Friday, April 27, 2012

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

The Elton John concert from behind the lens

My view of Sir Elton John, during the first song.
I enjoy shooting concerts. I admit it. The music, the lights, cheering fans. I like all of it. Sunday's Elton John concert in Mankato was no different.

It's tough to really enjoy the moment when I'm trying to get as many good photos as possible in the span of a couple of songs in challenging lighting conditions. It's those challenges, though, that make it so much fun. That, and and the brush with fame, of course!

Most major performers will only allow me to shoot during the first two or three songs of a concert, then I'm escorted from the arena. Of course, those two or three songs are usually from a pretty sweet spot, usually right in front of the stage or near the sound board.

Sir Elton's people granted photographers two songs, one from in front of the stage and slightly behind him so we could see him and the piano, and one song about halfway back on the floor on the same side of the arena, about where the MSU Mavericks men's hockey team comes out on the ice. A reasonable arrangement, but like most concerts I have to find and shoot my photos quickly.

Monday's A1.
The big names in music, the ones who've been performing a long time, know the limitations they've placed on photographers, and some will work with me to make sure I get the photos I need, though it's rarely a formal arrangement. After waving to the crowd from our corner of the stage, Elton John nodded down at me and A.J., a SportPiX photographer and the house photographer for the Verizon Wireless Center as if to see if we got the photo we were looking for from his intro.

Once he sat down to play though it was all business, for both of us. During his first song, coincidentally titled "The One," I was looking for just that: The one good, clear, creative picture of Elton. After that I had a little time to play with lighting, take some wide and some close ups, the usual stuff. Our spot for the second song gave me the opportunity to shoot some of Elton John through the crowd to give some context to the photos.

I don't think these are the best concert photos I've ever shot, but I'm happy with the results. I do wish I would've taken a little more time with my edit and picked a different picture to lead the front page of our print edition, but I'm not unhappy with what I used.

Below is the photo gallery the Free Press ran on our web site. It, along with Mark Fischenich's story, can be found here.

Friday, April 20, 2012

Friday Photo

Here is the beginning of a new feature on the blog, the Friday Photo (get it, FP, Free Press, Photo Friday. Clever, right?). My hope is to simply post a photo I've seen or shot over the past week I find interesting. Hopefully everyone else will too.

I'm an aviation buff, everything from World War II to today. I'm also a space buff, so this one just seemed natural to me. Enjoy.

This handout photo provided by NASA shows the Space shuttle Discovery, mounted atop a NASA 747 Shuttle Carrier Aircraft, flying over Washington skyline, including the Washington Monument, as seen from a NASA T-38 aircraft, Tuesday, April 17, 2012. Discovery, the longest-serving orbiter will be placed to its new home, the Smithsonian's National Air and Space Museum's Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center in Chantilly, Va.   (AP Photo/NASA, Robert Markowitz)

Monday, April 16, 2012

Looking Forward to a Soldier's Homecoming

In an effort to be as objective as possible, photojournalists do their best to be the proverbial flies on the wall and dispassionate observers when covering news events.
We try not to be noticed so not to encourage participants of a news event play for camera and to remain emotionally detached to ensure our photographs capture a fair representation of what transpires.
At least in a perfect world, that's what we aspire to.
But sometime in the next several weeks, I likely will be covering an event where I will be an enthusiastic participant and unabashedly wearing my emotions on my sleeve.
For the last 12 months, about 2,300 soldiers of the Minnesota National Guard's Red Bulls have been serving in Kuwait, providing support as the U.S. military forces withdraw from Iraq.
The first group of Red Bulls returned to Minnesota this past weekend and the remainder will be coming home sometime in the next several weeks.
Among them will be my daughter's husband, Sgt. Nathan Fenske, a member of the New Ulm-based 125th Field Artillery and Headquarters Battery.
This is his second deployment with the unit.
His first was an extended 22-month period in Iraq when the situation was much less secure in that region.
They returned to New Ulm from that duty in July, 2007, an event I had the opportunity to cover.
Even though I really had no emotional ties to any of the returning soldiers _ my daughter, Amanda and Nate didn't meet one another until 2009 and married late in 2010 _ it was difficult not to get caught up in the excitement and unbridled joy of families reuniting with their returning soldiers.
Nevertheless, my job was to shoot photographs and it wasn't too tough to find some very touching images.
One of them, shown here, instantly became one of my favorites.
Sometime in the next several weeks, my son-in-law and his unit will be coming home.
And as far as this journalist being an objective, dispassionate observer this time around, all bets are off.
To view a photo gallery of the Red Bulls returning in July, 2007, go here.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Photos of photographic history

I saved the best (in my opinion) for last. The photographic equipment scattered around the Free Press newsroom reflects a more hands on approach to news photography. Despite my age, I am not that far removed from using much of this stuff myself. In fact, in my last job in Fergus Falls, Minn., I used the exact same film scanner pictured here, and the enlarger and metal film developing tanks and reels are old friends from college.

Sometimes I miss those days. There was a magic to photography that is still hard to ignore. Don't get me wrong, digital cameras, computers and all the modern equipment we use today makes photojournalism easier in many ways. But those of us who learned how to make a print on deadline and push process film to get an extra stop out of it sometimes miss the "good old days." Of course, my colleague John Cross will laugh at me for that last statement since my professional photographic career only intersected the film era by a few years.

Nothing has really changed, though. The tools may be different but the goal is the same: Create the best, most creative, most storytelling photograph possible using the tools we have to the best of our ability. Photojournalists will always push the capabilities of our equipment as far as it will go. It's part of the creative process.

Enjoy these photographs of the history of Free Press photography.

Lighting kit.

Negative scanner.
Lamphouse of an enlarger.

Film developing reels and tanks in a box with a print from a past issue.

The steering wheel of the Nikon F.
Tmax P3200. The savior of sports photogs.

Happy Birthday Free Press!

The Free Press turns 125 years old today.

The Free Press technically wasn't the first newspaper in Mankato. The first newspaper in Mankato, the Independent, began in 1857 and later was named the Mankato Union. In 1880, the Union merged with its rival Mankato paper, the Record, to become the Mankato Weekly Free Press. The newspaper kept that name for the next seven years.

Then, on April 4, 1887, the first daily newspaper to serve the area was established.

Its front-page stories were about issues journalists continue to report on today. Stories of school budgets, political conventions, crime, deaths and city council meetings filled the pages. Looking through it gives a reader a glimpse of life in a fledgling Mankato in the late 1800s, something those journalists may or may not have been aiming for, but something that goes with the nature of one of the roles of a newspaper as a chronicle of a community's life.

There were no photos in that first Daily Free Press. The halftone process used to produce photographs on newspaper pages didn't become widely used until 10 years later. The press itself has come a long way since 1887. Our press, the popular Goss Community press, is nearly as old as I am but continually pumps out more than 21,000 newspapers a day every day, a task that punishes even the best equipment. As some of these photographs show, the old Goss may have some battle scars, but she still cranks out the pages every day.

Worn steps leading down to the press room.
Concrete pillars that once held up a press upstairs.

Control switches for the press.

One of the press unit's controls.
Yellow ink in one of the inkwells.

A locker room for press operators.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Another blast from the Free Press' past

Here are some more images from my journeys around the Free Press building. Since my last post I've been trying to figure out what these pictures say about the Free Press, and the newspaper industry in general. They certainly tell the story of a newspaper that has seen many changes in its 125 year history. Many have a "land that time forgot" feeling.

The more I look at them, though, the more I see resilience. As some things get put aside and collect dust others get used more and more. All those tools that get put aside remind us of where we've been, and as George Santayana wrote, "Those who cannot remember the past are doomed to repeat it."

Newsprint roll on the press.
Negative file.

Well-used keyboard.

Typewriter hammers.
Tracks for loading paper rolls onto the press.

Taking the Good with the Bad

Now into the first week of April, college and high school sports are ramping up big time.
Scheduling early season sporting events in this part of the country usually is an act of optimistic futility.
But for a change, Mother Nature is being pretty cooperative with all the record warmth and dry conditions that have dominated most of March and now, into early April.
I'm a pretty casual baseball and softball fan but as a photographer, it can be pretty pleasant duty.
On the best days, I'm outside soaking up the spring sunshine and getting paid to do it. Sure, there's that pesky duty of having to come back with a photo or two.
But on the worst days, days when the the wind carries a chill or worse, a snowflake or two and teams still play, it becomes a Job with a capital J.
Even the players themselves will confess that playing a game in cold weather is not very enjoyable.
I can remember from my old high school days that smacking a ball with cold hands wrapped around a frigid bat can sting pretty good .
Two weeks ago, I was covering a Bethany women's softball game. The weather had taken an uncharacteristic turn to more normal March weather and at game time, a cold wind was howling in from left field and low clouds carried the threat of rain.
And sure enough, barely into the first inning, a wind-driven cold rain mixed with a bit of hail began to fall.
The game soon was halted and teams retreated to the shelter of their dugouts, fans to their cars.
The game resumed 10 minutes later but the damage was done. Soaked from the earlier downpour and exposed to the wind, I was chilled through and through and fervently hoping some kind of action, no matter how minor, would happen so I could get back to the office.
Fortunately, there was a play at home plate in the bottom of the first inning that would suffice.
The softball gods were smiling on this photographer, even if Mother Nature was not.