Archive for the ‘Photojournalism’ Category
It has been a while. I have been more than busy recently and have not had the time nor the inclination to do a blog post. We lost a staff member this year and I have been working on a special project that has been consuming all my time so blogging has been out of the question. I thought; however, it is past time for an update.
The Vanishing Generation is a special, primarily multimedia series, I have been thinking about doing for a long time. In fact, I began preparation for the series last year by researching the National Archives and related online sites for photos from World War II. I wanted to get a series of World War II veterans telling their stories on camera before they are gone. While I knew the generation that has been dubbed “The Greatest Generation” was dying off rather quickly, I had no idea exactly how quickly. The VA estimates World War II veterans are dying at a rate of approximately 500 per day. My project took on a sense of urgency.
This year is the 70th anniversary of the end of the war and as I began looking at the death rates I figured this would be the last opportunity around what we would call a major anniversary to get these interviews. The youngest man I have interviewed is 88 years old. The oldest, to this point, is 93. I also knew many of these men had either never told their stories or had only told pieces of their stories. My own grandfather was a WWII veteran and he absolutely never talked about his war service. I finally, in the last years of his life, was able to get a little bit of information from him but, even then, he would not tell me much.
My first obstacle was to find some way to create nice lighting with no budget. If you work in the newspaper world right now, you fully understand what I mean. I didn’t bother looking into actual video lighting, instead I went to Lowes and Home Depot and scouted their work lights. I first thought of getting one of those quartz lights like you see on construction sites but my colleague Jeronimo Nisa had used them before and said they created a hum you could hear in the microphones. Scratch one light. I decided on the simplest solution I could find. I bought three clamp lights and bulbs.
Did you know, you can’t actually buy a large wattage incandescent bulb anymore? I think the government has outlawed incandescent bulbs or something like that. I had to purchase CFL bulbs. The 300 watt equivalent CFL, while no doubt cooler, certainly doesn’t create 300 watts worth of light. None the less, I got one clamp light with a 300 watt CFL and two reflectors with 150 watt CFL bulbs. One basic light set created. Now I could use my existing light stands and umbrellas without spending any more money.
I created a list of veterans. When I began the project I had six or seven names and didn’t know how many, if any, would be willing to share their stories. I began with George Mills, an Army vet who was captured by the Germans during the Battle of the Bulge. Mr. Mills gave me a great interview and I was ready to kick things off. I created an intro video for the series using photographs and basic information about World War II that ended with an invitation to send me names of any veteran who might be willing to participate.
What I did not expect to do was write stories to go with the series. My original idea was to do a 100 percent online video presentation of each man’s story. In talking with editors, we decided to kick the series off with a couple of stories in print and a reporter friend volunteered to do the writing. Problems arose when, every time I was ready to go shoot a story, he got reassigned to do some other story. I realized if my series was ever going to happen I was probably going to have to write the stories too. While I didn’t mind writing stories, it was an unexpected wrinkle that ate up more time. As the series progressed, I had to fight to continue writing the stories. While I wasn’t thrilled to add all that writing time, most of the veterans were reading the stories in print which is typical of their generation. Most of them don’t spend a lot of time watching videos online.
Here is something everyone should know. In setting up and executing a special project, especially in these days of depleted newsrooms and smaller and smaller newspapers, you must be ready to do whatever it takes to get your project done. If it means extra hours then you work extra hours. If it means you write stories, then you write stories. If it means you have to go and beg for space, then you go and beg for space. If it means you have to go to advertising and sell your idea, then you go to advertising and sell your idea. It would be super if the editors got behind your special project and made sure it happens but you can’t count on that. If the project was your idea that means it was not the editor’s idea and if it is not the editor’s idea he is not likely to push for it nearly as hard as he would push for his own ideas. Editors are human after all.
I can tell you, this has frustrated me so much over the years. To do work beyond the obvious daily grind of assignments means you have to scrap and fight for every single bit of it from resources to time to publication space. There are times when I have gotten so frustrated I have thrown my hands up and sworn never to do a project again. Then I get bored with the daily grind and go do another project. Really, it should not be that way. I swear, if I were the editor I would be different. Yeah, right! At least, I would like to think I would be different. My direct supervisor, our photo editor John Godbey, is now, and has always been, very supportive of these special projects. He does what he can but John doesn’t have the power to create space, or support, for these projects.
This is turning into a rather long post so I am going to cut this off here and bring you into the shooting and production phase in a second post.
For those of you who may not be up on your civil rights history, Selma, Alabama was a major battleground. In 1965 as black marchers crossed the Edmund Pettus bridge in support of civil rights Alabama State Troopers and local law enforcement officers attacked and beat many of the marchers driving them back into Selma with billy clubs and tear gas. Blood ran on the bridge named for a man who once headed the Klu Klux Klan in Alabama. As a direct result of this day which has become known as Bloody Sunday, Congress enacted the Voting Rights Act of 1965 opening the polls to black Americans and putting an end to many egregious methods of keeping blacks away from the voting booth.
This past Saturday President Barack Obama, First Lady Michelle Obama, their daughters, former President George Bush and former First Lady Laura Bush along with many congressmen and senators came to Selma to commemorate the 50th anniversary of that
historic day. I was assigned to do photo coverage alongside reporter Deangelo McDaniel and I was pretty excited. I have always wanted to photograph the reenactment of the march and; although, I would not be there for the march itself I would get to photograph a historic day with America’s first black president giving the keynote address.
I covered one other presidential visit when George W. Bush came to Limestone County’s Brownsferry Nuclear plant to deliver an energy address so I knew there would be limitations to my ability to cover the event. The Secret Service takes a dim view of the media having freedom of movement especially when that freedom of movement might get you close to the President. Even with that, I was excited to have an opportunity to document history.
The atmosphere in Selma was amazing. About 100,000 people showed up to hear and see the President and my only problem was being tied to one place. I could move in a very crowded box about five feet wide and about 25 feet long and that is only because I didn’t want to be on the risers set up for the media. Kristin Williams was designing our front page and she had an idea of what she wanted to do with the design so I needed to get a photo that would fit her design. From the riser there was no angle where I could accomplish that. I managed to find one small spot on the ground at the base of the riser where I could get pretty nearly what she wanted. I stood there for over three hours waiting and hoping no one was going to come and move me. You just never know.
I was very limited in what I could see from my position and being stuck in the photographers area prevented me from roaming among the people as I would normally have done. Several people came through the area on the way to their seating areas and I managed a few images of people who actually marched in the Bloody Sunday march 50 years ago. I also got the expected images of people like Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton.
When the president came on stage the problems became a bit more interesting as everyone in front of us stood on their chairs to get a better look or to take a picture. There was massive yelling from the photo compound. Not from me, I was busy laughing at all that yelling and trying to get a shot through all those raised cell phones. And people, please stop with the selfies! Good grief. So many people turned their backs to the platform to take a selfie with the president way, way in the background. Really folks, chill.
Due to some problems getting into town, like traffic coming to a standstill, Deangelo and I deciding to walk, I left the 300mm lens in the car. Good thing too. The photography area was so incredibly crowded it was difficult to even swap between my wide angle camera body and my telephoto camera body. Tight does not begin to describe the situation. It got real friendly down there before all was said and done.
The actual photography was not difficult, at least it wasn’t difficult after all the people took their seats in front of us. Then it was a matter of trying to get into the exact position I wanted to get that photo of the President with the Edmund Pettus bridge behind him. The composition was not perfect and I probably transmitted ten to fifteen images of the President with compositional variations trying to give Kristin the most options for her front design.
President Obama spoke for around thirty minutes. I photographed him for about 15 of those minutes. Then I moved back in that photo box toward the crowd. People were stretched out up the street for what looked like a mile. Fortunately for me there was a very animated man in the front row and he was cheering and applauding. I kept an eye on him because I figured when the President finished speaking he would get up and yell. I was not disappointed. He stood up yelling with both hands lifted up and that sea of humanity spreading out behind him. That was the picture I wanted.
I think that image summed up the mood of the day very well. This was a celebration of victory, a celebration for people who, as they were beaten by law enforcement 50 years ago, never dreamed they would see someone who looked like them in the White House. His enthusiasm and joy were exactly what I was feeling from that crowd. It is always nice to get an image that encapsulates an event. The photos of the President were required, we don’t often get a visit from a sitting president in Alabama, but the photos of the people were the ones that mattered the most.
One final humorous item. There were work tables set up for us on the sidewalk beside the photo corral. It was a bright, sunny day and we are all trying to see our screens. Most opted to cover our heads and computers with a jacket so we all looked like old time photographers working with a black cloaked view camera. Either that or we looked like a bunch of turtles! Below is a selection of images. For the full photo gallery please visit www.decaturdaily.com
I was thinking about fractals the other day. Some of you are suddenly very impressed while others are wondering what the heck a fractal is. According to Wikipedia, a fractal is “a natural phenomenon or a mathematical set that exhibits a repeating pattern that displays at every scale.” I think my first exposure to the concept of fractals came from a Michael Crichton novel! Hey, learn from smart people no matter who those smart people are.
When I first read about fractals, Crichton, or whomever it actually was, used a mountain as an illustration. He said that the mountain basically looks like a mountain whether you are standing back looking at the whole thing or whether you look at a small piece of rock chipped off of that mountain. Even down to the microscopic level, a mountain will look like a mountain. Now, to tell the whole truth, I have never actually tried that but I am in love with the concept. Let me tell you why.
I am a big picture thinker. That is the way my mind is wired. Details are not my favorite thing. I love being married to the woman I am married to because she is very detail oriented. It creates some friction but the friction is worth it because, as a couple we have a vision and we get things done.
When I look at the big picture of my career I have career sized goals. For one, I would love to win a Pulitzer. Or two! I always wanted to do big things and work for a big newspaper or news organization like AP or National Geographic. I have dreams man, what can I say. I don’t know if any of that will happen. Who knows where the road leads until it has been walked all the way? Now, breaking my career down to the nitty gritty, what does it look like?
Here is where the fractal idea comes into play. Ultimately, I do not build a career. My career is nothing but a collection of individual performances on my everyday assignments. Those assignments pile up to make a day. The days pile up to make a week. The weeks pile up to make a month and the months pile up to make a year. The years pile up to make a career. You do not build a successful career. You build a successful day and you repeat that over and over again. Your career is not built in the macro. Your career is built in the micro. The macro view of your career becomes a reflection of the microscopic day to day performances you stack up.
Alabama has a football coach you may have heard of. Nick Saban has the habit of saying some variation of this statement over and over again. He says you have to focus on the process of what it takes to be successful. There is such wisdom in that. A great performance on the football field on game day is a reflection of what was done in the weight room, the practice field, the film room and even the classroom. In other words, what my dad told me playing youth league baseball holds true to this day even in photojournalism; you will play just like you practice.
I have advocated many times on this blog to do your best work every single day – no excuses. It doesn’t matter what the assignment is my goal should is to shoot the best photo anyone has ever shot on that job. Then, if I get the same job again next year, or next week, I will strive to knock it out of the park again. That takes discipline and detailed hard work. I learned this concept in prayer. God and I were having a conversation and I was complaining about where I was in my career. He said to me, “If you do not pursue excellence today on the things I have placed in your life for you to do, you will never accomplish your overall goals.” It was a stunning moment and a moment of extraordinary clarity for me.
I am at that point in my career where I am beginning to see the finish with a bit more clarity than the start. I may never win a Pulitzer. I may never work for AP or a big news organization. I may never shoot for National Geographic. In some respects, those situations are out of my control. What I can do is shoot every single day like I already work for one of my goal news organizations.
Maybe you are a few years into your career and you don’t like where you are. Maybe you are a student and haven’t started the journey yet. Take a big picture look at where you want to be when you end your career. Now look at your most recent day, week, month, year. What does the micro view look like compared to your macro goal? If you can’t see your big goal reflected in your everyday work you have a problem. The good news is, this is a problem that can be fixed. The fix is mostly up to you. To change the direction of your career, change your direction today then repeat tomorrow and for the rest of your tomorrows.
This post is not some theoretical junk I am making up. I started putting this into practice with purpose in 2003, the fall of 2003 to be specific. I can even tell you the assignment where it all clicked. I went to Nashville to shoot a Titans versus Redskins football game. I think Steve Spurrier was the Redskins coach that year. That day was my turning point. From that day forward I have applied this stuff every single day and it has totally changed my career trajectory. I still work in the same place I did then but that discovery made my location less relevant. I would still like to to move up to a bigger place but if I don’t I will work today, right here where I am, because where I am is far less important than who I am.
The photos in this gallery represent something that I feel is important in the way I approach assignments.
We had a bit of a snow storm in north Alabama this week. I mean, a real snow storm, not your garden variety dusting of snow or sleet that is typical to our part of the world. The snow started around 1 pm yesterday and fell for about 12 hours piling up very nearly a foot of fluffy white flakes. I think it is the most snow I have seen fall in Alabama. That’s great if you work a normal job where they close the business and you get to stay home. Photojournalism is not a normal job! When the weather gets bad we get to work and get the pictures. This means we are on the roads and in the elements in the worst possible conditions. I drove more than a hundred miles on snow covered roads over the last day and a half.
One of my daughters spent the better part of the day chastising me about risking my life for The Decatur Daily. She would have a point if I were actually taking a big risk but today there was almost no traffic on the roads and my top speed for most of the day was about 25 mph. It is kinda hard to drive fast in eight or nine inches of snow. Still, her point has some validity. We do get out in very bad conditions. We run to tornadoes, winter storms, hurricanes and if we had earthquakes in the south we would be running to those as well.
I don’t remember being taught about this stuff in college so how do you deal with the hazards of covering storms and their evil kindred? Were you ever a Boy Scout? They have a motto-be prepared. The first step in minimizing risk is simply to be prepared. I don’t have one of these yet but I am in the process of putting together a bug out bag, a bag with basic survival gear to keep in the car. You may only need it once in your life but that once may be the difference between living to shoot another day or being the subject of someone else’s news story.
On a more mundane level, always have rain gear handy. Rain is the most common form of bad weather we face; therefore, it is the easiest to take for granted. I have a rain suit made by Frog Togs I keep in my car at all times. Not only does it turn water quite well but it takes up very little space and the rain jacket can double as a wind breaker when needed. I usually have at least a light weight jacket in the trunk of my car at all times, even in the summer, because you never know what you will be up against.
Another very important thing to have is a safety vest in bright orange or bright yellow with reflective stripes or lettering. We tend to cover a bunch of stuff on or very near roadways and being visible to motorists can absolutely save your life. I wore my vest today, all day, over my coat. I want people to be able to see me because if they see me they probably won’t hit me.
Shoes cannot be overrated. Today, my shoes were actually a well worn pair of work boots. I actually used some old plastic grocery bags wrapped around my feet to help keep them dry. I was allowing my children to use my rubber boots so they could play in the snow. The rubber boots you can pick up at almost any mass merchandiser like WalMart or Target will keep your feet dry and they are cheap. I keep these in my trunk as well. There is nothing more uncomfortable than shoes and socks that are soaked, especially in cold weather. I have ruined more shoes in this job than any other clothing item, most of them while covering fires, floods and tornadoes. Step on something hot and it will melt your shoe soles. Yep, done that. There are days when you need boots, days when you need sneakers, days when you need dress shoes. My everyday shoes are a pretty well-worn pair of nondescript brown leather shoes made by Skeechers. They have proved to be the most durable pair of shoes I have ever worn at work. They are tough, keep my feet warm and dry and have a durable sole.
Gloves are really important too and I have had the devil of a time finding gloves that will keep my hands warm and still allow me to sense the controls on my camera. I have a pair right now I will not name because they are falling apart after only a couple of months of very limited use. I asked my friend Corey Wilson about gloves since he worked Green Bay Packer games in the winter and he suggested a pair of thermal glove liners that accept hot hands type chemical hand warmers and put a pair of wide receiver gloves over the liners. I will be doing that next.
A good jacket or coat can’t be undervalued. You may think it doesn’t get cold here in north Alabama and you would be right to a point. We seldom have sub-zero temps and our real seriously cold winter days are few; however, it doesn’t make much difference if you are in New York or Alabama if the temps are below freezing and there is a strong wind blowing. That will put a chill in you. I have a two part jacket made by Columbia. It has a zip out liner that can be worn by itself and it has a shell that is also a stand alone jacket. Normal winter days I can handle with just the shell. When it gets below freezing or I know there will be a strong wind I put the liner in. It is a very solid combo.
I wear hats year round. In the hot Alabama sun my poor, balding head gets burned easily. Skin cancer will kill you. Wear a hat. Make sure it has a brim to cover your neck and ears. My standard hat is a beautiful Australian cowboy hat one of my other daughter’s gave me. It is useful in all seasons but it does get a bit toasty in the summer. I also carry a light weight toboggan and a heavy weight toboggan. Keeping your head, hands and feet warm will keep you working. Medically speaking, you lose most of your body heat out of your head so keeping it covered in cold weather is important. For high heat days I do usually buy some form of straw hat. I have not yet been mistaken for Nick Saban.
The last thing is a little bit odd until you think about it. Carry a helmet in your trunk. I have my dad’s old helmet he used back when he was an electrician. It is a simple plastic shell with an adjustable web liner that gives it a relatively decent fit. You would be surprised how many assignments I do where a safety helmet is necessary. After covering the 2011 tornadoes I decided to never be without a basic helmet. If you ever get caught outside in a hail storm you won’t need to wonder why. You can pick one up for a few dollars at a Lowes or Home Depot or similar store.
There are other things you might carry in your safety kit depending on where you live and what conditions you face regularly. In the long hot summers in the south it is always a good idea to keep some water in your vehicle. If you deal with a bunch of snow and ice then tire chains would be needed. The main thing is stay safe while you work. Sunblock and insect repellent are also good items to keep handy and it never hurts to keep some hand sanitizer in your car. We do tend to eat on the run quite often. Clean hands equal good health.
One word about driving, especially to you guys who are new to this business. Don’t ever kill yourself getting to an assignment. Too many photojournalists are injured or killed in car accidents. Don’t let it happen to you. No matter what you are going to cover I guarantee you it is impossible to make a picture from a hospital bed, or a morgue. Worse still, if you were to cause someone else to be killed because of your driving it would be an emotional mill stone around your neck for the rest of your life.
The pictures with this post are from my coverage of the snow storm. Most of this stuff is just people having fun. We didn’t suffer through any major problems other than transportation and even those were less than they could have been since most people actually did stay home. Enjoy some chilly fun.
Watermelon is one of my favorite foods to eat. Enjoying a watermelon always conjures up memories of the hot Alabama summers of my childhood. Maybe it was an after church social, what we used to call a dinner on the ground. Maybe it was a picnic down at the river. Maybe it was after playing baseball all afternoon with friends. Whatever the occasion there always seemed to be a watermelon mixed in with the memories of those good times. Needless to say, I love me some watermelon. In fact, being the good southern boy that I am, there is not much I like better than watermelon and fried chicken. I could subsist on nothing more. In fact, if God doesn’t allow fried chicken and watermelon in heaven then He may just have to rename the place “almost heaven!”
Being the alert and attentive readers you all are, I am sure you are asking yourself right about now, “What exactly has this to do with photojournalism?”
That, my friends, is the question and I have the answer. One day as I sat outback at our picnic table enjoying some watermelon with my children I was contemplating photojournalism and it struck me like a lightning bolt. Hey, eating watermelon is exactly how you should shoot an assignment. Think about it. The first thing you do when you eat watermelon is eat the heart of your slice of melon. That’s where the best of the meat is, juicy and sweet.
What are you supposed to do on a photo assignment? Of course, you are supposed to get to the heart of the matter and get the most important stuff first.
Next, you work your way through the seeds. There is still good melon here but you have to work harder to get at it. There are seeds to spit out, and do make sure you spit out the seeds. One does not want to grow watermelons in one’s tummy now does one? At least, that is what some of our moms and grandmas used to say to us kids to make sure we didn’t swallow any seeds. How does this relate to your photo assignment?
This is the part where you experiment, try new lighting techniques, a new angle of view, a different lens or even a different camera. This may be where you whip out the iPhone and work a few images. Who knows? This is the stage where you already have something you feel good about in the bag and now you are working some alternate angles on the main subject trying to find a really tasty bite amid all the seeds. The seeds, of course represent your failures. You will have to do some spitting here. Now need to swallow a failure, you might end up growing one in your creative tummy.
After the heart and seed belt there is some fine meat to be had between the seeds and the rind. If you haven’t been using a knife to eat with up to this point, do yourself and favor and get you at least a butter knife so you can clean out every last bit of the red meat that melon has to offer. Yellow? Don’t even go there. Red watermelon is real watermelon! Viva la red! Okay, I digress.
This relates to working the edges of your photo assignment and this is more important now than it has ever been because this is where you get a bunch of good images for your photo galleries. Here is the deal. You have your shot. You have some experiments. Now this layer of the melon allows you to fill out your report and you may just find an amazing image out there around the edges. You know I advocate working the literal edges of an assignment. Go backstage, go to the locker room, the hallway, the beach. Wait, what, the beach? Yeah, I guess I let that one slip. No handy beaches in my part of the world. It is cold. I was day dreaming. Leave me alone and go eat your watermelon!
Literally, turn your back on the main subject and look around. Walk away from the center and get out where the other photographers are not working. Find something on the way to the locker room. This is where you can express your own unique vision. Go for it.
Now we come to the rind. The rind is the light green part and I was always told it would give you a belly ache so I guess this means we are done. No more watermelon. No more pictures. Time to go to the computer and upload all those fine images then rush out and find yourself a shade tree and a melon. Enjoy.
Below are some photos from Decatur’s recent Carnegie Carnival, a Mardi Gras style event. The heart of the melon is the parade, and to some degree, the people who are heavily engaged who are watching it like the girls reaching out for beads. The seeds are represented in the backlit photo of the kid in the jesters hat and in the horribly lit image of the pirate giving beads to the elderly lady. The lighting alone makes those seed photos but worth the risk. They are two of my favorite images. The third layer images are the three where you are looking at people basically looking at you. These are definitely for the gallery. Nothing wrong with that. It draws eyes to the website. Not all of your third layer images will be bland. Sometimes they will be your very best images. With a parade, this is what the third layer stuff tends to be. Of course, you can also do detail shots and some other things to add visual interest to the gallery.
Last week the state of Alabama underwent a major civil rights shake up, an earthquake really. A federal judge removed the barriers for same sex couples to marry in Alabama. This easily became the biggest civil rights story in Alabama in at least 30 years. I can tell you, having grown up in Alabama and then living here as an adult for the past twenty years, I never thought to see this day happen. Is it a good thing? That is the great debate and only time will tell.
If you have read the blog much at all you know I am a Christian and as a Christian I know what the Bible has to say about homosexuality. I also know what the Bible has to say about all sexual sin so I will just echo the words of Christ, let he who is without sin cast the first stone. I dropped mine a long, long time ago. As a civil rights matter; however, things seem to me to be perfectly clear. Our Declaration of Independence says this: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”
Our core national beliefs state that we believe all men are created equally and that all should have equal rights and protections. This is so fundamental to our nation and, I must add, has been tried in the furnace of a terrible Civil War which claimed over 500,000 lives, that it should not even be a source of debate. However, women, blacks and now those with different sexual preferences have all been clubbed by the weight of unjust laws in a nation that believes in “liberty and justice for all.” There is nowhere in any of this that says we have to agree with everyone but we certainly cannot legally discriminate against anyone. And, as a final note to all of my Christian friends, the U.S. law is not the same as Christian morality. Sometimes they agree. Sometimes they don’t. No Christian should ever look to civil law to modify a persons behavior to adhere to Biblical standards. That is the work of God and church, not legislative bodies. Only God is capable of changing the heart of man. No law has ever accomplished this.
Now, on to covering this historic event. My boss told me on Friday I would be shooting the marriage events in Huntsville Monday morning. I was excited to cover the assignment. It is not often one gets the opportunity to document such a historical event. I wondered exactly how the couples were going to feel about being photographed. I mean, this could certainly open them to public ridicule and humiliation and possible even affect their jobs, their children and family members. While this does not carry the weight of violence that attended the civil rights movements of the 1950’s and 60’s we are still talking about a state with strong feelings about homosexuality. I was very happy that few shied away from the camera and most of the couples understood they were doing this intentionally as a public statement. That made this part of the job very easy.
I began inside the Madison County Courthouse where we endured a very long wait. Some computer problem or other slowed things dramatically. This is not time you waist. I shot pictures of couples in line and in doing this I was able to identify a few that seemed to me to be good people to follow through the process. That is very important. Don’t waste your down time. Talk to people and find out which ones will be the best and then stick with them. You can get a good feel for who will give you good shots and who will just stand there like a statue. I had about three couples I wanted to get shots of and I managed to get good stuff on two.
Once the licenses began to be issued I started looking for emotion. There was cheering every time a couple came out with the license. Fortunately for me one of the couples I identified early came out and triumphantly lifted the license giving me one of the my three favorite shots from the day. I got another very beautiful image of a couple leaning against one another beneath a row of judicial looking portraits. My final favorite image came in Big Spring Park as the first couple to be legally married in north Alabama shared their first kiss.
My greatest difficulty turned out to be attempting to shoot stills and video at the same time. Like a complete knucklehead, I left my tripod in the car so I was free handing the video while continuing to shoot stills. Yes, it was funny to watch. At one point, as I photographed the first wedding, I was shooting video with the Nikon D4 which was literally sitting on top of the Canon 5D I was shooting stills with. I can only wonder what that must have looked like! It was heavy and every time I moved my 5D the video shook so there are some awkward cuts. Overall, I think I managed it but, as my daughter told me, “Dad, you are a much better photographer than videographer!”
I sent my three best shots to the AP and I was absolutely thrilled with the national play they got. I had about six front pages in big newspapers around the country. You can see them with this post. I can’t even begin to tell you how thrilled I was to have this kind of play. First of all, there is a validation of the work itself. I mean, if it wasn’t good these big papers wouldn’t have used the photos. There were plenty of images from Alabama to chose from. It also points out how very much God has blessed me. Decatur, Alabama isn’t exactly a world wide news hotspot but I have had the front page of the Washington Post a couple of times, the New York Times, several times on USA Today’s front page and sports page. I mean, how is that even possible? I simple give God praise for all He has given me the opportunity to do here and shake my head in amazement.
Twenty Moments is an annual feature on the blog where I take you behind some of the photos I feel helped shape my year.
This is the final post in the Twenty Moments News for this year and it is a somewhat sad topic, the funeral for one of the finest men to hold public office I have ever met. Former Decatur mayor Bill Dukes passed away just a few days before Christmas. He was 87 and had battled with Parkinson’s disease for several years. Dukes served the city of Decatur as mayor for 18 years following terms on the city council. He then moved on to serve 16 more years in the Alabama legislature. I think he is the only man I know who has held public office for such a long time and I have never heard a person speak ill of him.
Everyone knew him as Mayor Dukes, even after all those years in the legislature he was still just “Mayor” to the people in Decatur. I think the only fault anyone would ever point out is that the Mayor never met a microphone he didn’t like. He was known for rather lengthy speeches, planned and impromptu, and I do seem to remember him referring to himself in the third person from time to time. That’s it. Nothing bad about the man who loved God, family and the city of Decatur. During his funeral, Rev. George Sawyer asked those gathered to mourn Dukes, “How many of you thought you were Mayor Dukes’ best friend?” Everyone there acknowledged that’s how they felt. The man had a special gift that way.
I don’t like photographing funerals. If you ever want to feel like a creeper, show up at the funeral home for visitation or to the church for a funeral with a camera in your hand. That camera starts to sound like a gun going off and feels like a Speed Graphic in your hands. You feel like an interloper. Of course, we asked permission to cover the funeral and the family, knowing the Mayor’s love for the public, said it was fine to be there. Still, it feels like everyone in the place looks at you when you shoot a picture. Uncomfortable!
I shot inside the church, outside the church and at the graveside service in the cemetery. I arrived very early, partly to see if the family needed to place any restrictions on my shooting and partly because I wanted to make sure there would be room for me inside the church during the funeral. By arriving early I was in place when the Decatur Police Honor Guard entered and took up watch positions on either side of the casket.
I happened to be kneeling right up near the front of the church to shoot a photo of the flag draped casket when the honor guard marched up. I shot several different photos of the honor guard standing watch over the casket and they were all nice images. I went outside, it was still about 30 minutes before the funeral was to begin, and was talking with the staff from the funeral home. Turns out one of them knows my father so we were chatting about that. I happened to glance through the open front doors of the church and I saw the reflections of the flag draped casket in the sides of the pews. As soon as I could I excused myself from the conversation I moved down the steps until I was at just about floor level. I shot the image and bracketed my exposure to best emphasize the flag and reflection and the officer’s face.
This is by far my favorite image from the funeral. You may think that sounds somewhat callous but my true desire was to shoot photos and video that would honor Mayor Dukes. That meant I planned to work this funeral as diligently as I would any assignment, anywhere, anytime with the caveat that I didn’t want to disturb the service. This is another benefit to arriving early. I was able to look for different images and not simply shoot the photos of the funeral service itself.
There is one final and very important thing to tell you about covering a funeral; dress well. A funeral is not a casual occasion and your comportment and your appearance should reflect the gravity of the event. I have actually seen some of my colleagues from television news stations show up to cover a funeral wearing shorts and t-shirts. They were behind the camera but that should not matter. If you are a man you should be wearing a suit, not just a shirt and tie but a full suit. If you are a woman you should be wearing your best formal clothing. It is completely disrespectful to show up at funeral improperly dressed. Not only does it reflect poorly on your personally but also upon the news organization you represent.
It has been a great joy to share Twenty Moments with you all again this year. I love teaching and I hope you have found some things in these posts that will help you grow and be a better photojournalist and, perhaps, a better person. Have a great 2015!
Below is a video I shot at the funeral.
Twenty Moments is an annual feature on the blog where I take you behind some of the photos I feel helped shape my year.
Well, this is it folks, the last Twenty Moments Sports moment of the year. It’s okay to grab a tissue and wipe away the tears; however, like Frosty The Snowman, I’ll be back again next year!
For all you Auburn fans out there, I am sorry but this is another post with Alabama players. I know what you are thinking but it will be worth reading. It really isn’t about Alabama so much as it is about one unlikely hero and we can all relate to that. Blake Sims came out of spring practice without convincing many fans, and who knows what the coaches were thinking, that he was the man to lead the Crimson Tide this season. Jake Coker was coming in on transfer from Florida State and I think most Bama fans felt it was a foregone conclusion Coker would take the reins from A.J. McCarron and Sims would finish his senior season on the bench and be a footnote in Alabama history.
Did he ever prove that wrong. Sims was named the starter against West Virginia but Coker got significant playing time. That continued for another couple of games but Sims clearly won the job and was growing in the role every week. He passed every test and became one of the most efficient Alabama quarterbacks ever. He connected time and again with Amari Cooper helping Cooper earn the Bilenikoff Award as the nation’s top wide receiver and helping him achieve all time numbers as Alabama’s leading wide receiver. Many times, in crucial situation, Sims would scramble out of the pocket and gain a big first down. In short, Sims shined all season long and the quarterback debate at the start of the season was nothing but a distant memory as Sims led the Tide to a come from behind win over Auburn and then on to an SEC Championship, a number one national ranking and the top spot in the new football playoff. Sims had another big game in the SEC Championship win over Missouri setting the SEC Championship record for passing efficiency.
Post game with Alabama is very difficult. The Tide players reflect the personality of their head coach and he is a pretty buttoned down guy meaning there is very little post-game jubilation with this team. For you Auburn people, y’all celebrate way better than Alabama! At the end of a championship game the players stay on the field longer than normal due to the trophy presentation so there is more time to get shots. I had a few and a good shot of Sims getting his young daughter out of the stands to celebrate on the field with him. Still, I waited and when Sims left the field I followed him into the tunnel leading to the locker room.
In the Georgia Dome the tunnel is open to the media whereas it is closed to us in Bryant Denny Stadium. I don’t spend much time waiting around for a picture because I am already on deadline and have to hurry to get pictures back to the paper. In this case, Coach Scott Cochran was congratulating players outside the locker room as they came in from the field. He grabbed Sims in a big hug and he said, “I am so proud of you son.” The picture itself isn’t a great one but when you can know what is being said, it elevates the moment in my mind.
I wrote about this photo in the newspaper’s Behind The Lens photo column and I said there that I think Coach Cochran was saying what any Alabama fan would say if they were standing there hugging Blake Sims. I don’t pull for Alabama over Auburn or Auburn over Alabama but I do root for certain players on both teams. This year, Blake Sims was certainly the guy I was pulling for on the Crimson Tide. I am so glad to see him do well and I hope he leads Alabama to a national championship, not because I think Alabama needs another national title but because I would love to see this underdog of a quarterback overcome and win out.
Twenty Moments is an annual feature on the blog where I take you behind some of the photos I feel helped shape my year.
It was a cold, cold day when the 663rd Engineering Company returned from a year in Afghanistan. I have done a few of these homecomings over the years and I always enjoy them. I mean, imagine if your spouse had been gone for a year. You might be ready to see them again! If you had been away and missed a full year of your child’s young life you would sure enough be ready to see them. That translates into great photo chances for me and a great reunion day for the families.
I had the wrong time on my photo assignment and I planned on arriving early to avoid parking difficulties. With the incorrect time plus me arriving early I arrived very, very early. The people at Signature Aviation had us park out on the edge of the tarmac and there was an icy north wind blowing. I was not prepared to stand out in the open for two hours but I did have a ski cap in my trunk so I could at least keep that wind out of my ears. I mention this because it is important you, as a photojournalist, remain prepared for any circumstance you might face. The trunk of my car is a kind of all season repository of stuff including rain gear, rubber boots, a hard hat, gloves and plastic bags and duct tape; one can never have enough duct tape. I have found the hard hat especially useful. Aside from its usefulness at construction sites if you ever get caught in a hail storm you will surely appreciate it.
With hat and gloves I had a tolerable wait and I was able to meet several families and find out where they were from. This was important because it allowed me to find families that were from our coverage area. In fact, most of the photos I shot during this assignment were focused on those families I met during that cold two hours before the flight landed. The photo above; however, is of a couple not from our coverage area. It is, of course, far and away my favorite image of the day.
Once the flight landed, I focused my attention on the families I had scouted and got some decent reaction photos from them. The photo we ran on the front page is a good one. It was a tight shot of a little girl hugging her uncle and she had tears rolling down her cheeks. It was a nice image and the editors loved it. The photo with this post sums up to me the kind of reaction I would have had if my wife had been gone for a year which partially explains why I like it best. The other part is compositional. This photo has a great moment and a nice composition which is two thirds of the formula for great photos, the other part being light. The light is kinda flat but you get that on flat, overcast days. Two out of three ain’t bad though.
The story behind this image is the couple, Anthony and Rebekah Taylor, had only been married a short time, like a few weeks, when he was deployed. I met her briefly before the plane arrived and had a shot of her with her sign. I was not paying attention to her when the flight landed because they are from Gardendale which is not in our coverage area. I had my back turned to them photographing local families and when I turned around and spotted them I knew I was seeing something special. I framed a vertical shot of just the two of them then reframed this horizontal shot with the other couples embracing and I like this version the best.
Let me tell you, I had plenty of time to shoot this picture. I think they must have embraced like this for five minutes. I actually walked around and shot a second angle when they came up for air! I absolutely love sharing moments of people’s lives like this. It is the most special part of being a photojournalist.
Twenty Moments is an annual feature on the blog where I take you behind some of the pictures I feel helped define my year.
Amari Cooper is quite the football player. After three seasons at Alabama, Cooper has become the school’s all-time leader in catches, yards and receiving touchdowns. The only thing he doesn’t seem to do well is talk to the media. He is a very quiet young man. I was on the field beside him after the SEC Championship and a reporter was trying to get a comment from him. He just mumbled a “no” to the request two or three times and kept on walking. I almost laughed out loud. For what it’s worth, he doesn’t give up many pictures after the games are over either. Normally he just leaves the field. Nothing wrong with that, he simply doesn’t show a lot of emotion.
I have tons of photos Cooper making great catches. He is a touchdown machine and, as often as not, he is running away from defenders as he makes those catches. He is the smoothest guy I have ever seen play wide receiver. There was a young man who played at Hartselle High School, the town I live in, who also played at Alabama named Nikita Stover. Nikita was the smoothest guy on a football field I had ever seen until I saw Cooper play. Unfortunately, through a variety of circumstances, Nikita didn’t have the illustrious career Cooper has enjoyed.
During the Iron Bowl game this year, Cooper had a phenomenal game. Blake Sims dropped back on one particular play and I knew he was going to Cooper. He was so wide open down field it was almost like Auburn decided not to cover him. I was shooting with a 600mm f4 manual focus lens and I totally missed the shot of him making the catch. It wouldn’t have been a great picture anyway because he was literally all alone when he caught the ball. He sprinted straight as an arrow right toward me. When he reached the back of the end zone he dropped to his knee in prayer.
I had a 17-35mm f2.8 lens on my second body, a Nikon D2Hs. I believe I had the lens at 35mm which translates to roughly 50mm on that crop frame body. I would love to have been slightly wider and I would also love to have had time to drop the camera to the ground for a really low angle but I had the camera around my neck and had I wasted the time to take it off and drop it to the ground I would have missed this picture.
I am not thrilled with the D2Hs, especially at night and I rarely use it but I hate taking my own gear to a game when I don’t absolutely have to. I can tell you, I would give a pretty penny to have shot this image with my EOS 5D! There is just so much noise. Oh well, as I have said, there is no such thing as a perfect picture and I will gladly take this as it is.
There are a couple of things I love about shooting photos of Amari Cooper playing football. First, he is absolute poetry in motion so action shots of him are wonderful. The other thing dates back to the Bear Bryant philosophy which has been largely forwarded by Nick Saban and that is act like you have been there before. I like the way Cooper carries himself. He makes a play and he tosses the ball back to an official and goes and makes another play. You won’t see him taunting or gesturing after an insignificant play like so many athletes do today. In fact, all you are ever going to see from him is class. When he scores he might leap and do a flying chest bump with a teammate but that’s about it.
I am sure he will be a very high draft choice in the upcoming NFL draft so I don’t expect to see him back at Alabama next season. I suppose I have shot my last image of him. I got several shots in the SEC Championship, of course, but I think this picture will always be my favorite image of him. I truly hope this young man has a great NFL career.