Friday, March 30, 2012

Wrestler in a dark alley...

South High School's Jackson Wood in a dark alley.
Some kids are tough looking, some are tough talking, but Jackson Wood...he's just tough.

Wood,  who lost his first round match in the class 4A Colorado Wrestling Championships recently in the Pepsi Center in Denver, never gave up. He was able to put the loss out of his head and get right back to business winning the rest of the way in the 132-pound division to finish in third place. Wow!

So when I was thinking about shooting his photo I had to come up with a background that illustrated that this is a tough kid.

Where better to shoot a tough kid than in a dark alley? I did a little scouting around downtown Pueblo and was able to find the alley just to the west of Santa Fe Avenue behind Nachos Restaurant. It was exactly what I was looking for.

There were dumpsters, powerlines, grungy walls and a broken and gravely surface on the ground. Perfect.

I am not sure Jackson was real sure of what I was trying to do when we showed up to the alley and I explained how he was going to be in the alley in his wrestling singlet.  I explained it to him the best I could and he was great to work with. He even let me dump some water on his head to make it look like he was covered in sweat. It was about then that he really started to notice the wind that was whipping down the alley.

So I set up two lights. I put one on a light stand with a softbox just to my left to light him from the front. I also clipped one to a power box on the back of the building behind Jackson to give a bit of separation from the background.

Once the lights were in place, and I had dumped the last of my water bottle on Jackson's head, I started to shoot. I had several opportunities to get taillights in the background and the lights back there were awesome at slow shutter speeds.

I think we spend about 15 minutes shooting the photos, but to Jackson it most likely seemed a bit longer since he was exposed to the elements.

Nice work Jackson! (...both in the alley AND on the mat!)

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

A basketball, a sunset, and a Pringles can

Megan Patterson of South High School is the girls basketball playmaker.

I had been carrying the idea for the girls basketball "Playmaker" photo around in my head for a couple of months when it came time to shoot it. I was thrilled when I found out that Megan Patterson had been chosen as my subject. I photographed her once before when she was going to school at Delores Huerta Prep for a story on her shot putting and discus throwing.

(Megan will attend the University of Central Florida on an athletic scholarship for shot putting and discus.)

She was a joy to photograph both times.

This time I had a chance to talk with her and her parents for about a half an hour prior to photographing her. That was because I had not taken into account the fact that the clocks had recently been set to an hour later so the sunset was later than I had thought.

Once the sun dipped behind the mountains it was "game-on". I had about 15 minutes to get all the photos I could of Megan shooting layups.

I mounted a flash on a light stand just out of the frame on the left side and to control the light and keep it just on her face I used a very high-tech piece of equipment, a Pringles potato chip can. I cut the ends off and cover it with black gaffer's tape (to add some stability) and slide it over the end of my flash. It works very well.

So with the light in place, and the remotes on the flash and my camera, I stepped into the ditch across the road from the basketball court and started to shoot. I literally shot her so many times that the batteries in the camera completely died.

There had been a guy shoot some baskets on the other end of the court and for a brief minute thought about including him in the photo, but it just didn't work out. So I would wait for him to get out of the photo and shoot, shoot, shoot.

And then the sun went down on the photo shoot and I climbed out of the ditch grateful for a girl basketball player who is patient with a goofy shooter like me.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Making a SPLASH!

Pueblo South High School swimmer, Samantha Divelbiss.
The most recent round of "Playmaker" portraits was published in the Sunday edition of The Pueblo Chieftain. This was the athletes from the fall sports season. The first of the five was Samantha Divelbiss who was chosen as the playmaker for girls swimming.

I was thrilled that she was selected. I shot her senior portraits this past summer and she is a real joy to work with. She has a lot of fun with the whole photo thing. She comfortable in front of he camera and is very patient when it comes to my making adjustments mid-shoot.

I had this idea in my head and when I told her about it she was pretty excited. I enlisted the help of friend Raenie Pratt and we showed up at the South High School swimming pool just after the boys finished practice and as the Pueblo Swim Club was just starting their practice.

It didn't hurt that Samantha's mom is also the coach for the Pueblo Swim Club team.

I placed three lights strategically on the deck of the pool to light Samantha as I donned swim trunks and walked out from the shallow end holding my D3s camera with a 70-200mm f/2.8 lens and a pocket wizard remote in the hot shoe.

And yes, I was IN the pool. I needed to get the angle from in the pool to get what I wanted as far as her face.

Samantha had just come from a Cross-Fit workout. If you don't know anything about Cross-Fit, the best way I can describe it is that it is like aerobics on steroids! So she told me her legs were hurting. This was tough for her as when she would get into the starting position on the blocks it really stretched her sore muscles. Lifting her head multiplied the pain even more.

So I made a deal with her. I told her that I would count to three, and on two I wanted her to raise her head and then on three she would get hit with two buckets of water. This seemed to work, but I could tell she was hurting after about a dozen or so photos. So she would take a break every so often to stretch out her legs.

I often hear that the photo shoots we do for "Playmakers" can be as tough, or tougher than an athlete's practice. This time she just had to stay still and I think it may have been more painful than a full on practice. Ha, ha.

Samantha was a great sport and I would like to congratulate her again on a great high school career!  Way to go Sam!

To see the slide show of all five images go to:

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Those silly silhouettes

Wikipedia defines a silhouette as; the dark shape and outline of someone or something visible against a lighter background, esp. in dim light.

A group of young adults and teenagers play basketball.
Over the years I have made my share of photos where the subjects were in silhouette. I enjoy them, but I rarely go looking for them. They just kind of happen. Sometimes it is because the background is incredible and sometimes it is because the subject is not.

I still remember a portfolio critique I had with the director of photography at the Minneapolis Star when I was sill in college, (yes, they had cameras back then).

She told me that a silhouetted image in a newspaper was a cop-out and to shoot such a photo was just an example of laziness on the part of the photographer. I guess her words made an impression on me as I have remembered them all these years, but to be honest, I don't completely disagree with her.

Her point was that if you are going to take the trouble to photograph people you should be able to see their faces and get some good expressions. I agree. I do think that sometimes it can be a good thing to let the reader (viewer) use his/her imagination as to what the expressions on the faces of the subjects might be. I know that when I look at the image above of the basketball players, that I tend to see the subjects as faces of my friends or at least of young people I had seen playing before. You might even imagine yourself as one of the people in the photo since you can't see who they actually are.

A batter gets a hit during a softball game at a local park.
On the other hand sometimes I will use the silhouette in an effort to make an interesting photo from a pretty UNinteresting photo assignment. The softball photo at the right is just such a case. I had been assigned to get a photograph to illustrate softball as a recreational activity here in town. When I arrived at the diamond I found that there was a pretty unremarkable game going on and that to get an image that was going to grab someone's attention I was going to have to try something a little out of the norm in the way I approached the photo.

Fortunately for me the dusk sky here in Southern Colorado can make for a striking back drop to a silhouetted image. I try not to use it too often, but from time to time I don't think that it is a bad way to go.

I guess you might say that I get a little lazy from time to time.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

It's FotoCats time again!!!

The 2011 FotoCats class poses in front of Carlile.
It is time to dust off the digital cameras and stock up on juice bags and granola bars. That's right, It is time for another edition of FotoCats at Carlile Elementary School.

FotoCats is a photography class that I teach to a group of (no more than) ten 5th grade students at Carlile Elementary School.  We meet once a week for six weeks after school. Our classes are 45 minutes long. During that time I share the little that I know about what photography is, and what makes a good photograph.

After a few weeks of talking about it the kids get their hands on some digital cameras. We let them loose around the school first and then when they seem to be getting the hang of it we hold our breath and send the cameras home with the kids.

Each student is given the assignment to photograph "what is important to me". When they return to school we edit their images. With a little help the budding young photographers chose an image and an 8 x 10 print is made of the photo.  The photograph is then matted and framed.

After the framing is completed the real fun begins. The students, their families and members of the community are invited to a photo auction of their work. The kids are interviewed about their work, and each photo is auctioned off as the students walk around the room showing off their photo.

The cool part of this auction is that it really makes a difference. Oh sure, it is fun and cool for the kids in the class. They get recognition and some fun surprises, but there is more.

Prior to the event a family in need that is in the district, (not the same school) is selected and invited to the auction. The event is designed to benefit them right then and there. The past two years the families helped have had children who are leukemia survivors. In both of the last two years the families left the school with more than one thousand dollars in hand!

I have been blessed more than I could have ever have imagined by this event. I believe that God is doing His thing by making use of so many people from so many backgrounds to step up and make a difference.

Classes start in February and the auction will be Thursday March 22nd at 7pm in the media center at Carlile Elementary School. Please come and support these kids and be a part of making the difference!

Monday, January 09, 2012

Playmakers IV

Carlee Chain sliding & splashing her way through the playmaker photo shoot.
"Uuuuuhhhhh, okay?" Was how Carlee Chain responded when I explained to her what we were going to do for her "playmaker" photo shoot.

 I told her to get her varsity uniform and meet me in the front yard of my house. Oh, and I told her to bring a towel and prepare to get wet. I am sure that I totally confused the Pueblo East High School catcher. I doubt that it help things much when she showed up to find about 8 feet of black plastic staked into my front yard with a flash on either end pointed toward the middle. Ha!

So what we did was put this plastic down in the yard and stake it down with tent spikes. Then I placed a flash on a lightstand at each end of the plastic pointed at the place where I expected her to be in the middle of the plastic. I used a couple of Pocket Wizard radio remotes to trigger the flashes with the transmitter that I placed in the hotshoe of my camera.

After explaining to Carlee how I wanted her to back off and get a run and slide across the plastic my friend Joy Walker went into action. She made use of a plastic mop bucket to shuttle bucket after bucket of warm water from the bath tub in my house and dumped them on the plastic.

Carlee would get one or two slides out of the water and then Joy would be off again to get more water for the next shot.  After the first couple of slides I think Carlee was really starting to get the hang of sliding across the plastic.

When  I showed her a sample of what the photos were looking like on the screen on the back of my camera she seemed to be getting even more excited. She was a great sport and of all the photos I did for the fall "playmakers" I think that she probably was the athlete who had the most required of her for the photo.

I bet that when she had dried off and was driving away she was probably wondering something like, "What did I just do?"

But the best part of the photo isn't the lighting, or the action, or even the water. The best part was that if you look close inside of her batting helmet...she was smiling.

How cool is that?

Friday, December 30, 2011

Extreme sledding

Keeping it all in the family with a brother and sister sledding crash.
I have been interested in photographing sledding for as long as I can remember. There are just so many cool possibilities when it comes to sledding that I am like a kid in a candy store when I get the opportunity to shoot sledding.

-There is great opportunity for cool light, (and it can pretty much suck too) depending on the time of day you are out shooting.
-Backgrounds can be terrific even if it is the side of a viaduct, like the image above.
-There is a possibility for great speed.
- Colors of the sleds, parkas, hats, and snow can make for some vibrant images.
-There are great faces kids and adults alike.

but the real reason for shooting sledding is....FOR THE WRECKS!!!!

I enjoy shooting sledding for the same reason I used to enjoy shooting auto racing. It is all about the crashes! If you tell me that you watch NASCAR or IRL because you want to see who wins you are either lying or you are in some sort of pool. Sledding is the same way when you have a camera in your hand.

Sure, you can make cute sledding photos of little kids sliding down a hill but the best photos come when they get a little older, heavier, and gravity moves them a LOT faster!

I recommend using the longest lens you have. It keeps the backgrounds clean and gives good separation between your subject and the background. Longer lenses combined with fast shutter speeds and small apertures will help your image scream "SPEED". When you are able to freeze pieces of snow in mid-air you get a real sense of action.

I also suggest that you experiment with the angle you are shooting from both in relation to the light and also to the sledder. Very few good images are taken from the top of the hill so plant your self a the bottom and be ready to move if you have a sledder come at you at high speed with little control. (Another reason longer lenses are good. They give you escape time.)


Make sure that you dress for the cold. Shooting sledding can be addicting and you many just find yourself saying "I will go after one more run" over and over. The most important thing is to have warm feet and hands. There are many times I have returned from shooting some amazing extreme sledders with numb fingers and toes!

As a newspaper photographer I can only shoot what I find. You on the other hand have the freedom to manipulate the situations asking sledders to sled a specific part of the hill or hit a specific jump that you may have even helped construct in an effort to get the "ultimate" sledding photo.

Sleds in the air are a necessary ingredient to the recipe of making a good, exciting and action-packed sledding photo. So maybe you will want to keep a shovel in your trunk to not only help you if you get stuck but to help get that amazing sled-wreck shot!

And for the record, no animal was injured in the making of the above images. However, many a sledder when calling it a day made their way home with a host of new bumps and bruises.