Twenty Moments is an annual feature on the blog where I take you behind some of the photos I feel helped shape my year.
Well, this is it folks, the last Twenty Moments Sports moment of the year. It’s okay to grab a tissue and wipe away the tears; however, like Frosty The Snowman, I’ll be back again next year!
For all you Auburn fans out there, I am sorry but this is another post with Alabama players. I know what you are thinking but it will be worth reading. It really isn’t about Alabama so much as it is about one unlikely hero and we can all relate to that. Blake Sims came out of spring practice without convincing many fans, and who knows what the coaches were thinking, that he was the man to lead the Crimson Tide this season. Jake Coker was coming in on transfer from Florida State and I think most Bama fans felt it was a foregone conclusion Coker would take the reins from A.J. McCarron and Sims would finish his senior season on the bench and be a footnote in Alabama history.
Did he ever prove that wrong. Sims was named the starter against West Virginia but Coker got significant playing time. That continued for another couple of games but Sims clearly won the job and was growing in the role every week. He passed every test and became one of the most efficient Alabama quarterbacks ever. He connected time and again with Amari Cooper helping Cooper earn the Bilenikoff Award as the nation’s top wide receiver and helping him achieve all time numbers as Alabama’s leading wide receiver. Many times, in crucial situation, Sims would scramble out of the pocket and gain a big first down. In short, Sims shined all season long and the quarterback debate at the start of the season was nothing but a distant memory as Sims led the Tide to a come from behind win over Auburn and then on to an SEC Championship, a number one national ranking and the top spot in the new football playoff. Sims had another big game in the SEC Championship win over Missouri setting the SEC Championship record for passing efficiency.
Post game with Alabama is very difficult. The Tide players reflect the personality of their head coach and he is a pretty buttoned down guy meaning there is very little post-game jubilation with this team. For you Auburn people, y’all celebrate way better than Alabama! At the end of a championship game the players stay on the field longer than normal due to the trophy presentation so there is more time to get shots. I had a few and a good shot of Sims getting his young daughter out of the stands to celebrate on the field with him. Still, I waited and when Sims left the field I followed him into the tunnel leading to the locker room.
In the Georgia Dome the tunnel is open to the media whereas it is closed to us in Bryant Denny Stadium. I don’t spend much time waiting around for a picture because I am already on deadline and have to hurry to get pictures back to the paper. In this case, Coach Scott Cochran was congratulating players outside the locker room as they came in from the field. He grabbed Sims in a big hug and he said, “I am so proud of you son.” The picture itself isn’t a great one but when you can know what is being said, it elevates the moment in my mind.
I wrote about this photo in the newspaper’s Behind The Lens photo column and I said there that I think Coach Cochran was saying what any Alabama fan would say if they were standing there hugging Blake Sims. I don’t pull for Alabama over Auburn or Auburn over Alabama but I do root for certain players on both teams. This year, Blake Sims was certainly the guy I was pulling for on the Crimson Tide. I am so glad to see him do well and I hope he leads Alabama to a national championship, not because I think Alabama needs another national title but because I would love to see this underdog of a quarterback overcome and win out.
Twenty Moments is an annual feature on the blog where I take you behind some of the photos I feel helped shape my year.
It was a cold, cold day when the 663rd Engineering Company returned from a year in Afghanistan. I have done a few of these homecomings over the years and I always enjoy them. I mean, imagine if your spouse had been gone for a year. You might be ready to see them again! If you had been away and missed a full year of your child’s young life you would sure enough be ready to see them. That translates into great photo chances for me and a great reunion day for the families.
I had the wrong time on my photo assignment and I planned on arriving early to avoid parking difficulties. With the incorrect time plus me arriving early I arrived very, very early. The people at Signature Aviation had us park out on the edge of the tarmac and there was an icy north wind blowing. I was not prepared to stand out in the open for two hours but I did have a ski cap in my trunk so I could at least keep that wind out of my ears. I mention this because it is important you, as a photojournalist, remain prepared for any circumstance you might face. The trunk of my car is a kind of all season repository of stuff including rain gear, rubber boots, a hard hat, gloves and plastic bags and duct tape; one can never have enough duct tape. I have found the hard hat especially useful. Aside from its usefulness at construction sites if you ever get caught in a hail storm you will surely appreciate it.
With hat and gloves I had a tolerable wait and I was able to meet several families and find out where they were from. This was important because it allowed me to find families that were from our coverage area. In fact, most of the photos I shot during this assignment were focused on those families I met during that cold two hours before the flight landed. The photo above; however, is of a couple not from our coverage area. It is, of course, far and away my favorite image of the day.
Once the flight landed, I focused my attention on the families I had scouted and got some decent reaction photos from them. The photo we ran on the front page is a good one. It was a tight shot of a little girl hugging her uncle and she had tears rolling down her cheeks. It was a nice image and the editors loved it. The photo with this post sums up to me the kind of reaction I would have had if my wife had been gone for a year which partially explains why I like it best. The other part is compositional. This photo has a great moment and a nice composition which is two thirds of the formula for great photos, the other part being light. The light is kinda flat but you get that on flat, overcast days. Two out of three ain’t bad though.
The story behind this image is the couple, Anthony and Rebekah Taylor, had only been married a short time, like a few weeks, when he was deployed. I met her briefly before the plane arrived and had a shot of her with her sign. I was not paying attention to her when the flight landed because they are from Gardendale which is not in our coverage area. I had my back turned to them photographing local families and when I turned around and spotted them I knew I was seeing something special. I framed a vertical shot of just the two of them then reframed this horizontal shot with the other couples embracing and I like this version the best.
Let me tell you, I had plenty of time to shoot this picture. I think they must have embraced like this for five minutes. I actually walked around and shot a second angle when they came up for air! I absolutely love sharing moments of people’s lives like this. It is the most special part of being a photojournalist.
Twenty Moments is an annual feature on the blog where I take you behind some of the pictures I feel helped define my year.
Amari Cooper is quite the football player. After three seasons at Alabama, Cooper has become the school’s all-time leader in catches, yards and receiving touchdowns. The only thing he doesn’t seem to do well is talk to the media. He is a very quiet young man. I was on the field beside him after the SEC Championship and a reporter was trying to get a comment from him. He just mumbled a “no” to the request two or three times and kept on walking. I almost laughed out loud. For what it’s worth, he doesn’t give up many pictures after the games are over either. Normally he just leaves the field. Nothing wrong with that, he simply doesn’t show a lot of emotion.
I have tons of photos Cooper making great catches. He is a touchdown machine and, as often as not, he is running away from defenders as he makes those catches. He is the smoothest guy I have ever seen play wide receiver. There was a young man who played at Hartselle High School, the town I live in, who also played at Alabama named Nikita Stover. Nikita was the smoothest guy on a football field I had ever seen until I saw Cooper play. Unfortunately, through a variety of circumstances, Nikita didn’t have the illustrious career Cooper has enjoyed.
During the Iron Bowl game this year, Cooper had a phenomenal game. Blake Sims dropped back on one particular play and I knew he was going to Cooper. He was so wide open down field it was almost like Auburn decided not to cover him. I was shooting with a 600mm f4 manual focus lens and I totally missed the shot of him making the catch. It wouldn’t have been a great picture anyway because he was literally all alone when he caught the ball. He sprinted straight as an arrow right toward me. When he reached the back of the end zone he dropped to his knee in prayer.
I had a 17-35mm f2.8 lens on my second body, a Nikon D2Hs. I believe I had the lens at 35mm which translates to roughly 50mm on that crop frame body. I would love to have been slightly wider and I would also love to have had time to drop the camera to the ground for a really low angle but I had the camera around my neck and had I wasted the time to take it off and drop it to the ground I would have missed this picture.
I am not thrilled with the D2Hs, especially at night and I rarely use it but I hate taking my own gear to a game when I don’t absolutely have to. I can tell you, I would give a pretty penny to have shot this image with my EOS 5D! There is just so much noise. Oh well, as I have said, there is no such thing as a perfect picture and I will gladly take this as it is.
There are a couple of things I love about shooting photos of Amari Cooper playing football. First, he is absolute poetry in motion so action shots of him are wonderful. The other thing dates back to the Bear Bryant philosophy which has been largely forwarded by Nick Saban and that is act like you have been there before. I like the way Cooper carries himself. He makes a play and he tosses the ball back to an official and goes and makes another play. You won’t see him taunting or gesturing after an insignificant play like so many athletes do today. In fact, all you are ever going to see from him is class. When he scores he might leap and do a flying chest bump with a teammate but that’s about it.
I am sure he will be a very high draft choice in the upcoming NFL draft so I don’t expect to see him back at Alabama next season. I suppose I have shot my last image of him. I got several shots in the SEC Championship, of course, but I think this picture will always be my favorite image of him. I truly hope this young man has a great NFL career.
Twenty Moments is an annual feature on the blog where I take you behind some of the photos I feel helped shape my year.
This 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.
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.
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.
I thought Auburn might have a tough time this year. I actually predicted three losses before the season started based on the tough schedule they were going to play and how many of those tough games were on the road. I was right and then some. Auburn finished the regular season with four losses. Some of them were not pretty. What is weird, this team is basically the same core team as the team that played for a national championship last year but with the loss of a prominent player on offense and a prominent player on defense.
This game with South Carolina was, I thought, going to be a blowout for Auburn. They were coming off of a tough loss to top ranked Mississippi State and I thought they would take it out on South Carolina, a team having a tough year. Things did not go as planned. I think Coach Steve Spurrier had his team go for it on every fourth down during the game. They made first down’s or scored points on a bunch of those fourth down attempts. They pulled out all the stops and the game was coming down to one final play for SC.
I was taking a bit of a chance. I was shooting this game with my Canon 5D and a Canon 1D MkII, an older pro body a friend had recently given me. My Nikon body was still in the shop. My only long lens was a 70-200 f2.8 with a 1.4 extender. Even with the 1.3 body conversion on the 1D MkII I left me shooting with a lens in the low 300mm range a f4. That was pushing the very limits of the ISO range on that MkII. I think I was a 1/500th and f4. Not much room for error and with that older sensor, no room to push it any further. What that actually translates into is a lot of running for me. To stay close to the action I had to sprint around the benches in hopes of staying ahead of the action but not too far ahead. I ran a bunch of hundred yard dashes that night! Well, if you were watching it would have looked like a hundred yard shuffle but one doesn’t dash when he wants to hold onto all his gear!
As I said, the game was coming down to the last play and I had positioned myself on the sideline about halfway between the goal line and the back line of the end zone. I was hoping for a pass in the corner and I was ready for it. I had a 24-70 f2.8 L lens on the 5D and the longer combo on the 1D MkII. Sure enough, South Carolina threw desperation pass toward my side of the field. My first couple of frames were soft. It didn’t really matter because the players shielded the ball from me. When the dust cleared the Carolina players were walking away defeated and Auburn’s player is on his knees with the ball. Auburn intercepted the pass as time expired preserving a victory.
The play was over but I never stopped shooting. This wonderful photo happened a few yards in front of me and a few seconds after the play and the game ended. Defensive back Jonathan Jones was on his knees with the ball he intercepted and teammate Johnathan Ford was in his ear. The SC receiver was walking away. Now I made a bunch of good pictures during this game but it all came down to this. I really like this picture. It is not an action photo but it certainly sums things up nicely and, when all is said and done, that is the object of what we do.
One final note, the equipment you use is far less important than the vision you have. The 5D is definitely not an ideal sports action camera. If you ever get the rated three frames per second out of it you would be looking at a miracle. It has miserable autofocus relative to today’s powerhouses but still better than my eyes. The camera does do what it does do very well. Understanding your equipment, what to expect from it, what it will do and, perhaps more importantly what it won’t do, is very important to your success. I usually don’t ask too much in a sports setting from the 5D. It is my short lens body and it does well with that. If you try to force equipment to do what it is not made to do you will likely be disappointed.
I wasn’t even supposed to work! For some reason I had a shift swap with a colleague on this day and I ended up with a dream assignment, flying on a B17 bomber of World War II vintage. The aircraft was named Memphis Belle but it was not the original Memphis Belle. It was; however, the aircraft used to make the motion picture of the same name and it is a genuine B17 Flying Fortress. This airplane came into service at the tail end of World War II and did not see any action in the war. When I got the assignment I was genuinely thrilled. I had always wanted to ride one of these babies and I was going to have my chance.
As it turned out, the airplane was not the star of the day. The flight also featured two actual World War II veterans who both served on B17s during the war. The man you see in this photo is Bill Varnedoe, a veteran of 26 missions over Germany as a navigator. Such a remarkable man. I believe he is 91 years old and he is very sharp. He told me something I will never forget – you can hear it in the video posted below. I don’t have to tell you what it is. You will likely recognize it immediately.
I strapped into a seat next to Varnedoe right behind and slightly lower than the pilots. The navigator’s position is directly beneath the pilots in a secondary deck that also has the bombardier’s position. It is accessed through a very small crawl way beneath the pilot’s seats. I knew I was going to get down there. I never dreamed Mr. Varnedoe would beat me to it! As soon as we were in the air the pilots gave us the ok to move around and see the plane. I was about to go to the bombardier’s deck but Mr. Varnedoe slipped through that hole so fast I wondered where the “old” man had gone. It was like he suddenly dropped sixty years and was a young man rushing to his position.
We got down there and it was just the two of us. He was telling me how he once got the chance to shoot at a German fighter. He was very excited but when he grabbed the gun it jammed and would not fire. He had to strip the weapon down and put it back together and by the time he was ready to fire the fighters were gone. Varnedoe said that was the only time he had the chance to fire on a fighter. The photo you see here is him living out that memory. He was so excited. I watched him and I could see the young man still there.
It makes me wonder exactly how much of our age is real. When I was riding on the LST the crew told me stories of how they would have WWII veterans come on board using walkers and the next thing they knew those same men had put aside the walkers and were climbing into the landing craft Higgins Boats like young men again. I know there are physical realities to age but I am also wondering just how real those are, how much can be overcome by the power of the mind. I suspect, were we ever to uncover a fountain of youth we would have found it locked between our ears.
I have often wondered what it was like to have been a very young man who helped save the world. I have also wondered what it was like to come back home and enter a normal life again. I will never know because I am no longer a young man and one hopes the world will not again need saving as it did in their day. But there I go, allowing my mind to dictate an age based way of thinking. Who knows, maybe I am a perpetual teenager just looking for a reason to break loose!
I shot this photo with a Canon EOS 5D and a 17-40mm f4L lens. I recorded the audio on my iPhone and combined it with still frames and a few clips of iPhone video to create the audio visual piece below. My D4 was off at the shop for what turned into an extended stay. Another little bonus, this image was selected as the Alabama AP Member Showcase Photo of the Month for October.
I have two or three great loves in photography. Sports and great clouds are two of them so when I can get both in the same picture, well, it just doesn’t get much better than that! I went to cover Hartselle High’s football game with long-time rival Cullman High. Let’s just say, they don’t like each other very much and even old men who haven’t played ball in fifty years will still tell you how they got cheated or how Cullman played dirty way back when. For their part, I am sure the Cullman folks say the same about Hartselle. That’s the way of good rivalries.
I arrived early because we always have to shoot features for pages and galleries and this day turned out to be special. I got out of the car and almost ran to the stadium. There was a great rainbow out behind the visitor’s side and I tired to work it but the rainbow faded before I could get in the stadium. The awesome cloud cover was a pretty nice consolation prize. I know what you are thinking, you are thinking I doctored that sky. I promise, I didn’t do much of anything to the sky. The sky wasn’t the problem. The players were the problem. To properly expose the sky I had at least a one stop drop off and probably more like two stops drop off on the players and the field. Naturally, I bracketed my exposure. The best exposure turned out to be right in the middle.
Metering for the sky alone produced an image rich in color and detail in the sky but badly underexposed the players. Exposing for the players washed out the sky. What I did was meter the sky and then open up about one full stop. Of course, I shot in manual mode for this image. That still left me with players that were too dark but when you work with digital you are better off working with underexposure rather than overexposure. If an image is dark there is probably hope of salvaging something. If an image is blown out then the situation is hopeless.
This image requires a fair amount of work to the players and the field in Photoshop. I use the history brush tool rather than the dodge and burn tool. Using history brush gives me much better control and I can also adjust colors while lightening or darkening. So far as I know, that can’t be done using the dodge and burn tool. That kind of control would make Ansel Adams smile!
I knew the sky would not last until game time so I had to work during warm up. I set the camera on the ground and tilted it up a bit as the players ran past me to begin their pregame routine. I didn’t do anything fancy. I just held down the shutter release and let it rip for a few seconds. Yeah, I know, highly scientific shooting there. One might even call it surgical shooting! Then I tried a few more angles and yes, I tilted the horizon on purpose. I kinda like it too. I don’t overdo the tilted horizon but I have been known to shoot one now and again. I tend to dislike rules that say never and always so this is my exception to the never tilt the horizon rule.
It would have been pretty cool to have a touchdown pass in the corner of the end zone shot with a wide angle lens as the player lays out against the great sky to catch the pass. Yeah, well, I can have my daydreams and besides, you never know, it might actually happen someday! Oh, almost forgot, in the category of bonus material, I sent the top photo to AP and it was run by several papers including the New York Times. It ran on the Times web site but I don’t know if it made a printed edition. Still, pretty cool for a high school feature shot from north Alabama.
Twenty Moments is an annual feature on the blog where I take you behind some of the images I feel helped shape my year.
It is Christmas Eve and in many ways the image you are seeing with this post was my Christmas present. True, I shot the picture in September but the whole assignment was a gift. Unwrapping this assignment was one of the two or three biggest treats of the year. First, you can’t tell from this photo, but I am on board an LST? The LST is a type of ship said to have been dreamed up by Franklin Roosevelt and Winston Churchill to fill the needs the two men perceived would exist when America and Britain joined together to fight the Nazis. They envisioned a ship that could deliver tanks and other heavy equipment right onto the beach. As it turns out, they were more than correct. Every major allied invasion of the war began with troops crossing beaches and much of their initial support had to come across those same beaches until a harbor could be captured.
The LST is a flat bottomed, ocean going vessel with a ramp that can be dropped, literally on the beach, allowing tanks to drive from the hold onto the beach. Not only tanks were brought to invasion beaches but also mountains of ammunition, supplies and other vehicles needed to support the war effort. LST 325 participated in invasions of Sicily, Italy and Normandy. This ship was present on D-Day and supported the invasion making 44 trips across the English Channel bringing in more men, equipment and supplies until the allies could open a legitimate port in France.
Now, how in the world did I end up on an LST. This, in fact, is the only LST left in the world and it is maintained by a group of men, most of whom served aboard LSTs during their Navy careers. The ship does a river tour every year both to show off the ship and to raise money for its upkeep, restoration and operation. This year the ship sailed up the Tennessee River and one of the stops was to be in Decatur. I got the assignment to ride from Wilson Dam to Ingalls Harbor in Decatur. I was completely thrilled. I spent the summer at the city pool with the kids, them swimming and me reading a three volume set on the US Army in World War II and the LST played a key role in all three of the books. To step foot onto those decks was such a privilege. Quite literally, I was walking in the footsteps of men who spent their last few moments on this earth on that ship.
I joined the ship at the Dam very early in the morning and we made the cruise up the river at 8 knots. That gave me plenty of time to get pictures and I did a nice page, photo gallery and a couple of videos. All good stuff. I was given only one real instruction and that was to stay out of the way of the crew when they were working. Well, there is a fine line between getting the pictures and staying out of the way. I suppose I kinda crossed the line and the captain sent my escort to move me out of the way. He put me in the forward gunners tub right out on the bow of the ship. I couldn’t have asked to be put in a better spot!
As we approached Ingalls Harbor my escort told me they were going to open the bow doors and lower the ramp. I suppose it didn’t occur to me they could do that while underway and I was surprised. The escort assured me you could open the doors even at sea and the remain seaworthy. The doors opened and the ramp dropped and I was leaning out over the bow like a little kid. Then the crew stepped out on the ramp to help in the process of tying up at the dock. I was loving this. The crew in color shirts standing on the Navy gray ramp with the doors open forming those great angles and the clouds reflecting in the surface of the river all came together in one of my most favorite photos of the year. Merry Christmas to me!
This photo was taken using the Nikon D4 and a 17-35mm f2.8 lens. And Merry Christmas to you all. Tomorrow we will take the day off and pick up again on the 26th.