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The All Weather Photojournalist

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Gary Cosby Jr./Decatur Daily    Morgan County received nearly a foot of snow from the winter storm.  Cody Sewell flies through the air as he goes over a snow ramp while being pulled by a four wheeler in a field in southern Morgan County near West Lacon Road.  His friend Jordan Smith shoots a cell phone video of him in action.

Gary Cosby Jr./Decatur Daily Morgan County received nearly a foot of snow from the winter storm. Cody Sewell flies through the air as he goes over a snow ramp while being pulled by a four wheeler in a field in southern Morgan County near West Lacon Road. His friend Jordan Smith shoots a cell phone video of him in action.

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.

Written by Gary Cosby Jr.

February 26th, 2015 at 10:10 pm

The Watermelon Method

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Inspiration comes when eating watermelon with my children.  You have to love some watermelon inspired photojournalism!

Inspiration comes when eating watermelon with my children. You have to love some watermelon inspired photojournalism!

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.

Written by Gary Cosby Jr.

February 24th, 2015 at 7:52 pm

Covering Gay Marriage

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WashPostGayMarriageLast 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.

Written by Gary Cosby Jr.

February 16th, 2015 at 11:31 am

Twenty Moments News 2014 – Goodbye Mayor Dukes

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Twenty Moments is an annual feature on the blog where I take you behind some of the photos I feel helped shape my year.

Gary Cosby Jr./Decatur Daily     Decatur Police Honor Guard officer Byron Williams stands guard beside the casket of former Decatur mayor and state representative Bill Dukes during his funeral service Saturday at First Presbyterian Church in Decatur. Dukes, 87, was laid to rest in Roselawn Cemetery.

Gary Cosby Jr./Decatur Daily Decatur Police Honor Guard officer Byron Williams stands guard beside the casket of former Decatur mayor and state representative Bill Dukes during his funeral service Saturday at First Presbyterian Church in Decatur. Dukes, 87, was laid to rest in Roselawn Cemetery.

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.

Bill Dukes Funeral from Gary Cosby Jr. on Vimeo.

Written by Gary Cosby Jr.

December 30th, 2014 at 5:00 pm

Twenty Moments Sports 2014 – Proud Of You

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Twenty Moments is an annual feature on the blog where I take you behind some of the photos I feel helped shape my year.

Gary Cosby Jr./Decatur Daily      Alabama's strength and conditioning coach Scott Cochran gives a hug to Blake Sims in the tunnel after Alabama's 42-13 SEC Championship win over Missouri in the Georgia Dome.

Gary Cosby Jr./Decatur Daily Alabama’s strength and conditioning coach Scott Cochran gives a hug to Blake Sims in the tunnel after Alabama’s 42-13 SEC Championship win over Missouri in the Georgia Dome.

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.

Written by Gary Cosby Jr.

December 30th, 2014 at 8:00 am

Twenty Moments News 2014 – Welcome Home Soldier

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Twenty Moments is an annual feature on the blog where I take you behind some of the photos I feel helped shape my year.

Gary Cosby Jr./Decatur Daily   Anthony Taylor kisses his wife Rebekah during the homecoming for the U.S. Army Reserve 663rd Horizontal Engineering Company based in Sheffield Wednesday at Signature Aviation in Huntsville.  The unit had been deployed to Afghanistan.  The couple lives in Fultondale.

Gary Cosby Jr./Decatur Daily Anthony Taylor kisses his wife Rebekah during the homecoming for the U.S. Army Reserve 663rd Horizontal Engineering Company based in Sheffield Wednesday at Signature Aviation in Huntsville. The unit had been deployed to Afghanistan. The couple lives in Fultondale.

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.

Written by Gary Cosby Jr.

December 29th, 2014 at 5:00 pm

Twenty Moments Sports 2014 – Touchdown Prayer

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Twenty Moments is an annual feature on the blog where I take you behind some of the pictures I feel helped define my year.

Gary Cosby Jr./Decatur Daily   Amari Cooper kneels in prayer in the back of the end zone after catching a long touchdown pass during the second half of the 2014 Iron Bowl game in Bryant-Denny Stadium.

Gary Cosby Jr./Decatur Daily Amari Cooper kneels in prayer in the back of the end zone after catching a long touchdown pass during the second half of the 2014 Iron Bowl game in Bryant-Denny Stadium.

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.

Written by Gary Cosby Jr.

December 29th, 2014 at 8:00 am

Twenty Moments News 2014 – Fire In The Sky

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Twenty Moments is an annual feature on the blog where I take you behind some of the photos I feel helped shape my year.

Gary Cosby Jr./Decatur Daily    The Bergen Patterson Warehouse on Court Street in Moulton was heavily damaged by fire late Tuesday afternoon.  Fire departments from across the county assisted Moulton in extinguishing the blaze in the abandoned warehouse.  Firefighters work from the ground and from Courtland's ladder truck as the battle the blaze at sunset.

Gary Cosby Jr./Decatur Daily The Bergen Patterson Warehouse on Court Street in Moulton was heavily damaged by fire late Tuesday afternoon. Fire departments from across the county assisted Moulton in extinguishing the blaze in the abandoned warehouse. Firefighters work from the ground and from Courtland’s ladder truck as the battle the blaze at sunset.

This may be the most favorite fire photo I have ever shot.  It has all the things I love in a photo, well, except the flames.  It has a great sky and I love a great sky.  It has interesting light.  It has a very cool reflection and it has firefighters working from a ladder truck.  I mean, how much sweeter can it get?

The fire was in the Bergen Patterson Warehouse in Moulton, about 2o miles from Decatur.  This little town has a history of pretty large fires so I will drive there when it sounds like something is going on and take the chance I am not wasting a forty plus mile round trip.  For whatever reason, our scanners inside the newspaper office don’t receive Lawrence County fire frequencies very well so I never heard the call.  I just happened to be checking Twitter and saw one of the TV news stations I follow reporting the fire department had closed a street in Moulton to fight a fire.  The tweet was pretty new so I didn’t even wait.  I just left and started making phone calls on the way to find out what was on fire.

We have a writer who lives in Moulton so I called him.  He made a couple of calls and then called me back with the details and he headed over from his house.  Every fire has a lifespan.  When I crossed Beltline Road in Decatur I could see a large column of smoke in the direction of Moulton.  That meant I was missing the peak of the fire.  It would take me about 20 more minutes to get there but I drove on.  Sometimes you can make a decent image even during the mop up after a big fire.

When I arrived at the fire scene there were still some flames deep inside the warehouse and I grabbed a few photos of those.  I worked that ladder truck as much as possible because that was where the main action was happening.  Then I looked up.  The sun was essentially down but the light was still in the sky and it was striking these clouds.  I about jumped out of my shoes.  I scooted down closer to the building so I could frame that ladder truck against the sky.  I got a couple of nice, tight frames using a Canon 1D MkII and a 70-200 f2.8L lens.  I had my 17-40 f4L on my Canon 5D and I got a couple of wide shots.  Then I noticed the water runoff from the ladder truck pooling and the sky and ladder reflecting in the puddle.  I got down on my knees next to that puddle and framed a shot with the ladder above and the reflection below.  Since I was already down there I just went ahead and thanked the Lord for that image!

It was shortly after that one of the volunteer firemen shooed me back to the street.  I didn’t mind too much.  I had my shot and then some!  Like I said, I can’t remember shooting a nicer fire photo and the only thing I wish is there were some flames still showing.  Of course, if there were flames still showing they might not have let me down that close to begin with.  You take what you can get and be happy and this time I was very, very happy.  The image below is the one I mentioned earlier using the 70-200.

Gary Cosby Jr./Decatur Daily    The Bergen Patterson Warehouse on Court Street in Moulton was heavily damaged by fire late Tuesday afternoon.  Fire departments from across the county assisted Moulton in extinguishing the blaze in the abandoned warehouse.  A firefighter working from the Courtland ladder truck is silhouetted against clouds illuminated by the setting sun.

Gary Cosby Jr./Decatur Daily The Bergen Patterson Warehouse on Court Street in Moulton was heavily damaged by fire late Tuesday afternoon. Fire departments from across the county assisted Moulton in extinguishing the blaze in the abandoned warehouse. A firefighter working from the Courtland ladder truck is silhouetted against clouds illuminated by the setting sun.

Written by Gary Cosby Jr.

December 28th, 2014 at 5:00 pm

Twenty Moments Sports 2014 – Championship Joy

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Twenty Moments is an annual feature on the blog where I take you behind some of the photos I feel helped shape my year.

Gary Cosby Jr./Decatur Daily     Athens Bible School claimed the 1A state volleyball championship defeating Meek at Crossplex in Birmingham.  Athens Bible’s Holly Persell (3) and Athens Bible’s Loren Gilliam weep for joy after the final point.

Gary Cosby Jr./Decatur Daily Athens Bible School claimed the 1A state volleyball championship defeating Meek at Crossplex in Birmingham. Athens Bible’s Holly Persell (3) and Athens Bible’s Loren Gilliam weep for joy after the final point.

A friend who lives in California and has never experienced sports in Alabama saw this photo and said, “It looks like they all died!”  My wife, who is not originally from these parts either said back to her, “This is Alabama.  There isn’t much difference.”  We do take our sports seriously here and that is one of the great things about shooting sports in Alabama.  We do take our sports seriously, sometimes too seriously.  I mean, all it takes is one visit to a youth league sports event and you will see parents who get emotionally out of control.  We have even had murders following the Iron Bowl were one fan killed another, usually after heavy alcohol consumption and a loss by their favorite team.  With that said, the passion we have for sports is generally more benign and adds to the joy of photographing sports.

This photo is from the State Volleyball Championship Tournament and Athens Bible, the girls in green, have just won the state title by defeating Meek High School.  I am usually a much better action shooter than I am a jubilation/dejection shooter.  I have no idea why.  I have tried everything but I seem to be in the wrong place after a game rather than in the right one.  It is a weakness I am working on.  My mentor, Dave “Mullet” Martin, was about the best post-game shooter I have ever seen.  He had the absolute knack for being in the right place.  I have stood beside him in the closing moments of college football games many times, determined to find his secret.  I would look away or put the camera to my eye to shoot and when I looked back he would be gone.  Next thing I would know, he would have the great reaction photo and I would have been out of place, again.

This time; however, I got the shot.  Athens Bible was closing in on the victory.  When you shoot a championship anything there is a certain momentum that develops, even in very close games, and you sense the team that is going to win.  I felt that as I shot the final between these two teams.  Athens Bible was the team I was there to cover anyway so I was already on their side of the net.  I had been shooting wide for a while, more on that later, so all I did was get ready for the reactions.  The final point was scored and these two girls dropped to their knees to my right.  I slid over a few feet and was on my knees too shooting with a 24-70 f2.8L on my Canon EOS 5D.

The framing was very simple.  Holly Persell and Loren Gilliam are right there and off to the right in the background are Meek players also lying on the floor.  They stayed in this position long enough for me to shoot a few frames, reframe the image and shoot a few more frames.  I felt I had it nailed and I also felt I could leave the floor right then.  I knew I had my image.  Of course, when covering a championship, you have to stay on the floor until the trophy is presented.  It is an overdone image but it is expected and the emotion is very real for the kids.  I have shot that image of the kids holding up a state championship trophy many times and each time you know you are shooting a moment that will be with these kids all through their lives.  That makes it worth shooting.

Now back to the wide angle lens and the 5D.  As I mentioned in a previous post, the 5D is not a sports action camera.  It is great for what it was made for but it was not made for sports.  I had no choice but to use it with my company issued Nikon D4 in the shop.  With the slow motor you have two choices.  The first, try and nail your action images on the first frame.  Volleyball is difficult to shoot at 10 frames per second.  At 2.5 frames per second it is mind numbingly difficult.  Fortunately, back in the early days of my shooting life, I had no motor drive so I learned to shoot sports one frame at a time.  I can still do that, to some degree at least, and I fell back on that old skill as I shot with the 5D.

The other option is to shoot wide and try some different things.  I had never shot volleyball wide but, given the slow motor drive speed and rather poor autofocus on the 5D, I opted for some wide stuff.  I discovered if you get low and wide near the net you can make some nice pictures of the kids spiking the ball.  Wide near the middle of the side of the court you are shooting can give you some nice stuff if the ball comes to your side of the floor.  If you shoot from behind the back line you can occasionally shoot a nice image of the kids diving around for the ball.  In short, in both volleyball and basketball there is a ballet like quality as the athletes leap all over the place and dive for the ball.  The wide angle allows you to catch some of that cool stuff.

Written by Gary Cosby Jr.

December 28th, 2014 at 8:00 am

Posted in Photojournalism

Twenty Moments News 2014 – She’s Got Legs

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Twenty Moments is an annual feature on the blog where I take you behind some of the photos I feel helped shape my year.

Gary Cosby Jr./Decatur Daily   Ali Propst prepares to take the runway to model for Carriage House during the Power of Pink 2014 Luncheon and Fashion Show Tuesday at Ingalls Harbor Pavilion.

Gary Cosby Jr./Decatur Daily Ali Propst prepares to take the runway to model for Carriage House during the Power of Pink 2014 Luncheon and Fashion Show Tuesday at Ingalls Harbor Pavilion.

This photo isn’t in Twenty Moments for the reason you think unless you think the reason is framing, yes framing.  Oh, yes, she does have legs and the legs form the frame but you people need to get your minds right!  Now, I had my laugh.  Let’s get serious.  This image was from one of the most fun assignments you can do, the Power of Pink Fashion Show which raises money for Decatur Morgan Hospital and helps raise awareness for breast cancer research and treatment.  The models are all local women, and a few men, who model clothes from local fashion stores and from one very eclectic designer.  It is loads of fun.

By the way, on a serious, or a funny, or a seriously funny side note, you really shouldn’t put your camera between a person’s legs unless you are crazy or they know you and are comfortable with your craziness or, perhaps you are married to the person and they accept you are crazy and still tolerate you.  (Have you ever seen so many dependent clauses in a sentence?  English teachers are retching right now!)  I am not married to this lady but she worked with me for several years at the Decatur Daily so she already knew I was crazy and didn’t kick me.  The very tolerant model is Kate Cole and I was using her legs to frame the other lady as they waited to walk the runway.

Now, so you know, I was not directly behind Kate like it looks like I was.  She was standing at the top of a set of steps.  I was actually beside the steps with the camera at arm’s length and setting on the ground right behind her.  I was looking for this exact shot and Kate either didn’t know I was there or knew I was there and knew what I was attempting.  I was shooting with my Canon 5D with a 17-40 f4L lens and the 5D predates the live view feature available now.  With live view you can see how you are framed.  In this instance I could not see the framing so I shot a sequence of images, checked my framing and shot another quick sequence before Kate moved.

Although I am crazy, I am not crazy enough to use a woman’s legs who didn’t know me to frame a picture.  Kate has quite a bit of modeling experience and she has worked with photographers enough to know what we are doing.  You have to remember, the great majority of these ladies have either never done this before or they only do this for this show.  I live in the community and I am going to see them throughout the year so it isn’t like I was shooting a runway show in New York with pro models I would never see again.

There is a point here.  When you work for a community newspaper you are accountable to the community.  I have literally had people call me a pornographer because they considered a picture I had taken to be too risque.  There was one a few years ago where I photographed a female athlete of the year and one woman gave me so much grief over what I thought was a totally acceptable and normal picture I called the girl and her family to see if I had offended them in any way.  Fortunately, they were as surprised by the person’s reaction to the image as I was.  Local accountability is important because it keeps us tied to the community’s standards for acceptable content for everything from fashion shows to traffic accidents.

My job; however, is the same whether it is a runway show in New York or the Power of Pink show at Ingalls Harbor Pavilion in Decatur and that job is to make innovative, storytelling photos that rock!  I shot from the front of the stage doing the standard runway stuff.  I shot from backstage and got cool shots like this.  I got a couple of audience reaction photos.  I got women getting on their outfits and makeup before the show.  Basically I am telling you I worked as many angles and did as many shots as I could possibly do and I did them at the highest possible quality I could because I am never likely to shoot a runway show in New York so this is my fashion week.  I am guessing you have something in your community you could do this to as well.  Treat every job, every day, as if it is the most important job you will ever shoot.

Written by Gary Cosby Jr.

December 27th, 2014 at 5:00 pm