Sunday, December 20, 2009

Our favorite photographs of 2009

One of my favorites from 2009.
Check out what we consider our favorite photographs of 2009. As we wrote in our story in Sunday's Currents section, we are often greeted with amazement when we tell people how many frames we shoot at an assignment. Of course, it varies depending on assignment, but in an attempt to average things out, I figured we shoot more than 100,000 frames a year between John and I.

That's a lot of shutter movement!

But I'm a firm believer that if you want to make an omelet, you have to break a couple of eggs. I would prefer that no one sees the broken eggs, so to speak, so I often delete, or at least not download from the digital camera's card, all of those out of focus, overexposed, or just plain rotten photos that won't ever see the light of day anyway. Thanks to modern technology editing through all those frames is much easier than it used to be. The modern equivalent of the light table we use is a program called Photo Mechanic made by Camera Bits. It makes working with that kind of volume easier.

Some photos, like the ones John and I picked as our favorites this year, just stand out in our minds from the moment we see them. They get filed away, set aside for contest entries and our annual photographers' favorites section.
The photo gallery below includes the six photographs (three from each of us) that were published in the paper and an additional three apiece that didn't make the cut in the paper, but were still among our favorites.


Friday, December 11, 2009

So what if the weather's bad

GAC student.
I find it ironic that when Mother Nature really throws her worst at us, it's often the photographers who end up venturing out to find a picture. Let's face it, when the wind chill is -40F and the snow is coming down in flakes the size of Volkswagons there are good photos to be found.

Usually our first accumulating snowfall of the year is a couple of inches. Just enough to cover the grass. Ease us into winter. Not this year. An 8-inch blast of white stuff, followed by single-digit temps and some wind to boot, shoves us into winter. Usually these are the last conditions anyone wants to venture out in. But this is the stuff I'm compelled to venture out in regularly.

Mike Endreson blows his way through a drift in front of his Mankato home Thursday morning.

A day off from school made for a full house Thursday at a sledding hill in Mankato's Sibley Park.

As storytellers and newsmen at heart, John and I have headed out into conditions that make most people curl up inside with a good movie and wait for the snow to let up. In our case, people want to see just how bad it is outside. They want to see whether or not they should venture out to work or church. What's been canceled due to the weather?

A pair of City of Mankato snowplows work their way down Riverfront Drive during Wednesday's snowstorm.

Don't take me wrong, I respect the weather. I take "no unnecessary travel" warnings seriously. As a sailor and a former pilot I have seen what bad things the weather can do to people. But when the weather gets ugly, that's unusual, and it's news. And I'm probably out in it somewhere.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Football is football is football. Right?

Football at all levels, from high school to the pros, is reaching a pinnacle right now. Professional football is at the halfway mark. The Minnesota State High School football tournament starts today around the state, and the Minnesota State University football team will host a NCAA tournament game for the first time Saturday at Blakeslee Stadium. It's an exciting month for football.

In general, football is football. The basic rules are the same at all levels. Score touchdowns and field goals while keeping your opponent from doing the same. Certainly this is true, but the game is obviously made different by the level at which it is being played.

Over the last month I've photographed football at all three levels: Professional (Green Bay vs. Minnesota at the Dome Oct. 5), Division II college (Minnesota State) and high school (Mankato East & West, among a host of others). Each game at each level presents unique challenges for me as a photographer, and my approach to the game is different for each one.

I was fortunate/unfortunate enough to photograph the Monday Night Football tilt in October between the Green Bay Packers and the Minnesota Vikings, a fairly rare assignment for the Free Press. Those of you who know me know I'm a Packer fan at heart, but live in a Viking world, so the whole Favre-drama-playing-his-old-team-who's-gonna-win thing was certainly not lost on me. It's a rare thing for the Free Press to send me to such an event, so I certainly wanted to show up with my A+ game, so add that to the level of nerves flowing through me at the time. Add to that the more than 100 credentialed photographers, the VIPs, the on-air TV talent roving the sidelines and you have a crowded house full of restrictions to navigate, on deadline.

Just a few photographers trying to get a picture of Vikings Brett Favre at the same time.

Again, while the basics are the same (I use a similar equipment setup for all three), shooting the much faster and more crowded professional football game takes a different approach. I spend more time in the back of one end zone or the other so I have clearer sight lines past all the other photographers, VIPs and guys carrying big parabolic dishes. Being on deadline, I chose to sacrifice much of the third quarter to transmit photos back to the paper, then return to shoot the fourth quarter and post game.

Busy sideline.

Minnesota State football is a much different game, and I take a different approach to it. While I like to shoot from the end zones at Blakeslee Stadium too, I tend to move up and down the field with the play a bit more. Since they are a team I cover more often, I do my best to get to know who the key players are and the style of offense and defense so I can be watching the right people at the right times. I also have more freedom to move in among the players if I need to for brief periods to get pictures of coaches or specific players, something that would get me promptly thrown out of a Vikings game.

Shooting from the back of the end zone gets players like MSU running back Ernest Walker coming right at the viewer.

Photos like this one of MSU receiver Chris Nowlin are made easier by knowing the team's tendencies.

Shooting the Mankato East vs. Mankato West football game is an even more different matter. Weather not withstanding, high school football offers the ultimate freedom. Freedom to move up and down the sidelines at will, mingle with players while looking for photos, go on the field after the game. That freedom often comes at a price, however. Most high school football games are at night under lights that don't quite light the field evenly or adequately (I often describe a field or gym that has some light, but not anywhere near enough as shooting in "available darkness"). I tend to shoot with shorter lenses and a flash and move up and down the sidelines with the play much more than while shooting college or pro football. The payoff, for me at least, is the raw emotions that come from high school players that seems to diminish as they move up in level.

The raw emotion of West football players after defeating crosstown rival Mankato East is a common thread in high school sports.

Photos like this one of a lineman's feet in the mud are more difficult to get when access is limited.

I find it funny that the photographers I know who regularly shoot professional sports, with few exceptions, say high school sports are their favorite things to photograph, while those that regularly shoot only high school or college sports say they'd love to shoot the pros.

Photographers that have to deal with the circus of professional sports regularly say that the access granted by high schools and most colleges allows an unmatched flexibility and creativity. This is very true. Those that don't deal with it as often find the circus atmosphere of the big game alluring.
I tend to live in both worlds, to some extent. While I don't photograph professional sports frequently, I am in the ring often enough to appreciate the big-ness of the event and be annoyed by it at the same time. I also do it often enough to realize how lucky I am to get to work with the great high schools and colleges of this area, who, with few exceptions, are willing to bend over backwards to help me do my job to the best of my ability.

Monday, October 12, 2009

For the first time in many, many years, when the Minnesota pheasant season opened at 9 a.m., Saturday, I had a camera rather than a shotgun in my hand.
I decided that Madelia's first annual Pheasant Phest was a big enough deal that I ought to take that in instead of traveling to my customary opening day spots with my usual hunting buddies. Duty called, as it were.
Of course, I could have been carrying a shotgun in addition to the Nikon. Early on, I was invited to hunt with the contingent of Madelia area hunters who were celebrating the opening of the season.
But I learned long ago that when one divides his attention between making photographs and another activity, in this case, hunting, neither ends up being done very well.
So I just committed to carrying a camera in the field as I trailed the group of hunters and dogs, enjoying the camaraderie that is part of such an event.
Of course, as it turned out, two of the three roosters the party bagged got up at my feet. I missed 'em with my camera but others in the hunting party managed to drop the birds with their shotguns.
Now I'm sure there those folks out there, particularly after watching Vikings Twins games, who believe that being a photographer at various events must be a great thing because, after all, photographers frequently have what appears to be the best seat in the house...and for free, no less.
Nothing could be further from the truth. Sidelines are not the best place to watch a game. That's why football teams always have coaches stationed high above the field to relay to the sidelines what's really going on.
What's more, court side or the sidelines aren't the place to be if you are an ardent fan. It's considered bad form (even to the extent that officials will ask offending parties to leave) if someone in the press ranks is openly rooting for one team or the other.
Dispassionate detachment is the expected sideline decorum in the working press corp. And work it is, as we compete informally with all of the other image makers who are shooting photographs, as well. There's a reason it's called work and that we get paid to do it.
It turned out that there was really nothing remarkable to shoot photographs of at the pheasant opener. What's more, by all accounts, the bird shooting was sparse enough within my circle of hunting buddies that I really didn't feel like I missed too much. Just way too much corn out there, yet.
But on late Saturday afternoon, after I'd written the story for the Sunday edition and edited the photographs, I finally managed to get out for the last hour of daylight to give my spaniel a chance to stretch his legs.
We hunted a public area that undoubtedly had been pounded by hunters earlier in the day. Our efforts were rewarded with a brace of roosters that we intercepted as they headed from the corn back into their roosting areas.

Friday, October 2, 2009

John Cross photo exhibit this weekend

Sweet Taste of Summer by John Cross.

If you're looking for something cool to do this weekend, my colleague John Cross has an exhibit opening tonight at the Blue Earth County Historical Society on Cherry St. called "Faces and Places of South Central Minnesota." You should really check it out. He has some great work from his 34 years of photographing this area.

While the exhibit is up through October, there is an opening reception tonight from 6-8 p.m. at the Heritage Center and a meet and greet with John from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday. I got a look at the exhibit catalog yesterday. It's all beautifully matted and framed, courtesy of Brian Fowler at the Artisan Gallery (part of Quality 1 Hr. Photo), and it's all for sale!

Check it out. It's worth your time. Maybe I'll see you there.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Canons and Nikons: The Debate

I'm frequently asked by people purchasing their first serious SLR digital camera: Nikon or Canon?
It's a little bit like asking someone if he or she prefers a Ford or a Chevy. Personally, I use Nikons and except for my very first camera _ an East German-built Hanimex Pracktica for which I ponied up the then-princely sum of $100 in 1968 _ I've always used Nikons.
One reason was that back in the 1960s when I embarked on this career, Nikons arguably were king of the professional shooting hill with Canons coming in a serviceable but distant 2nd.
For another, my hometown paper's publisher somehow had wrangled a coveted Nikon dealership out from the U.S. distributor of Nikon products in the early 60s when the brand was just becoming recognized as top-flight pro gear.
Since I worked part-time at the paper, I could buy Nikon gear for cost, which was significantly less than what it sold for at retail prices.
And forty years ago, as a senior in High School, that's exactly what I did. After saving and scrimping, I ordered a Nikon F body (in professional black, naturally). It retailed for $225 and ended up costing me $152.
I've still got it (along with several other film Nikons of various vintage that I hung onto a little too long into the digital age and now are worth so little I use them as bookends). In spite of its dings and dents, the old F still remains silky smooth, functional, and nearly bulletproof.
But back to the Canon-Nikon debate. Each brand has had its positives and negatives in recent years and really, both are excellent cameras.
I still use Nikons for a couple of reasons. One is that the Free Press always has been Nikon-based and the specialized, really expensive lenses it owns/owned have been Nikon
For another, Nikon lenses focus exactly in the opposite direction that Canon lenses do. Auto focus is great but frequently, I prefer manual focusing. After so many years it just comes naturally.
Trying to focus a Canon lens is for me a little like getting into a car and discovering the gas and brake controls have been reversed.
Bottom line? They're both good cameras. Compare a $1000 Nikon digital camera and a $1000 Canon digital camera and you'll discover they usually have similar capabilities and features.
Buy either one and you'll soon find out that as just as quickly, a newer improved version inevitably will be introduced making you wish you had waited.
And unlike my old Nikon F which wears its patina of hard use well, nothing ages less gracefully than a digital camera.

Friday, August 14, 2009

CJR Q&A with Damon Winter of the NY Times

I've had some rough days back at work after a vacation before, but nothing like what Damon Winter went through Tuesday. His first assignment back from vacation was a town hall meeting with Sen. Arlen Specter. The photo that led the Times' A section Wednesday morning was a photo of a very angry Craig Miller confronting the senator on the meeting's format. (To respect the Times' copyright, I won't repost it here.)

In an interview with Columbia Journalism Review's Alexandra Fenwick, Winter, who won the Pulitzer Prize this year in Feature Photography for his work covering President Obama's campaign, talks about the event and his approach to shooting it. What struck me was the level to which he prepared himself for what was probably going to happen, going so far as to watch video of prior town hall meetings with the senator. He was also prepared for how the crowd had been taking over events like these and intentionally getting into the photographers' lenses to get their point across, not to mention the less-than-warm welcome he and another Times photographer received.

I've often talked about preparedness with other photographers, but usually only in a sports environment. So many things are out of a photographer's control, especially at a sporting event, that advance preparation is crucial. Is the team's offense primarily a passing or running offense? Who are the major players? Do they do trick plays? How about the pitcher? What are his stats this year? Does he lead the league in strikeouts? Give up a lot of home runs? Does he have a good pickoff move? All of these questions can be answered long in advance, and give me a hint as to what might be a key photograph.

Being prepared can make all the difference when the storytelling moment happens, whether at a football game or a town hall meeting.

Monday, August 3, 2009

The games we play

Bernard Berrian hauls in a catch during practice.

I don't know if you've heard yet, but there's a professional football team in town.

I know, I know. It's hard to believe. Here? Now? Yes.

The annual football circus has rolled into town, and even though Brett Favre isn't with them, Vikings Training Camp is still a circus. For the record, I'm glad Favre didn't show up (the circus would've needed two big tops, one for the players, one for all the media), but I'm also a little disappointed (things would've been more interesting and unique with him here). It's still busy at MSU. More media than past years. Tons of fans filling the stands to watch players stretch.
Media shooting the first day of practice.

The good part about the busy is it brings friends and colleagues from the Twin Cities media outlets to town. It ends up being a great chance to catch up, commiserate, share a meal and some stories together, and try to lift each other's spirits and creative juices, since it seems I only see them when the Vikes come to town.

Besides the game being played on the field, there are a myriad of other games being played off the field during training camp. Media outlets trying to out-blanket-coverage everyone else. Photographers struggling to make an interesting photo of a 350-pound lineman who isn't doing anything but standing there in a half hour or less (more on that later). Reporters mobbing today's player du jour hoping he'll say something interesting.

The problem isn't necessarily in how you play the game, it's in the game itself. Rules and restrictions set forth by the team make uniqueness nearly impossible. Photographers are limited to shooting individual drills only (usually the first half hour of the two-hour practice) and are asked to stop shooting once anything interesting starts to happen or if a player is injured(even though I saw 3 fans in the stands today with the exact same equipment I use shooting 11-on-11 drills). Reporters have limited access to limited players. Coaches say few details about what's happening on or off the field.

Great evening light, and Vikings lineman Anthony Herrera.
So the rules are stacked against us, yet we play the game, especially as photographers. We struggle against security folks saying you can't kneel as we scramble in the limited time available to make interesting pictures for those who follow the Vikings religiously (and for those who are simply curious). I think in some strange way I like the restrictions. It forces me to either find a new recipe for chicken salad or come back with a boring photo of Heath Farwell just standing there sweating. It makes me work harder to make the most of those few good moments: a quick contact drill, great evening light, a laugh between a coach and a player.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Come fly with me

Aluminum Overcast on the ground in Mankato.
I remember as a high schooler how busy the airport I worked at got during the Experimental Aircraft Association airshow in Oshkosh. I refueled small airplanes at a small general aviation airport in Juneau, Wisc. (UNU, for you pilots), 26 miles from the airfield at Oshkosh. It was a great stopping point for pilots of every type of plane imaginable needing information before making their way up to the airshow. It was fun meeting people from across the country making their way to aviation's Mecca.

Each year, some of us from the airport would either rent a plane and go up for the day, or get in a car and drive up, both of which were a traffic nightmare. Our favorite part of the show wasn't necessarily the aerial displays, but the plethora of restored World War II fighters and bombers on display on the ground. P-51s, T-6s and the big, lumbering B-17 bomber. All of these classics were painstakingly restored to better than their original glory (fewer bullet holes and grease stains, I'd imagine). I even got to sit in the cockpit of a P-51 Mustang (but that's another story).

I remember seeing Aluminum Overcast sitting on the tarmac at OSH when I took my wife there in 2001, thinking it would be great to take a ride, but $400 wasn't in the wallet at the time, especially to spend on a half-hour plane ride. Fortunately, eight years later, I got the chance to ride in Aluminum Overcast on a half-hour flying over Mankato during the EAA's tour stop here. The plane has been beautifully restored and is used as a promotional tool for the EAA's restoration activities, and for the Oshkosh air show itself.

Me in the bombardier's seat on Aluminum Overcast. (John Cross)

I was a kid in a candy store. Too much to look at. Too much to photograph. Too much to ask of the former Flying Fortress pilots riding with us. I sat in the bombardier's seat, looked through the Norden bomb sight, imagined dropping 8,000 pounds of bombs on the Northstar Bridge. Then, after seeing a photograph of a B-17 crew on the table in the bombardier's compartment and the replicas of the .50-caliber machine guns sticking out the side of the plane, I imagined how scared these crews must have been, seeing German ME-109s shooting at them, with only some thin armor plating and a plastic bubble to protect them.

The Norden bomb sight.
All I can say is thank you to those crews, and thank you to the EAA for the opportunity to fly in a beautiful aircraft.

Monday, July 6, 2009

I've been shooting photographs for the Free Press for more than three decades now _ ever since Nov. 17, 1975 _ so it's inevitable that I find myself revisiting versions of stories we have done in the past.
Like the story Brian Ojanpa and I did about the St. Henry Catholic Church near Le Center celebrating its 150th anniversary that appeared in the July 6 edition.
We were the reporter/photographer team that did a story about the church for their 126th anniversary 24 years ago.
Relatively speaking, Brian and I are the the newsroom old timers, both coming to the Free Press in the 1970s. We like to think we offer what charitably might be referred to as "historical perspective" for our office colleagues.
During our original visit, I took several photographs including the one shown here. It kind of had an American Gothic feel to it and even 24 years later remains one of my favorites.
Brian had pulled out a clipping of the article and we speculated that it was highly unlikely that after more than two decades, any of the subjects were still with us.
We showed the clipping to the three parishioners who were there to be interviewed and they confirmed that all four gentlemen indeed had passed on.
When the interview was completed, I had to make a photograph of the three men to accompany our story. I chose to pose them inside rather than going to the front of the church.
For one thing, I am not inclined to go to same visual well I have visited before. For another, over the years, the trees that were saplings in the original photograph had grown into towering maples and now obscured the clapboard-sided steeple.
One of the best things about this job is the people we get to meet. Our visit to St. Henry was no different.
As we shook hands with the church members, they all suggested suggested that perhaps we'd return in another 25 years for the 175th anniversary.

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

You can't just drive by

Zach Zellmer stays cool by taking his turn down a water slide in Mankato.

There are certain scenes that just beg to be photographed. When you see them, you're compelled to stop and photograph them. It doesn't matter if you're in a hurry or have somewhere else to be, you find the five minutes it takes to pull over and make some pictures. Kids having a water fight is one of them. It's almost like the scene has its own gravitational pull, drawing you in.
I even tried to drive by these boys playing on a water slide in their front yard. It didn't work. I had to go back. So what if I'm a couple of minutes late to my next assignment. This is worth it.
Fortunately for me I made it worth it. The kids, for the most part, let me hang around for a little while without showing off for my benefit (they did try to squirt me twice, though. Water and cameras don't mix well!). They just continued their fun in the water.
And I had a pretty good picture on a warm summer's day.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Always a photographer

Frederick listening to the radio.

My wife's father Frederick died last week. He was only 67. He had struggled with his health for many years. He died June 9, peacefully, surrounded by family. We should all be so lucky.
Frederick and I had a number of things in common, one of which was that we don't like to have our picture taken. Often when I'm at a portrait assignment and the subject is nervous about being photographed, I tell the story about how I hated having my picture taken as a geeky-looking high schooler, so I was always the one to volunteer to pick up the camera. Years later I've turned my dislike for being a subject of pictures into a career in photography. It always seems to put people at ease knowing I dislike having my picture taken as much as they do.
Frederick may not have been a willing subject, but he was a good one. His natural, thoughtful nature made him interesting to photograph, whether he knew I was taking the picture or not. I took the picture at the top one Christmas from the end of our hall as Frederick, a retired United Methodist clergy, was listening to the Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols on the radio. He rarely missed the annual broadcast from Kings College in Cambridge, England. I think the picture shows Frederick's thoughfulness, intelligence and spirituality.
I take pictures for a living, but I don't just turn off my visual curiosity when I'm sitting around with my family. Sometimes my family may get annoyed with my sometimes-excessive visual curiosity, I feel it's important to document those people and places that are important in our lives. Don't let the opportunity to take pictures of your loved ones pass by, even when they shy away from the camera.

It was hard not to feel a little bit like a bull in a china shop the other day while photographing all those restored Chevys on display at a gathering of the Vintage Chevrolet Club of America.
Typically, I wear two cameras when I'm shooting an event _ one equipped with a wide angle lens and one equipped with a telephoto lens.
The telephoto _ an 80mm-200mm _ has a very prominent lens shade just begging to get banged against something. And if you take a closer look at it, it bears all kinds of scars from door jambs, etc.
I wasn't concerned at all about putting a few more scars on the lens; while I don't abuse them, they are tools designed to be used so we expect some wear-and-tear on equipment.
I was more concerned about inadvertantly dinging the pristine paint that those vintage cars with one of my cameras as I looked for the best angles.
And judging by some of the side-long glances I got from a few car owners, they were just as concerned that a clumsy photographer might mar their pride-and-joys.
And I can't say that I blame them. I know how I feel when I discover a ding left by some careless parking lot miscreant in my wife's Chevy Impala.
And the Chevys we're talking about here raised the bar a whole lot higher than that.
So I took extra pains to be very, very careful _ to the point of taking a camera off my shoulder and putting on the ground while I used the other one.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

A cardinal rule of photography, one of the first things I drum into the students attending photojournalism class I have taught at Minnesota State University for the last 29 years is the need to get close to their subjects.
And on that count, I could find all sorts of things to criticize about the attached photograph on the left. Too far away, odd composition, etc.
And like many of my students, I can find all kinds of excuses for not closing the gap. But honestly, there is a reason the peregrine falcons that have taken up residence for the last several years at the nesting site beneath the North Star Bridge that links Mankato and North Mankato via Highway 169.
The only way their nest can be reached is, if one can fly as adroitly as peregrines can, is by air or with the assistance of one of those booms used by MnDOT to inspect bridges.
But the other thing I tell students is that in the end, compositional considerations are trumped by the the significance of the image and the message it brings to viewers.
In this case, peregrine falcon watchers will be glad to know that the Mankato/North Mankato's pair of peregrines for the third time in as many years have successfully hatched offspring.
Peregrines are what many rank as the sports cars of the raptor world. Reaching diving speeds of nearly 200 mph, they knock their prey _ in urban areas that usually means pigeons _ right out of mid-air.
The only way to see the birds beneath the bridge is from the Mankato side and even at that, they are still three spans and probably 300 yards away.
The photograph was made with a 300mm lens with a 1.4X extender attached. That translates to about a 420 mm lens.
And even at that, as illustrated by the uncropped version of the image at right, the chicks still remained very small in the frame.
The camera was a D300 Nikon and the exposure was 1/40 @ f11 at 2000 ISO.
No tripod was used but between trucks rumbling overhead, I braced the camera against a girder to steady it.
That the photograph held together as well as it did when tightly cropped and at such a high ISO is an illustration of how much better digital technology has gotten in the last 8 years.
Still, it's safe to say the photograph won't win any prizes.

Monday, June 8, 2009

Most photographers would agree that rain can make for interesting photographs.
But they also would agree that working in such conditions can be very difficult.
Using an umbrella is out of the question since it takes both hands to use a camera. And a raincoat will keep the photographer dry but is of little value in protecting the equipment.
There is the issue of keeping the lens surfaces clear of moisture, of course. Likewise, just being able to see clearly can be a challenge if one wears glasses as I do.
And while moisture has never been a camera's best friend, this is especially true with modern cameras which are largely electronic.
The cameras we use are Nikon D300s. While they won't survive a fall in a lake, fortunately they are sealed fairly well against the incidental moisture and a few rain drops.
Even with that, I was fairly nervous about their extended exposure to Saturday's wind-driven rain while covering the D-Day battle re-enactment near Le Center.
Not only were my glasses rain-smeared, but the cameras were pretty much drenched as well. While its possible to use specially-made camera rain coats or protection rigged from plastic bags, I generally find them difficult to use.
I tried to minimize my and my cameras exposure by finding shelter beneath one of the several tents on the Traxler Hunting Preserver grounds until showtime.
But once the action started, coincidentally about the same time another heavy rain shower moved through the area, I had no choice but to venture out to take the photographs I needed.
I found that if I stood downwind from _ and close to _ someone who had an umbrella, my lenses would stay reasonably clear enough to make a few quick photographs.
So if anyone out there wondered about the guy with a couple of cameras around his neck who was trying to get too was all in the name of journalism.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

It's tournament time! Time to elevate your game!

There's a flurry of high school section and state tournaments going on right now. Almost too many. Track, softball, golf and tennis all have their state tournaments this week, and section tournaments are well under way in baseball. Somehow, though, through all the rushing around to cover all these events, there are opportunities to elevate my game, so to speak.
Often times things can get formulaic in the news business, especially where sports photos are concerned. When you're seeking a specific athlete in a specific event, or you only have 20 minutes to get a good photo from a softball game, it's easy to say a photo works fine and go on to the next assignments. Tournament time is different. The games are more important. The emotion is higher, and there's a little more time built into the schedule to let yourself out of your comfort zone.
While shooting a section track meet Saturday I got the opportunity to shoot track photos for one of our Sunday photo packages in our Valley section. I get more leeway to create a more abstract picture for the photo package than I do when I'm shooting
track to go along with a sports story. Don't get me wrong: I seek creativity in every photo I shoot. But let's face it, I'd get either yelled at or laughed at if I came back with this photo instead of the top one. Both photos tell a story, but the bottom one tells a much different one than the top one. 
I like them both, but they are very different photos for very different situations. Now excuse me, there are a couple of state tournaments I need to shoot.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Media frenzy

I first heard the news about the Hauser family on a Friday afternoon while driving north for the Minnesota Fishing opener and immediately guessed it would be a story that would attract at least statewide attention.
But Colleen Hauser's decision to disappear with Daniel virtually assured the story would grow to have national, even international, interest.
From the handful of local media that attended their first press conference, the media contingent quickly grew to a veritable herd of state and national outlets.
And with the growing hordes of national media, the intensity level ratcheted up considerably. The news business is, of course, a very competitive one. On a local level, we all naturally want to be first with getting the story or in the case of photographers, getting the image that best tells the story.
And while we're competitive, we all know each other and there is a degree of cooperation we afford to one another. And since the news business isn't that big of a family, even if you toss the Twin Cities media which arguably is more competitive yet into the mix, there is a certain degree of familiarity with one another.
But the national media is another matter. Many of them frequently hire videographers on a free lance or contract basis.
A freelancer who doesn't consistently come back with the goods isn't likely to be tapped for other assignments. In other words, they are only as good as their last shot.
Hence, the spectacle this past week of cameramen literally running down the street along side the Hauser's family van when it showed up at the Brown County Courthouse earlier this week.
Of course, my job is to come back with the goods as well, so like the rest of the pack, I found myself sprinting across the courthouse lawn to elbow out enough shooting room to get an image or two of the family getting out of the van.
It's not something I'm particularly proud of doing, but it's my job.
I can only imagine what the Hauser family may have been thinking as dozens of news cameras closed in around them.
Certainly, the national media spotlight they found themselves in in recent weeks is far harsher than the quiet ambiance of the dairy barn.
At least for now, the satellite broadcast trucks, the coiffured news anchors, the video and still cameras, have vanished from Brown County.
But whether the Hauser family likes it or not, theirs is a story that will continue to be watched and reported, whatever end it may come to.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Old School versus New Wave

I began taking photographs for newspapers way back in 1968 so I am very familiar with the "bathroom" technology we relied on in those days _ a room with running water and a lock on the door so the dark didn't leak out.
Nowadays, of course, everything is digital and darkrooms are a quaint historical reminder of the way things used to be done.
I'm frequently asked which process I prefer and truthfully, tradition film and digital imaging have their advantages.
From purely a selfish view, the ability to go into a darkroom and lock the door behind you for a couple of hours each day sometimes was a welcome refuge from demanding editors and other distractions.
In addition, there is a certain "feel" to a film image that is lost in a digital translation.
However, in an era when everyone in a newsroom is expected to do more with less, the speed and efficiency of digital imaging allows us to get so much more done.
I'd be less than honest if I didn't admit to some trepidation and concerns about being an old dog learning new tricks. The transition to digital imaging steepened the learning curve a bit but in the end, of course, a good photograph is a good photograph, regardless of how it was made.
I am something of a traditionalist: I still prefer to hold a sheet of newsprint in my hand to read the news of the day.
But the advent of the Web and newspaper Web sites has expanded the possibilities for photojournalists, as well.
Reproduction has always been an issue for photographers because newsprint is not the optimum medium for capturing the colors and nuances of an image. Photographs displayed on a glowing monitor always look much better.
And since our digital images are basically just a code of zeros and ones, there are not the space constraints to limit the number of photos we can post on the Web.
As a result, we frequently can offer more photographs of an event like the bird banding Thursday at Rasmussen Woods.
Only three were published in the Free Press, but we were able to post 10 of them as a photo gallery at our Web site.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Earplugs required

My iPod is a disaster. I listen to so many different types of music I can't find anything half the time. That's probably why it didn't bother me a whole lot when I got the assignment to shoot the Slipknot concert Wednesday night in Mankato. Now, my heavy metal days are long gone, so relating to these guys wasn't happening. The beauty of photography, though, is you find you always have something in common.
Most concerts are a challenge to shoot, regardless of the type of music being played. Some bands make you shoot from next to the sound board near the back of the arena (about a 300mm lens' throw away). If you're lucky enough to shoot from the pit (the area between the stage and the fans), you have security personnel, speakers, wires, body surfers and a host of other stuff distracting you. And you only get three songs to get the lighting right, so you'd better shoot quick.
The benefit to shooting a heavy metal concert from the pit is you're face to face with both the band and the fans, both of which are really, really into the music. Bands like Slipknot, who have been around for a while, know they're being photographed and will seek you out for the briefest of moments and give you an opportunity to make an image of them doing something right at you instead of over your head.
Needless to say, from my three-song vantage point between two stacks of speakers, there were plenty of distractions. Everything from huge security guys shoving me around to body surfers reaching the end of the line came flying my way.
Fortunately, no blood was spilled. At least not any of mine. More photos are in the web gallery here.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

He can't be any happier

I can honestly say that I can't list bowling among my favorite sports to shoot. I've seen a lot of sports, and a lot of things you can barely call sports, and in some way I've liked
 them all. Not bowling. No bowling alley is lit well. There's little drama, little action, little emotion.

Until Tuesday night.

I was assigned to shoot the Mankato East and West adaptive bowling meet against Austin Tuesday night. I had photographed some of these kids before, so I knew in some respect I could throw at least one of the bowling stereotypes I had out the window: There would be excitement.

These kids are excited to be bowling competitively. They smile all the time. High fives abound whether they get a strike, make a spare, or get a pair of gutter balls. What I didn't know was Sam Wright was on his way to putting up some big numbers, and a lot of Xs.

As I was shooting some of the bowlers from West I heard a huge cheer from the East lanes. Not unusual, except I had already heard it a few times recently. When I looked up at the scoreboard, Sam had already gotten a Turkey (three strikes in a row). Knowing how happy I am to get two in a row, I decided to watch and hope he would maybe get another.

He did. And another. And another. Each time his celebration got more demonstrative, more excited. Sam's high fives to his coach and teammates got more exuberant. It's rare to get a second chance at a celebration photo, much less a third or fourth. It gave me a chance to figure out an angle where I would see his face, his teammates and his lane devoid of pins, and figure out how to light it so I could see all of that.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Welcome to The Blink of an Eye

The moments go by so fast. Whether it's a baseball game or a portrait, they key moment flashes by in the blink of an eye. How do we pick those moments? How did we decide to use the particular picture that appears in your newspaper or online every day? Here's your chance to find out.

From time to time, "The Blink of an Eye" will give you an insider's look at the photographs the staff at the Mankato Free Press take every day. Some make the newspaper. Some (thankfully!) don't, but we'll tell you the stories behind them.

We hope that "The Blink of an Eye" will give you an entertaining and informative look at what goes on behind the camera as we're out on assignments taking pictures for The Free Press and the various other publications we shoot for. From time to time we'll also throw out some opinions on photography and journalism in general (and believe me, we have plenty of opinions to offer!).