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Twenty Moments – News – The Pain Of Surviving

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

Justin Adams lost his left leg and his brother Chase when the April 27, 2011 storm struck the Mt. Hope community.  Adams was blown from his destroyed him into a swampy area with severe injuries to both legs.  Adams stands near a cross memorializing his brother Chase with the wood line behind him being the location rescuers found him.

Justin Adams lost his left leg and his brother Chase when the April 27, 2011 storm struck the Mt. Hope community. Adams was blown from his destroyed him into a swampy area with severe injuries to both legs. Adams stands near a cross memorializing his brother Chase with the wood line behind him being the location rescuers found him.

Yesterday you met Tina Little and read of her painful loss.  Today you meet Tina’s other son, Justin Adams, who was very nearly killed by the same storm that took his brother.  Justin lost a leg and, in his words, he lost his life too.  The storm changed everything.  He had been athletic now he could barely hobble along on the prosthetic leg.  Try as he might, running was still out of the question.  Every time he tried, he fell flat on his face.

The grief for him was very near.  Justin was the last person to see Chase alive.  He had come off a night shift and was preparing to go to bed. He remembered seeing Chase sitting in his truck listening to a new sound system.  He woke a few hours later to the rumbling of the approaching tornado.  He was in his mobile home next door to his mom’s house.  He saw the water from the rain that had puddled in the front yard being sucked into the sky.  Then the walls of his home squeezed in towards him.  The mobile home exploded and Justin was lifted into the storm and thrown into a woody swamp a hundred yards or so from his house.

When he regained consciousness he was lying in the water, bones from his mangled leg jutting out.  He was partially blinded by debris and his knee on his right leg had been nearly destroyed.  Justin dragged himself as far as he could and yelled for help.  He was eventually found and taken to a hospital in the back of a pickup truck with a woman he barely knew.  The lady held pressure on injured arteries and veins all the way to the hospital keeping him from bleeding to death.

I could go on and on about how unfair life is.  Sometimes it seems unfair to have to die.  Sometimes it seems unfair to have to go on living.  I think Justin felt both of those simultaneously.  Deangelo McDaniel and I met him at his new mobile home which is on the site of his mother’s house.  We asked him why he decided to move back there after all that happened.  Justin told us to move was to let the tornado win.  It had taken his brother, his leg and his former life but he was not about to let it take the family land.

I asked Justin if we could photograph him by the cross marking the place where his brother was found.  It was not far from the house.   The cross is in the foreground and the woods where rescuers found him are in the background.  I often meet people that I can’t help but pull for.  I am definitely pulling for Justin and for his mother.  For all they have endured I certainly hope the rest of their lives brings them some form of reward and solace.

I shot this photo with a very infrequently used 14mm f2.8 lens on a Nikon D4.  I used a Nikon strobe on a light stand with a shoot through white umbrella.  Deangelo was kind enough to hold the light stand so the wind didn’t blow it over.  The strobe was triggered using Pocket Wizards.

Written by Gary Cosby Jr.

December 20th, 2013 at 8:00 pm

Literal Vs Metaphorical

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Daily Photo by Gary Cosby Jr.    American Red Cross Disaster Relief volunteer Gino Sherrey served in the relief effort following Hurricane Sandy.

Daily Photo by Gary Cosby Jr. American Red Cross Disaster Relief volunteer Gino Sherrey served in the relief effort following Hurricane Sandy.

There is one pretty nearly universal truth in the newspaper world.  A literal photograph will be selected over a metaphorical photograph nine times out of ten, or maybe, ninety nine times out of a hundred.  It really takes two things for a newspaper to consistently run metaphorical photos.  First, you obviously need photographers who can communicate this way.  Second, you have to have visionary editors who will presume their readers have a high degree of visual literacy.

The fact is, a metaphor, by definition, is not literal and the newspaper business is a literal business.  We make our money by telling people factual stories and showing people factual pictures.  To introduce metaphor into the paper requires some serious guts.  The other thing about a metaphor is it must have a pretty direct connection to reality in order for it to be interpreted.  In all honesty, I don’t frequently even look for metaphorical photos.  Every now and then; however, I do get one.

The photos with this post are a good example.  I had an assignment to do a portrait of a Red Cross volunteer from our community who did disaster relief work after Hurricane Sandy.  The day was raw and overcast and our Red Cross office is not exactly a place of extraordinary visual potential.  When I got out of my car, I noticed the Disaster Relief van sitting in the parking lot.  The back windows were huge and the overcast sky was reflecting nicely in the windows.  I had and “Ah, ha!” moment and decided to try a portrait.

When I brought my subject out for the portrait the sky had changed, of course, and the scene was less attractive.  Still, I loved the metaphorical portrait I could work here.  I tried it with flash, a disaster in itself even with the strobe inside the van, and I tried it without strobe.  The image was very, very flat and required quite a lot of work in Photoshop to make it look anything like what I was seeing.

Then I shot a lit portrait beside the van which worked out fine.  Now I had two images, one I loved and one I liked.  Guess which one I loved!  Yes, the metaphorical portrait of the disaster relief volunteer photographed through reflections of clouds in a window was my hands down favorite.  I turned in both knowing the chances of my favorite portrait running were slim.  I was not disappointed or surprised to see the lit portrait beside the van run on the section front.  I was delighted and surprised to open to an inside page and see my metaphorical portrait displayed nicely.

Here is a tip when you shoot something that is less than obvious.  Sell the photo to your editors before you show it to them.  Build some sense of expectation for something that is not “normal.”  When they see the picture for the first time they will be mentally prepared for something that is not literal.  This will increase your chances of the photo running.  If you have enough lead time you can work on your photo editor first and have him help you sell the picture.  You have to remember that most section editors and most managing and executive editors did not come through the visual side of the business so it takes a lot for a “word” person to take a visual risk.  And, when an editor does take a chance on one of these type photos, make sure to say thank you.

I owe an editor a big thank you right now!

Daily Photo by Gary Cosby Jr.    American Red Cross Disaster Relief volunteer Gino Sherrey served in the relief effort following Hurricane Sandy.

Daily Photo by Gary Cosby Jr. American Red Cross Disaster Relief volunteer Gino Sherrey served in the relief effort following Hurricane Sandy.

Written by Gary Cosby Jr.

February 19th, 2013 at 8:07 pm

Veterans Day Portrait

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Daily Photo by Gary Cosby Jr.
Dempsey McLemore jumped into Normady with the 82nd Airborne Division during the D-Day invasion in World War II. Dempsey was later captured by the Germans and held as a prisoner of war.

I absolutely love to photograph veterans.  It is a little thing I can do to pay back the tremendous debt we owe.  This year’s Veterans Day profile was written by Catherine Godbey and it is excellent.  Dempsey McLemore is a World War II veteran of the 82nd Airborne Division and Mr. McLemore jumped into Normandy on D-Day.  That alone sets him apart as an exceptional man in my book.  With that in mind, I wanted to do a portrait of him that would honor what he did.

I did not know McLemore in advance so I had no idea if he would be mobile or if he would be in a bed unable to get up.  You just never know.  I arrived at his home to find him in a wheelchair.  I knew he had been a paratrooper and I really wanted to do something with the sky in the photo.  It was an overcast day and it was breezy and cool.  Not a great combination for getting an elderly man out of doors and the wheelchair complicated the matter.

I asked and Mr. McLemore was willing to give it a try.  There was a small knoll beside his house where I could get him in a slightly elevated position.  By laying on the ground to shoot, I could get a semi-low angle shot and give me plenty of sky in the frame.  I used a Lumedyne strobe in a small softbox to light the photo.  I had a nice portrait of a really excellent man.

Now you get to hear the rest of the story.  I had been daydreaming of some way or other to put a flag in the photo, preferably a tattered flag that looked like it had been to war.  Well, I didn’t have one of those handy and didn’t know where to find one.  Now for the funny part.  I had to pee really bad and I just couldn’t wait to get to Mr. McLemore’s house so I found a place where there were some bushes near the road that would give me privacy.  When I got out of the car, lo and behold, lying in the dirt by the side of the road was a small, tattered, dirty American flag.  I smiled, said thank you to the Lord and tucked the little flag in my trunk.

I had an ace in the hole now so after photographing McLemore I used the same lighting setup to shoot the little flag.  I combined the flag into the sky using Photoshop, desaturated the layer and lowered the transparency then used a hi-pass filter to make it look a little grittier.  I tried the three variations you see here and I could not have been more happy with the outcome.

Thank you Mr. McLemore and all your brothers and sister who have served not only our nation, but also the cause of freedom around the world.

Written by Gary Cosby Jr.

November 11th, 2012 at 2:01 pm

I Gotta Feeling!

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Daily Photo by Gary Cosby Jr. Trudy Amon talked about jumping from an airplane on her 80th birthday for years. She fulfilled her dream and embraced the sky on her 80th birthday this past Monday jumping in tandem with an instructor at Cullman Regional Airport.

Sometimes I go to work and I just know I am going to make a picture that day.  I can feel it in my bones.  When I went to work on August 29, I had that feeling.  I didn’t know what assignments I had but I had a good feeling.  I remember that feeling distinctly when I got up on the morning of Auburn’s BCS Championship Game out in Arizona.  I went around singing the Black Eyed Peas song, “I Gotta Feeling.”   That game was one of my best.

The assignment that jumped off the books at me August 29 was somewhat more local and somewhat less large, for lack of a better word, but the same feeling was there.  The assignment was for a skydiving grandmother.  The catch; she had already done the skydive on her 80th birthday the week before.  What to do, what to do?

Obvious solution was to look to the sky.  It was a beautiful day with high, clear blue skies.  I thought I would just put the sun behind her and strobe her and I would have something.  I starting plotting ways to get this person, whom I assumed to be pretty spry, in a pose that would convey the joy of flying through the sky.  I drove out Danville Road filled with all kinds of hope.  I was literally brimming with optimism.  Then I got to the house.  Wouldn’t you know it.  The family lived in a secluded spot back in the woods with the house surrounded by really tall trees.  There were only two spots of clear blue sky.  Fortunately for me, the land was pretty hilly and would at least give me the opportunity to get below the lady.

Trudy Amon turned out to be every bit the delight I hoped she would be.  She was very gracious and agreed to do pretty nearly anything I could think up.  I went back outside to scout the location and set up the lighting.  There turned out to be only one spot that would give me the right angle on the sun, an appropriate opening in the trees and enough blue sky to make a relatively convincing photo.  I kept the lighting as simple as possible.  I used a Lumedyne 200ws strobe in a small softbox.  I used her grandson as a voice activated light stand.

Trudy agreed to lift her hands as if she were soaring through the skies.  I had her grandson lift the light stand so the softbox was as nearly overhead as possible without getting into the field of view.  After a couple of test frames, I had my exposure dialed in.  Now came the tricky part.  A normal camera angle was, well, boring.  Painfully boring to be truthful.  I started turning and twisting until I had an angle that was pleasing and tried vertical and horizontal compositions.

The frame I settled on as a favorite was a horrible twisted framing somewhere between horizontal and vertical that wasn’t really either; although, I obviously position the frame as a horizontal.  You can actually rotate this frame to either a horizontal or a vertical.  It gives me a bit of vertiginous feeling either way so I figured that was about the right way to do it.  I left the assignment having met an enchanting woman and having fulfilled that feeling that I was going to make a nice picture that day.  So I guess me and the Black Eyed Peas pulled one off out in the Morgan County countryside.

Written by Gary Cosby Jr.

September 27th, 2012 at 10:00 pm

Twenty Moments 2011 – Direct Hit

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This is the twelfth installment in the Twenty Moments 2011 series.

Daily Photo by Gary Cosby Jr. Jennifer Adair kneels in the spot where she survived a direct hit from the April 27th EF5 tornado. Her Camden Ct. home was destroyed to the foundation yet the twister left her lying in floor of what was once her closet injuring only her shoulder. Adair credits her survival to lessons learned from the 1974 tornado that claimed three relatives years before she was even born.

A storm 37 years ago that killed two family members before she was born helped save Jennifer Adair’s life.  The April 27th EF5 tornado completely destroyed her house with her inside.  On April 3, 1974 an F5 tornado smashed homes on Ingram Rd. in Limestone County killing her aunt and cousin.  The lessons learned in that storm were passed down to her.  Jennifer found herself in an eerily similar spot after almost four decades when the massive tornado bore down on her.

At some point after the storm I had written in my blog that no one was home in the houses along Camden Court that were completely destroyed.  I wrote that because one of the residents told me that.  Jennifer read the story on this blog and responded that there were indeed people home in those residences and she was one of them.  We agreed to meet at her destroyed home.  The house had been leveled to the floor.  Nothing above the floor was left standing.

On the day the storm hit she hid in an inner closet covered with every pillow and blanket she could find.  The tornado’s most intense section hit her house.  The eye of the twister literally passed over her.  She remembered reaching up to grab a rack in the closet over her head to help her get up.  There was nothing to grab.  The only thing above the floor that was left was Jennifer.  The storm had blown her house away and left her laying right where she was.

I remember arriving early to the assignment not having any idea what to shoot.  I walked around and looked over the remains of the house trying to figure something out.  The sky was great.  I remember thinking that I would use that sky and underexpose it and use a strobe to light Jennifer.  I used the remaining time to assemble a small softbox and rig it on the head of a Lumedyne strobe.

When Jennifer arrived she walked me over to the spot where she had been hiding.  I had her kneel there and then the breeze blew that strand of hair across her face.  I shot and I knew I would not have to shoot another single frame.  I had the shot I wanted.  I did shoot others but I knew in my heart that I had the shot.  I think this is, if not my best portrait ever,  my favorite portrait ever.  This shot also set in motion in my cranium the idea to do as many survivor portraits as possible and I have endeavored to do that ever since.  I don’t know what I will do with them yet but I have a nice set of portraits of storm survivors.

Written by Gary Cosby Jr.

December 19th, 2011 at 8:00 am

Thoughts On Freedom

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Daily Photo by Gary Cosby Jr.      Lieutenant General Frank Libutti (USMC Retired) is the winner of the Audie Murphy Patriotism Award which will be handed out during the Spirit of America Festival.  Libutti's career has taken him from the jungles of Vietnam to the command of all Marines in the Pacific to the leadership of NYPD's Counter Terrorism effort to the Department of Homeland Security.  He now lives with his wife in Huntsville.  Libutti stands in front of a portrait painted by his father when he was promoted to Lt. Colonel.The Fourth of July is a great day in America.  It is the day we celebrate our independence but I sometimes wonder if, in the midst of cookouts, parties, fireworks and fun we haven’t forgotten what freedom really means.  Veterans know.  Warriors held captive in foreign prisons know.  Those who serve protecting us from terrorists know.  The families of those who gave their lives for freedom know.

The inconvenient truth about freedom is it is seldom, if ever, given.  Freedom is won.  Freedom is earned.  To be honest, most of us didn’t earn it.  We enjoy what someone else earned for us.  For those of us who have not earned the freedom we enjoy it is incumbent upon us to express our undying gratitude to those who have.  I enjoy the freedom to express my opinion about freedom because someone bled for that right.  I didn’t bleed for it but I enjoy the right all the same.

What is really amazing about freedom is the price for freedom is paid by people from every ethnic group, every socio-economic class, every race.  Men and women from important families have bled for it, died for it and they did so right alongside men and women from families no one ever heard of.

Do you know the most amazing thing about freedom is that the people who give it away are the people who did not pay for it.  People who cast away their freedom did not bleed.  Their relatives did not die in the quest to gain it.  People who give away their freedom do so because they no longer appreciate what it cost.  They fail to see its real value.  They look at it like a third generation heir to a fortune.  They did not earn it.  They see it as a birthright.  They fail to appreciate it and, worst of all, they scorn those who are willing to continue paying the price for it.

Here is my fear.  We in America today are like third generation heirs to the family fortune.  We look at freedom as our right but someone else’s responsibility.  That attitude is what allows freedom to erode.  After the 9/11 attacks, we ran to the government for protection and we were willing to give away some of our rights to feel safe.  I disagree with the very idea.  Safety is an illusion.  It is like a vapor that takes shape for a moment then shifts, vanishes, is blown away by the wind.  The truth of the matter is the government might be able to protect you from an invasion by a foreign army, might, but the government can’t guarantee your safety.  They can’t guarantee you won’t die.  They certainly can’t deter a single lunatic from setting off a bomb in a crowded public area.  That is an illusion.

You have the right to be born free, to live free and to die free and if you happen to be safe along the way then you have something to truly be thankful for.  Safety is not a right but safety can be a by product of freedom.  There are no guarantees.  Ask a soldier if he feels safe when he is on patrol in Afghanistan.  Is he free, yes.  Is he safe, no.  But you are free because he has elected to put his life between you and an enemy that would kill you if he had the opportunity.  That is real freedom.  The very idea that someone would insert themselves between an enemy and an idea that all men should be free and that he would not value his life above yours or mine is amazing.  When you think about it, freedom itself is amazing and the price of freedom, the price so many have been willing to pay, is more amazing still.

I photographed a man last week, Lieutenant General Frank Libutti, USMC retired,  who is receiving the Audie Murphy Patriotism Award during the annual Spirit of America Festival on the Fourth of July.  Gen. Libutti began his military career as a lieutenant on the ground in Vietnam with the 1st Battalion, 9th Marines.  In the opening stages of what would become Operation Buffalo he was sent in with a company of Marines to rescue another company that had been ambushed by the North Vietnamese regular army near the demilitarized zone.  Libutti led an air insert mission to rescue the company under fire and bring out the dead and wounded Marines.  He was wounded three times that day.  The battle began on July 2, 1967 and would not conclude until July 15, 1967.

Libutti’s Marine Corp career ended with command of the US Marine Corp forces in the Pacific  but that was not the end of his service to America.  Libutti joined the NYPD as deputy commissioner in charge of the Counterterrorism Bureau.  He then moved to the Department of Homeland Security overseeing intelligence operations as the undersecretary for Information Analysis and Infrastructure Protection.  Libutti will be honored July 4th in Decatur.  He understands the cost, and the value, of freedom.

The photographic set up for the portrait was fairly simple.  General Libutti’s father had painted a portrait of him at the time of his promotion to Lt. Colonel.  It was near the head of a stairway which had plenty of open space to set lights.  I used an Elinchrom monolight with a small softbox for my main light.  I then put an SB800 strobe very close to the painting just to add light to the area of the face.  I placed another SB800 in a collapsed umbrella to the left of the set to add a separation on the back side.  I shot the portrait with a Nikon D3s and an 80-200mm lens.

On a personal note, meeting men like General Libutti is such a great side effect of my job.  I look at the things he has accomplished in his life and wonder at how very close to death he came that day in Vietnam.  I would say he maximized his opportunities.  It makes me wonder if I am maximizing mine.  What about you?  Something to think about with your fireworks this Fourth of July.

Photo copyright Gary Cosby Jr., The Decatur Daily.  The opinions expressed in this blog are my own and do not necessarily reflect those of my employer.

Written by Gary Cosby Jr.

July 3rd, 2011 at 4:31 am

Portrait Of A Survivor

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Jennifer Pitts Adair kneels in the spot where she survived a direct hit from the EF5 tornado that destroyed her home in Camden Court. The twister took her house right down to the floor but left her laying beneath a pile of blankets and pillows with only minor injuries.

I wrote in this blog following the April 27th tornado that the homes in Camden Court that were completely destroyed had no one home at the time the storm hit.  I wrote that because someone I met there, and I don’t remember who it was, told me.  I thought that was a great story until Jennifer Pitts Adair contacted me to let me know that she was indeed home when the storm hit and her house was totally destroyed, all the way down to the sub-floor leaving her laying in what used to be a closet.  We exchanged a couple of emails and she agreed to tell her story to The Decatur Daily.

I contacted “my reporter,” Holly Hollman who covers Limestone County and we made an appointment.  I arrived just about 15 minutes early to the assignment.  I wanted to check things out before hand and try to form a plan.  Two things struck me immediately.  First, there was nothing left of the house except some debris laying around on what had once been the floor of the house.  A few piles of brick and random pieces of what was once a house were laying around in the yard but a great deal of clean up had already taken place.  The second thing that hit me was the absolutely awesome sky.

I have done several portraits of survivors since the storm passed and they have all been shot on clear days with deep, blue skies and harsh, direct sunlight.  This sky had some cloud character in it and I wanted to bring that out in the photo.  To handle the light, I would need to dramatically underexpose the sky and use some powerful strobe light to balance everything out.  I felt like a darker sky, even on a relatively clear day, would convey something of the terror that came from the skies.  The other unknown was I had no idea where Jennifer had actually been when the storm hit and where she was when it ended.  So I composed a basic game plan and waited.

I used the time to brainstorm my light.  I had a softbox that was actually made to fit on an AC powered Elinchrom strobe but I thought I could make it work temporarily on my Lumedyne which is battery powered.  This is one of those “happy accidents” that I think God directs.  I usually don’t carry my Lumedynes but save them for my freelance work.  But that day I had them in the car.  I was able to fit the Lumedyne reflector inside the mounting ring for the softbox but it was very loose and I had no tape to hold it in place and the wind was blowing.  It looked like a small windmill as the wind blew and the softbox spun on the strobe head.  At least it didn’t fall off.  I finally figured a way to rig it so it wouldn’t spin.  Now I had 200 watt seconds of battery powered storbe power to play with and a softbox.  Things were looking up.

Jennifer arrived and I asked her to walk me through the day.  She took me to the place where she had sheltered in what had been a bedroom closet.  Jennifer told me she grabbed all the blankets in the bedroom and the pillows and lay flat on the floor and covered herself with the blankets and pillows.  She was hearing the local TV weather as they watched it approach their tower cam located directly between her house and the storm.  She knew she was in the path.  Then the power went out.  Seconds later the front edge of the funnel struck her home.  This was followed by about three seconds of quiet as the center of the funnel passed over her then the noise resumed as the back half of the funnel passed over her.  She reached up to find something to grab to get up but found only air.  Everything was gone right down to the floor.  A large dresser landed inches from her head but she came out with only a minor shoulder injury.  Jennifer said when she emerged she was the only person visible.  She thought everyone else in Camden Court was dead.

After hearing all this, I knew I really wanted to emphasize the sky and decided to shoot low angle.  There was little left to show of the house.  The first pose I asked her to take, kneeling in the spot where she survived the storm, was by far the best image.  The wind was blowing and caught a strand of her long hair and blew it across her face and in that moment I felt I captured something special.  I chimped the image and was blown away by the depth of the sky.  I knew I had a keeper but we kept on shooting so I would have plenty of choices.  In the end, this image stood out.

I really hope you guys can go to for the Sunday edition and read her story.  I can’t tell you more here but there are ties to the 1974 F5 tornado that destroyed family homes and killed three relatives.   Both she and her parents lost their houses in this storm.  It is a really great story.  It is worth the price of a subscription.

When you shoot assignments like this, having a plan is a good idea but the best idea is to listen to the person tell you their story.  So many times you find out what to shoot and how to shoot it by simply listening.  Having a an ability to listen to people will make you a far better photojournalist than you could be by simply following your own ideas.

Photo copyright Gary Cosby Jr., The Decatur Daily.  The opinions expressed in this blog are my own and do not necessarily reflect those of my employer.

Written by Gary Cosby Jr.

June 25th, 2011 at 5:37 pm

One Family, Four Tornadoes

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In February 2008 I made a photo of a man named James Devaney standing, heart broken, in a debris field following the tornado that swept through Aldridge Grove community in Lawrence County.  The tornado killed his daughter, son-in-law and grandson.  His story broke my heart and the photo I made of him has never left me.  I have carried Mr. Devaney around in my heart for three years now and I have thought of him often.  I never thought I would see him again, much less see him again as the result of a tornado.

James Devaney searches through the debris of his daughter's home on County Rd. 183 in the Aldridge Grove community of Lawrence County, AL Wednesday, February 6, 2008. Devaney's daughter Becky Coleman was killed along with her son Gerrick and her husband Greg when the tornado hit at 3:06 a.m. photo by Gary Cosby Jr. 2/6/08

The April 27th tornado destroyed homes belonging to both of his sons in the Chalybeate community in Lawrence County.  His granddaughter-in-law emailed me after the tornado and sent me a photo she shot of him in another debris field outside one of his son’s homes.  She put me back in touch with Mr. Devaney and he agreed to let us do a story about his family.  I know some of you are subscribers to The Decatur Daily and  If you are please take a minute to read the excellent story by Catherine Godbey, The Lord Has Been Merciful. It will wrench your heart.

Catherine and I visited Mr. Devaney outside the remains of his son David’s house which was pushed back between 20 and 30 feet off its foundation, part of the roof blasted off and the back wall collapsed.  Fortunately, both his sons and their families were safe in a storm shelter and not injured.  Both their houses are total losses and both plan to sell and rebuild elsewhere.  I wish I could recount the entire story for you but that would defeat the purpose of a pay wall on our web site so let me just give you a taste.

Daily Photo by Gary Cosby Jr. The Devaney family has been impacted by four tornadoes beginning with James Devaney's mother's home being destroyed in a 1912 tornado. James and his son David survey the ruins of David's home on County Rd. 296. James' daughter, son-in-law and grandson were killed in the 2008 Aldridge Grove tornado.

The family’s exposure to tornadoes began with his mother’s home being destroyed in 1912.  James was in one of the 1974 tornadoes while working as a plumber.  Then the tornado in 2008 claimed three precious members of his family and the 2011 tornado claimed his two son’s homes.

On the day of the tornado in 2008, James said he went to the store where his daughter worked.  She ran a cash register and he got in her lane as he always did.  The final thing she said to him that day was “I love you daddy.”  I just about broke up when I heard that but if those are the last words you hear then you are truly blessed.  Late that night the tornado blew apart their home killing all three inside.  When a tornado was evidently on the ground April 27th James tried, but could not get to, his sons.  It took two agonizing hours before he heard from them that they were alive and uninjured.

Can you imagine the anguish he must have been feeling?  I guess in all the world the anguish of not knowing is the most brutal anguish of all.  I have no say in the matter but if I did I would say Mr. Devaney and his family have had enough storms to deal with and through it all he is able to speak of God’s mercy.  There is an awesome faith at the bedrock of his soul.

I photographed James and his son David beside the ruin of David’s home.  I had them stand on the porch David built which was the only thing that survived.  If you look closely you will see a Bible laying on the porch.  When they came down the steps, James picked it up and handed it to David who said it was not his.  He did not know where it came from.  I was blown there by the tornado and there it had lain since, a tattered and now well weathered copy of the scriptures.  I am thinking that tattered old Bible was pretty symbolic for the Devaney family.  They have been through a lot, may be a little tattered, but they are still there.

I photographed James and David with a really simple set up which I have used more than once in really harsh daylight.  I used two SB800s on light stands bare and pointed directly at them.  I dropped my ambient exposure down about one full stop below the metered value so the strobes could be dominate on the men.  I shot using a low angle with a 17-35 and shot at ISO equivalent of 100.  By pairing the SB800s I had plenty of pop to overcome the really hard direct light.  The wind would have made it difficult to use a modifier of any kind anyway.

Photos copyright Gary Cosby Jr., The Decatur Daily.  The opinions expressed in this blog are my own and not necessarily those of my employer.

Written by Gary Cosby Jr.

May 31st, 2011 at 5:02 am

Controlling Portrait Light

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Daily Photo by Gary Cosby Jr. Nadis Carlisle is the first African American to hold the rank of Captain in the Decatur Police Department. Carlisle captain of the detective division.

I shot a portrait of my friend Nadis Carlisle who has recently become the first African American to hold the rank of captain in the Decatur Police Department.  Nadis is head of the detective division.  I was assigned to get a portrait shot during his interview and it was in his office.  I hate the studio anyway so the office was cool with me.  Nadis has a pretty small office and it is a typical collection of filing cabinets, book cases and a desk with a computer.

I decided on a basic lighting pattern using an umbrella as my main and then allowing room light to be the fill.  Then I decided I want to take it up a notch.  I decided I could gel one strobe with blue gels and see what would happen.  Obviously, I chose blue because it is a color traditionally associated with the police.  I put my main light, an SB28DX in an umbrella to the camera right.  He would be looking that way because that was where our reporter was sitting.  I then added a second SB28DX and laid it on a short filing cabinet behind him with a piece of blue gel on the front.

My first test was not great.  There was a great deal of fall off from the umbrella onto the background and the blue was very weak.  I collapsed my umbrella to half its normal size.  This tightened up the beam of reflected light and gave it nearly the same effect as a grid but with a bit more softness.  This helped control the fall off on the background.  I used the computer monitor on his desk to further screen the light from falling on the background so the computer became an effective flag.  I then doubled the blue gel on the back flash.  Now the blue was saturated and the light on his face was very nice.  One problem still existed.

I needed a separation light for the back side.  There was a book case conveniently place on the wall to the camera left.  I stuffed an SB800 inside and zoomed to the 105mm setting using the side of the bookcase as a flag for that strobe to keep light off the background.  Now I had a good separation light, a pleasing main light and good saturation on my background light.  The power ratios on the strobes were approximately 1/4 on the umbrella strobe, 1/8th on the background and 1/64th on the separation light.

I shot the image using a Nikon D3s with an 80-200mm f2.8 lens.  I really miss not having a mid-range zoom like a 24-70 in this situation.  The small office gave me few options for movement so the mid-zoom would have been welcome.  Many years ago I attended a lighting seminar by Dean Collins who was a guru at light control.  He had a form of color management that was amazing.  I believe he called it “chromozones.”  He manipulated color saturation in a very scientific manner.  I never really understood the details but I got the concept.  By controlling the amount of light you apply you can control the color of the light.  For instance, using our blue gel the background could be any color in the blue spectrum by varying the power ratios between the main and the background.  The higher the power on the strobe the more washed the color would be.  Conversely, the lower the power the more saturated the color becomes.

The cool thing about a portrait set up like this one is you could literally shoot it with three small strobes for a cost under $500 in lighting equipment and unless you have a highly evolved visual palette you would not notice any difference between this and the same portrait done with high dollar strobes and light modifiers.  Three low-cost strobes such as the Vivitar 285 would do the trick.  The gels can be any material that changes the color of the light.  I have even used pillow cases and towels to change the color of strobe light.  A little imagination goes a long way.

Photo copyright Gary Cosby Jr., The Decatur Daily.  The opinions expressed in this blog are my own and do not necessarily reflect those of my employer.

Written by Gary Cosby Jr.

January 30th, 2011 at 2:01 pm

FNF Alabama Cover Shoot

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Click the cover image to go to FNF's online site.


I have been working in photojournalism for very nearly 20 years and I had never shot a magazine cover for any publication not done by the newspaper I worked for.  That all changed when David Wassan, editor of the new publication, Friday Night Football Alabama contacted me to shoot two athletes for the premier edition of the magazine.  Brooke Milam Johnson, a sports writer I have worked with for several years at The Decatur Daily, recommended me to Wassan so many thanks go out to her.  The magazine just hit the news stands and can be found in Books A Million stores and news stands across Alabama.

My subjects were Stephen Rivers, younger brother of San Diego Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers, who plays quarterback for Athens High School and Brent Calloway who plays linebacker and running back for Russellville High School.  I was familiar with Stephen because I have covered him for three seasons.  It was my first time meeting Brent.  Stephen recently committed to play for LSU and Brent for Alabama so these are both blue chip recruits. (By the way, I also covered Philip Rivers when he played quarterback at Athens.  Talk about getting old!)

My challenge was to produce photos of each athlete that could be used on the cover of the magazine.  The photo shoots would be in different locations on different days and even at different times of the day.  I wanted the lighting to match fairly closely so the designers wouldn’t have funky differences to deal with.  I also needed to shoot very similar poses on both young men so the designers could work with similar images.

I photographed Stephen first and it was right in the middle of the day.  When I called his coach to arrange the assignment I had visions of late evening, even dusk, dancing through my head.  The coach asked could I be there during the middle of the morning because that was when Stephen was normally there to take part in out of season workouts and his jersey would be available.  So much for dreams of great light.  Likewise, I had to catch Brent right after a practice session but the light was somewhat better.

I set a Lumedyne with an Octobank as the main light and positioned it to camera left for both shoots.  I used a second light as a kicker.  This was necessary in Stephen’s case because of the need to completely overcome the daylight with strobes.  The kicker was behind the subjects and to the camera right.  I placed a third strobe on the ground pointed straight up to light the ball they were both holding.  I had Stephen positioned so his right shoulder was further from the camera than his left and had him hold the football down by his side in his left hand.  I reversed this set up to photograph Brent so the designers could get both guys on the page in the best possible way.

After getting my lighting set I varied my angles of view and lenses making sure to duplicate with Brent each angle I shot with Stephen.  I began with a full length shot from low angle, moved to a more normal angle shot from about waist level.  I then changed lenses and shot more of a 3/4 length portrait and then shot some tighter stuff.  This gave several different perspectives and hopefully some options to the page designer.

After I got this shot out of the way I moved into a little bit of a fun mode.  I moved Stephen into the tunnel and shot with a strong back light from the sun which cast a really hard shadow on the ground.  I filled this with an SB800 shot direct with as tight a zoom spread as possible.  I still  had more spill than I wanted but I didn’t bring anything to make a snoot from.  I went again from wide and low to extremely tight in a shot that was basically just shoulder pads and eyes with no fill light at all.  This turned out to be my favorite shot of Stephen.  It was just his eyes.  The hard back light reflecting off his jersey and the walls of the tunnel was the only light.

On Brent’s shoot I did a variety of lighting effects and poses with the ball which pretty much amounted to my old standby lighting style of two lights crossed on the subject.  Brent has a wonderfully intense look when he wants to and I was able to capitalize on this for some really nice tight work.  It was not the same as Stephen’s set up but I didn’t think this would be used on the cover anyway so I wasn’t worried about duplication.

I then moved Brent into a kind of portable tunnel which was a metal frame covered with a white tarp style covering.  I was hoping that I could do a nice lighting effect by placing a strobe behind him fired down the tunnel with a front light which ended up being a Lumedyne in an umbrella.  I was very pleased with this shot even though it was not used in the magazine.  The rear strobe did its work and the tunnel picked up a kind of ripple in the fabric creating a nice effect.

I really enjoyed working with both of these guys.  Both of them present themselves very well and I look forward to covering them in their senior seasons this year and then in the SEC for a few years to come.  Who knows, there may be another brother combination at quarterback in the NFL before too many years have gone by.  I imagine Stephen will have to dodge a few blitzes from Brent over the next couple of seasons.

Photos copyright Gary Cosby Jr.   The opinions expressed in this blog are my own and don’t necessarily reflect those of my employer.

Written by Gary Cosby Jr.

August 20th, 2010 at 4:27 pm