reece, the inspiration for the whole project and such an amazing love, passed away right in the middle of it.  Finishing that project was the hardest thing I will ever do but it is the most rewarding thing I have done in photojournalism

The worst assignment – dang, that is easy.  Any man on the street anything.  I hate man on the street.  Biggest waste of a photographer’s time in the world.  Let’s go shoot a bunch of mug shots.  Yeah, sign me up.  Man, I can’t tell you how bad I hate that.  Ribbon cuttings and ground breakings run a close second.  Don’t care for those either.  As a matter of a fact, anything where I have to pose a bunch of people is just not my thing.  I know guys make good money doing that but it just isn’t me.

Favorite sports photo is probably a tie between a photo of Cam Newton walking to the locker room with his little brother after winning the SEC Championship and a photo I shot of Johnny Manziel two years ago when A&M beat Alabama in Tuscaloosa.  Love both those pics.  They are both in the gallery too.

Favorite portrait; easiest choice of all.  I shot a photo of Jennifer Adair in the rubble of her home after the 2011 EF5 tornado.  All time favorite portrait and one of my all time favorite photos.

Favorite news photo; much tougher.  If we separate tornado photos into a separate group then I would probably say it is a fire photo.  It is hard for me to choose.

Favorite tornado photo; again, tough to choose.  Probably my most favorite will hold for another category but almost anything I shot of people in Camden Court following the 2011 tornado.

Related to tornadoes, the most gut wrenching image is a tie between a photo I shot of a firefighter sheltering a kid as an air ambulance lands behind them and a photo from the 2008 Aldridge Grove tornado.  The firefighter is shielding a little boy who was the only survivor of a quadruple fatal wreck on Alabama Highway 20.  The other four victims including his mother, aunt and cousins.  I have never been more sick after covering anything.  It is one of the few times in my life I wished I could throw up.  I will never forget the image of firefighters doing CPR on those children, never.  The tornado image is of James Devaney searching the rubble of his daughter’s home after it was destroyed.  After shooting his photo he told me he had just come from the hospital where they had pronounced his daughter, son-in-law and grandson dead.  My heart still breaks for him.  That photo was the first image I ever had published as the lead photo on page 1 of the New York Times.  It ran a bunch of other places too.

Another haunting image is the one of the folks gathered behind an ambulance in Moulton after the death of two volunteer firefighters.  Word got around the two had been killed fighting the fire and the community gathered at the scene.  I will never forget arriving and getting out of my car that night.  I opened the door to hear a woman weeping and moaning somewhere in the dark.  That sound haunts me to this day.  I know what her heart felt now.  It is a terrible feeling.  No doubt, one of the firefighters who died was someone she loved.

The most terrified I have ever been on any assignment, or any time in my life for that matter, was the thirty seconds I spent on Highway 31 in front of an EF5 tornado.  I thought I was a pretty bold and brave person until then.  Never been so scared in my life.

The most popular photo I have ever shot is Greg Cook hugging his dog Coco after the 2012 tornado in Limestone County.  That thing has been around the world a few times courtesy of the internet.  It’s not my favorite picture ever but people do love that dog.

I suppose if you threaten torture and make me proclaim any one photo my favorite I would probably choose the photo of Kevin Harrison and his family as they emerge from their storm safe room.  It is one of those moments where everything comes together.  Kevin and Sarabeth are hugging their kids amid all that destruction.  It is a close thing but I guess that would be my favorite if forced to choose just one.

The kissing conference is, without a doubt, one of the most unusual assignments I have ever covered.  UNA held a seminar about kissing and I got the assignment.  Where was that when I was a student at UNA?  One wonders.

One more thing, the photo I got into the most trouble for is the one where I cut off Howell Heflin’s head, on purpose.  I thought the photo was wonderful and I still love it to this day.  Our executive editor was not as thrilled.  I got calls from everybody in the newsroom telling me to stay out of the office for a while because the boss was hot.  Glad there was a day long manhunt to cover that day!

I have loved the little bit of travel that comes with my job.  I have had the amazing privilege of shooting four BCS National Championships.  I mean, that is beyond my wildest dreams.  I am 4-0 by the way.  My teams have won every time.  I loved going to Florida to photograph the launch of the first rocket built by Boeing in their Decatur plant.  That, by the way, was the assignment I was most nervous about.  They told me the rocket would be over the pad for about five seconds.  Yeah, right.  That thing lit off and it was gone.  Man, it may have been there for two seconds.  When it had lifted out of sight I stood there in a cold sweat wondering if I had an image.  It was a night launch on a new rocket so no one knew exactly what the right exposure was going to be.  Whew!

By the way, it is worth mentioning, my wife’s favorite picture is the one of Philip Rivers making a face during a game against the Tennessee Titans.  She laughs every time she sees that one and usually makes a comment about it.  Coming from her, that is high praise.

Overall, I have to say that I am best known for the tornado stuff.  I am not sure I like that but, as an AP editor recently told me, at least you are known for something.  I guess sports is the second thing I am most known for.  I really love doing what I do.  Like any job there are ups and downs and good days and bad days but I remind myself on the bad days that I still have one of the greatest jobs in the world.  I don’t know how many years I will be allowed to continue doing this.  I don’t know if those years will be spent in Decatur.  The future is far from certain in the newspaper world.  Whatever happens moving forward I know this, I am immensely grateful for the past twenty years.

Click on any image to start a slideshow.

Written by Gary Cosby Jr.

February 13th, 2014 at 10:02 pm

Twenty Moments – News – Spittin’ Seeds

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This is the twentieth, and final, post of the Twenty Moments News series for 2013.

Walter Jackson Elementary students and teachers compete in a pumpkin seed spitting competition Thursday.  Syterius Nickerson puts major league effort into her attempt.

Walter Jackson Elementary students and teachers compete in a pumpkin seed spitting competition Thursday. Syterius Nickerson puts major league effort into her attempt.

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.

Written by Gary Cosby Jr.

January 1st, 2014 at 8:00 pm

Twenty Moments – Sports – Baseball Town

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This is the twentieth, and final, post in the Twenty Moments Sports series for 2013.

The town of Hartselle loves its baseball.  From five year olds through high school, baseball occupies the hallowed ground of youthful dreams.  Coach Mike Murphree helps Peter Cosby learn the proper position for catching during the first on the field practice of the year.

The town of Hartselle loves its baseball. From five year olds through high school, baseball occupies the hallowed ground of youthful dreams. Coach Mike Murphree helps Peter Cosby learn the proper position for catching during the first on the field practice of the year.

We have finally arrived.  Twenty Moments concludes today with a special picture.  It is special because it is a photo of my son on his first day of baseball practice on the field.  I kicked off a personal photo essay project with this image.  Peter had never played baseball before and baseball is my favorite sport.  I had seen a Sportsshooter post about photographer Brad Mangin doing an entire book of iPhone images processed through Instagram.  He covers pro baseball but I thought I could try a more limited project with my town.

Hartselle is a baseball crazy little town and I had always wanted to do an essay going from the little leagues to the major leagues.  I figured I may never get a chance to do pro baseball, at least not consistently enough to pull that off, but I could do a progression from the little kids up through high school.  Hartselle has a really great high school program and this would turn into another magical year for them culminating in a state championship.  As it happened, the day we published Baseball Town the high school team won the state baseball championship.  It was the eighth title in school history.  That fit like a hand in a glove!

I began shooting on Peter’s first day of outdoor practice.  This image was not the first one I shot but it was certainly among the first.  I had no experience shooting with the iPhone so both he and I would have a learning experience.  I knew I would have almost no image of baseball action so I concentrated on the flavor of baseball rather than on peak action.  I shot day games and night games and tried to have some fun and not be a slave to the project.  My number one goal was to enjoy Peter’s first season.

I showed some images to my editor and he liked them and said to go ahead with a photo essay.  I began negotiating with our advertising department to get an ad free double truck that was also in color.  I was processing the images I was shooting in PhotoToaster using the Park Place filter.  I had to tweak a number of images to adjust brightness and contrast levels.  The filter doesn’t work the same on high contrast, low contrast or night or day images.  I gave it a border too. I figured if I was going to do all that tweaking I may as well go all the way.

We published a beautiful double truck designed by Kristin Williams and I felt very happy about my little photo essay.  I decided to send a link to an ESPN photo editor who I know in hopes he may like the images and keep me in mind for some future freelance assignments for the magazine.  My submission coincided with an issue they were planning on youth sports.  Before you know it I had an image from the essay published in ESPN The Magazine and I had a full photo gallery at ESPN.com.  Talk about a project exceeding my expectations.  Wow!  I am still blown away by all that.

What a wonderful year it has been.  I think this has been the best sports year of my career.  This football season has been very memorable.  I had more fun with baseball this season than I can remember.  I can hope now, on January 1, 2014, that this year may somehow be better than last.  And that is my wish for you all as we enter a new year full of pitfalls and promises.  May your new year be blessed beyond measure and may at least some of your dreams be fulfilled.  God be with you all.

Written by Gary Cosby Jr.

January 1st, 2014 at 8:00 am

Twenty Moments – News – Shooting Scene

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This is the eighteenth post in the Twenty Moments News series for 2013.

Children peer out the door of the Southern Spirit Cheer Academy as Decatur Police investigate the scene of a shooting in the parking lot at 1905 Central Parkway SW in Decatur Tuesday evening.  A man was wounded in the leg in the incident and taken to Decatur Morgan Hospital.  The victim was found on the sidewalk in front of the cheer academy and what appeared to be a shell casing was in the parking lot near where the officers are standing.

Children peer out the door of the Southern Spirit Cheer Academy as Decatur Police investigate the scene of a shooting in the parking lot at 1905 Central Parkway SW in Decatur Tuesday evening. A man was wounded in the leg in the incident and taken to Decatur Morgan Hospital. The victim was found on the sidewalk in front of the cheer academy and what appeared to be a shell casing was in the parking lot near where the officers are standing.

There comes a point in any shift where I start thinking about going home.  It was almost to that point when the scanner call came across for a shooting.  Decatur is not a big city but it is not unusual to hear a call for shots fired or that someone had been shot.  We nearly always have to respond to these so I didn’t ignore this call but I got in a hurry when I heard the location.  The shooting happened at a cheerleading academy.  With no other information, I hurried out the door and was praying none of the children had been hurt.

I arrived after the victim had already been loaded into the ambulance.  I made photos of firefighters and EMTs working around the ambulance so I had a shot I could use.  I wandered over where the police cruisers were parked and shot a few frames of the cops in the parking lot.  The light was crazy cool with all kinds of reds and blues coming from the police car strobes.  I kept moving around the parking lot making sure to stay away from the area where they were obviously looking.  Police officers don’t appreciate you encroaching on a crime scene.  In fact, they take it a bit personally.

I noticed the children just about the time I decided I had everything I could get.  They were peeking out the door watching the officers.  I knew by now none of them had been involved in the shooting and the cute aspect of the little girls peeking at the cops was a perfect moment.  Night shots are technically challenging and the Nikon D4 has a totally unpredictable light meter.  I always shoot in manual mode in situations like this and review the results to make sure I am exposing correctly.  Auto exposure at night almost never works.

The trick with this photo was making sure the exposure maintained enough light on the officers without blowing out the children who had a comparatively bright light behind them.  The colors are a little rough with all that red on the officers but the moment more than compensates for the weird lighting.  In fact, the weird lighting helps convey the mood and tension of the situation.

We learned later the shooting had nothing to do with the cheering academy.  A dispute between two people unconnected to the academy happened in their parking lot.  With all the gun related deaths of children in this country in recent years, I was so relieved when this shooting didn’t involve any of them.

Written by Gary Cosby Jr.

December 30th, 2013 at 8:00 pm

Twenty Moments – News – Lunch Break

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This is the seventeenth post in the Twenty Moments News series for 2013.

Robert Cawthorn takes his lunch break beneath one of the track hoes his crew is using to help build a new bridge on Danville Rd. near Danville HIgh School.  Cawthorn works for Miller and Miller Construction.

Robert Cawthorn takes his lunch break beneath one of the track hoes his crew is using to help build a new bridge on Danville Rd. near Danville HIgh School. Cawthorn works for Miller and Miller Construction.

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.

Written by Gary Cosby Jr.

December 29th, 2013 at 8:00 pm

Twenty Moments – News – One Happy Shopper

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This is the sixteenth post in the Twenty Moments News series for 2013.

Raedon Glover is thrilled with a new pair of shoes as she leaps and dances in the aisle while shopping  for back to school items with her mother Tina Ogle at the Target in Decatur Friday afternoon during the first full day of the tax free weekend.  Behind Raedon is Madyson Swoopes and her mom Tonya Swoopes.

Raedon Glover is thrilled with a new pair of shoes as she leaps and dances in the aisle while shopping for back to school items with her mother Tina Ogle at the Target in Decatur Friday afternoon during the first full day of the tax free weekend. Behind Raedon is Madyson Swoopes and her mom Tonya Swoopes.

I literally hate shopping assignments.  Nothing, including ribbon cuttings, makes me grumble like getting a shopping assignment and we have a lot of shopping assignments.  Okay, maybe gas price assignments make me more grumpy but it is a toss up!  Arrrggghhh!  I feel a pirate moment coming on!  Avast ye shoppers, I will hang ye from the yard-arm…. ye will walk the….  Okay, I controlled myself but dang it, I hate shopping photos.  I guess it is entirely superfluous to tell you I don’t like to go shopping myself.

Here is the run down.  We do shopping photos about four major times per year, Thanksgiving/Black Friday, Back To School, Day after Christmas and I forget the other one.  Brain lock for sure!  I will do nearly anything to avoid shopping photos.  Why, you ask, do I so hate shopping photos?  Thank you for asking.

Aside from not enjoying shopping myself, photographing in retail stores has become increasingly difficult.  Many of the chain stores don’t want you anywhere near their places of business and if you are there they want to send an escort around with you to make sure you behave yourself.  That is a big one.  Shopping photos tend to be highly repetitive images of people looking at stuff which is why I don’t like shooting some festivals either.  There are only so many ways to get shots of people looking at stuff! During the Christmas season, no one really wants you to photograph them buying gifts because the people they are buying for may see the pictures.  This year I was turned down by five or six out of eight people I approached in Kmart.  I mean, really, how aggravating can this get?

So there is a nutshell of my dislike for shopping photos.  But, once in a while, I do find a gem, a diamond amid the lumps of coal.  This photo is a diamond.  I was in the Target in Decatur photographing for the annual tax free shopping weekend that is designed to help people buy their back to school supplies and clothing. It is a very popular shopping holiday.  Target is one of the stores I actually like to work with.  They have been accommodating every time I have asked.  Thank you Target.

I came across these moms with their kids shopping for new shoes.  The little girl was quite the little fire ball so I thought I would hang around and see what happened.  Sure enough, a little patience paid off.  Her mom laced on the shoes and she did this little leap and acted like a lioness!  Nice!  Nailed it!!!  All through this series, by the way, that nailed it thing is a little humor not abject arrogance!, I have preached the value of pushing beyond expectations.  You know the expected photo from this assignment.  I have about a dozen of those images.  Hanging out a few extra moments with these two ladies and their kids paid off with a wonderful photo that ran big on page 1 the next day.  Gotta love it even when it is a shopping photo.

Written by Gary Cosby Jr.

December 28th, 2013 at 8:00 pm

Twenty Moments – News – Big Move

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This is the fifteenth post in the Twenty Moments News series for 2013.

A crew from HLW Rigging begins the tedious movement of the 320,000 pound press from the Riverwalk Marina to the new Carpenter plant in Limestone County Tuesday night in Decatur.

A crew from HLW Rigging begins the tedious movement of the 320,000 pound press from the Riverwalk Marina to the new Carpenter plant in Limestone County Tuesday night in Decatur.

My normal work shift is a businesslike 9-5.  In the world of photojournalism the word “normal” should be taken with a huge grain of salt.  Normal means when all of us are working and all of us are seldom working at the same time.  The result of our wacky schedule is I work the later shifts from time to time in an unpredictable kind of normal way.  Drives my wife crazy!  I don’t mind too much because it provides some diversity to my work days.

This photo is the result of one of those abnormal-normalities.  A new steel factory is going up in Limestone County on the north side of the Tennessee River.  The company was moving a very large press component to the factory via the Tennessee River then by special transport to their new factory.  The special transport is an 18 axle trailer that is driven remotely by a man walking beside it with a control unit.  The entire operation is quite impressive.  The move was made at night to avoid as much of the workday traffic as possible.

Night photography can be fun and challenging and infuriating all at the same time.  On this night, the weather decided to spice up the night with rain.  In fact, a light rain began falling right about the time the company began the move.  There was no light to speak of beyond the sodium vapor street lights so this was going to be a challenge.  The moving company had a very large, very intense spotlight on top of the hauler.  This complicated things because now the fall off from the hot light to the complete darkness was going to be extraordinary.

If you work for a newspaper you already know the photo I am showing you is not the photo we ran in our lead page position.  This is far and away my best photo but you can’t see the big hauler with the press piece on it.  Sometimes you have to cave to the obvious and I certainly provided a number of nice images of the hauler, the traffic and the people.  Still, I worked very hard to get this shot.  I had to feel around and see how close the moving company was going to let me get.  When it was apparent they didn’t care as long as I didn’t get run over I began working this shot.  The man in the photo was the eyes for the front end of the hauler.  He was radioing directions for turns back to the driver.

I shot for about five minutes on this one image.  I am sure the guy must have thought I was nuts.  To make the shot work, his body had to obscure the entire light source and my exposure has to be spot on so there is some wrap around light on the man to make sure he is not a silhouette.  A night time silhouette is, shall we say, dark.  The back lit rain drops add a nice touch to the image.

This is an example of what I spoke of in an earlier post about shooting to meet my own expectations.  I mean, how easy would it have been for me to shoot that overall shot of the hauler, the traffic and the guys and walk away, photo in the bag?  I have been doing this long enough I seldom even think about it.  I always push beyond the expectations of the assignment unless I am sick or something like that.  Pushing keeps me interested and pushing helps me make pictures, unexpected pictures, from everyday assignments.  This isn’t going to win any prizes for me but it hangs in that pushing the envelope hall of photographs I have in my mind!

 

Written by Gary Cosby Jr.

December 27th, 2013 at 8:00 pm

Twenty Moments – News – Summer Storm

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This is the fourteenth post in the Twenty Moments News series for 2013.

Spencer Sanderson hustles to get to cover after riding a harvester while helping with the wheat harvesting at Peets Corner near the intersection of Huntsville Browns Ferry Rd and Mooresville Rd. in Limestone County Monday as a severe thunderstorm approaches.  The National Weather Service issued a severe thunderstorm warning for the county and an observer at Tanner Crossroads reported an funnel cloud as the storm passed through.

Spencer Sanderson hustles to get to cover after riding a harvester while helping with the wheat harvesting at Peets Corner near the intersection of Huntsville Browns Ferry Rd and Mooresville Rd. in Limestone County Monday as a severe thunderstorm approaches. The National Weather Service issued a severe thunderstorm warning for the county and an observer at Tanner Crossroads reported an funnel cloud as the storm passed through.

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!

Written by Gary Cosby Jr.

December 26th, 2013 at 8:00 pm