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Friday, September 21, 2007

I hear and obey

Yes, I know, it's been forever since I posted anything to this blog. Mea culpa.

So, for all of my adoring fans out there -- both of you (Hi Krys! Hi Adam!) -- here's a gallery of images from the NASCAR Chevy Rock & Roll 400 run at Richmond International Raceway earlier this month.

I promise to better. Really.

Saturday, June 30, 2007

Fast Times at Richmond

Finally got my chance to see what all the Danica-mania is about as I'm spending the weekend at Richmond International Raceway with track photographer John Harrelson shooting the Indy Racing League festivities.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Rain delay

So, you're in the middle innings of a tight Super Regional baseball game when, suddenly--boom! Game delayed because of weather.

What do you do? What DO you DO?

(If you said "shoot the hostage," 10 points for your encyclopedic knowledge of the trivial -- but I think you might be reading the wrong blog.)

Why, you go hang out in the dugout and make pictures of the crazy things baseball players do. And believe me, they do indeed do crazy things. Unfortunately, I can only share some of them with you, because (a) this is a [mostly] family-friendly blog, and (b) I had the wrong lens out to shoot the guy who put on his uniform upside down -- complete with socks and cleats on his hands -- and I wasn't about to go charging off into a lightning storm to make that picture, no sirree.

I did make three nice pictures, two lightning shots and a really funny Howie Mandel impression.

How do you make a lightning picture?

Find a good scene--I worked the scoreboard until I had a frame I liked, then I moved into the dugout. Both times I exposed for the ambient light (the scoreboard for one, the field for the other) Then, I gently half-pressed the shutter, and waited...

...and waited...

...and waited some more...

Every time I saw a flash, I fired. I was using a relatively slow shutter speed, around 1/30th, to get more of the bolt in the frame. Obviously, it's a pretty hit-and-miss thing, and I shot A LOT of frames to get these two. (Fortunately, pixels are still free.) There were lots of bombs, a few sortas, one or two near-misses, and the two you see here. Stellar? No, but I'm pleased with them.

Of course, by this point the players given up harassing me, so they paid no attention to me as I wandered over to the glove-inflating contest. The fact that they couldn't see me from inside of the gloves probably didn't hurt, either.

Remember, an event NOT happening, or being interrupted, can be every bit as important as if it ended with a team winning or losing. Your editors, who have reserved a chunk of valuable space to fill with YOUR photos, will expect you to come back with SOMETHING to fill that space.

[RULE #1 of deadline photography: Always come back with a picture. An overall of the scene. A puddle of water at home plate. An expty stadium, to prove that you got sent on the wrong night. SOMETHING. ANYTHING. Because coming back empty-handed is unacceptable.]

And if they fill it with bowling scores instead? Well, it was good experience, probably a good story, and possibly a frame that will impress your future editor at your next job...

Saturday, June 9, 2007

Deconstructing an audio slideshow

Our own Apex Cougars girl's soccer team won the state title recently, and the crack Cary News multimedia team (me...with [more than] a little help from my friends) was there to record it for posterity. [Click here to see the audio slideshow]

Sports editor Tim Candon and I decided that this was a perfect opportunity to make an audio slideshow that would generate some buzz on the Cary News website. (Actually, Tim thought it was a good idea. I just nodded and went back to the scramble on the comics page.) So, once that was decided, I had to come up with a game plan.

"A game plan?" I can hear your gasp of disbelief from here.

Yes, a game plan. It's an 80-minute game (high school rules), there are lots of players, coaches and parents, and I didn't want to find myself buried in pointless images or a mountain of meaningless sound clips when I got back to the office. So I started brainstorming exactly what I would need to make a comprehensive presentation.

(I hear the Rocky Mountain News takes six months, a staff of 12 and a golden-egg laying goose to put something like this together. [Not that I'm bitter. Or jealous. Heavens, no.] Me, I have...well, me, and a sports editor sent from heaven who's more than willing to dive in and help.)

I broke the problem into two areas: sound and images.

Sound would drive the slideshow, as it usually does for me. (Good, relevant audio is an absolute necessity for any multimedia production. People will forgive bad pictures, and jumpy video, but bad audio will send them clicking right off of the page.) Having covered more state championships than I like to think about, I knew that the PA announcer would give me the intro and explanatory clipss that I needed: "Welcome to the NCHSAA 4A state soccer finals, featuring the Apex Cougars and blah, blah, blah." I needed early sound of cheering fans. I needed to be in the team huddle before the start of the game. I would need the PA again for any Apex goals, and I would need the final score and announcement of Apex as the state champions. I'd like to have the ten-second countdown to end the game. I'd want crowd reaction from any Apex goals. I'd want team react as time expired. And I'd want post-game quotes from the MVP and seniors.

Images were easy to come up with. Fans. Team huddles. Sidelines. Game action. Goal reactions. More sidelines. More fans. Postgame reaction.

The only problem was that I had to do both, which meant I was (at least) two hands short.

Enter sports editor, stage left.

While I gathered most of the pregame audio, Tim took over the recorder for the pregame huddle, and stood guard on the sidelines for fan reaction and all of the other post-game necessities, freeing me up to shoot the pictures we would use in the paper, an online gallery and the slideshow itself.

Was it a perfect setup? No, and that's mostly my fault. I gave Tim the recorder tutorial as we were standing on the field. It honestly didn't occur to me to have him help me out until that very moment. (No, I'm not the brightest bulb.) He gathered a lot of repetitive stuff, and stuff that wasn't necessarily relevant to the slideshow, that took some extra time to edit through. And he was juggling a notebook and recorder during several of the postgame interviews, which was a challenge for him and made for some interesting extraneous sounds for me to edit around.

But by gosh and by golly, we DID IT. And we did it as a team.

It probably won't win any awards, but it tells the story, tells it creatively and well, and (judging by the feedback) the community likes it.

We helped ourselves out by shamelessly promoting the slideshow in print, and in several places on the website-but let's face it, what's the point of putting in that much effort if you're not going to give people every opportunity to find the darn thing?

What did I learn from this? As an avowed "lone wolf" who is very much used to doing this sort of thing on my own, it was a pleasant eye-opener to see how much more and how much better of a job I can do with help. And I learned that I might want to do the training a little bit earlier in the process. But mostly, I reinforced the idea that prior planning really does make a huge difference on the back end.

Could I have done it by myself? Yes...but it wouldn't have been as good, because I would have been forced to pick one or the other medium at any given moment, and I would have missed things.

So, what have we learned today?

• Plan ahead. Know what you need to have for both audio and images. (Especially key if you're working alone)

• Work tight. The less extra stuff you have to edit through, the faster you can get the finished product online. (Especially key if you're working on a "due 5 minutes ago" deadline)

• If you can spread the workload out, do it. But don't wait until the last minute to make that decision.

• In the long run, we do this for the community. Not for ourselves -- although that's certainly a part -- and not for our peers, FOR THE COMMUNITY. That's our job, in whatever medium we choose to work in. The final product may not be (and probably won't be) perfect, but as long as it tells the story, and tells it well and with respect, it will be more than good enough.

Wednesday, June 6, 2007

(Mostly) Free (but priceless) multimedia software

As promised several weeks ago...and just a few weeks late.

Blog Hosting:

Audio Editing Software:
Audacity (Free, Mac and PC)
Garage Band (Mac only, part of Apple's iLife suite)
Switch (Free, Mac and PC, used for converting .wav files to .mp3)

Image Editing Software:
iPhoto (Mac only, part of Apple's iLife suite)
Adobe PhotoShop Elements ($99 new, Mac and PC)
GIMPshop (Open source, Mac and PC)
Picasa (Free, online, Windows only)

Audio Slideshow Software:
SoundSlides ($39, Mac and PC)

Video Editing Software:
iMovie (Mac only, part of Apple's iLife suite)
Windows Movie Maker (Free, bundled with Windows XP, Windows only)

Video Conversion Software
Riva VX (Haven't tried this one yet, but it looks good!)

Keeping track at the track

There is so much action going on at a track meet it can be overwhelming.

I was fortunate to be offered the opportunity to shoot the NCAA Division II Outdoor Track and Field meet in Charlotte, N.C., by Jamie Schwaberow of NCAA Photos last weekend. It was bloody hot, and the work space was (to put it politely) a bit small for the job, but the volunteers, meet officials and athletes were top notch.

The problem with covering a track meet is two-fold.

One, there's so much going on at one time it wouldn't help if you were triplets. High jump, pole vault and discus are competing as the 100-meters hurdlers are screaming down the track. Everywhere you look, it's running, jumping and pictures galore--but where do you start? And what are you missing over THERE while you're over HERE?

Two, because of all the pandelerium, it's very tempting to wimp out and make the "easy" pictures so you can try to get to every event. Hurdles--snap! High jump--click! Discus--duck! (Only once, fortunately, and it wasn't really that close. But I don't turn my back on those folks, or the javelin throwers...for obvious reasons.)

A word of advice on taking the easy way out: DON'T.

Sounds pretty trite, doesn't it? But it can be done.

How? First off, tell yourself "I will miss pictures...and I won't cry."

Once that's out of the way, you can move on to planning. Get to the track early, before the competition starts. Scout the locations of the different events, and compare them to the handy schedule you should have close at hand. Is the long jump pit close to the high jump? Is the pole vault close to the 4x200 meter handoff zone? Remember that high jump, pole vault and most of the other field events have several flights (groups) that get at least 3 attempts before winnowing down to the eight- or nine-member championship flight. High jump and pole vault can go on (seemingly) forever, with the elite comeptitiors waiting until very late in the event to make their first jumps, so you have opportunities to float in ad out of these events between the running events.

A few key items to remember: background, angles, peak action and emotion. Pictures live and die on their backgrounds no matter what you're shooting. Track is an especially difficult sport in which to find clean backgrounds, but keep moving and looking until you find the best possible angle for every event. Climb up in the stands, lay down on the ground, switch up lenses and and shoot wide open, but work it until it's as good as it can get. And while clean is good, don't be afraid to make a background work for you. I saw the background of the picture at the top of this post while walking behind the javelin takeoff lane, and sat and worked it for almost 30 minutes until everything came together. I specifically framed the steeplechase photo below to include the scoreboard with "Johnson C. Smith."

Peak action is pretty self-explanatory.

Emotion is the lifeblood of sports photography. A pole vaulter clearing a bar is...well, not something I could ever do, but still, it could be happening anywhere, anytime. Give me a pole vaulter screaming on the way down after clearing 19 feet any day of the week. Or maybe two N.C. Central runners (at left) sharing a quiet moment before one of them absolutely dusts the field in the 400 meter.

Finally, don't be scared to take chances and give yourself extra opportunities to make a picture you couldn't make otherwise. I carried a 20D with a 20mm lens around as a remote body that I moved all over the track as I cycled between events. I put it under the netting for the discus (a place I would never be allowed to shoot), on the foul line for the javelin, in a turn for the distance races, and next to a hurdle, just to name a few spots. The shot at left was next to the water hazard of the 300 meter steeplechase, another spot I couldn't be. Of the 10 or 12 different locations, I made maybe 5 pictures--but they were 5 pictures that I wouldn't have made otherwise.

In closing, plan ahead, accept that you'll miss some frames, and...don't freak.

Monday, June 4, 2007

One-light wonder

It's amazing what you can do with one off-camera strobe and a little help from your friends.

The assignment from sports editor Tim Candon was a portrait of Cary High School tennis phenom Justin Radloff. Conveniently enough, uber-portrait-shooter Jeff Camarati (he of the no web page) and I had been discussing just this very type of shot the week before.

Unfortunately, my crutch Jeff wasn't available to do it for me help out, so I headed off to the courts to fend for myself.

Fortunately, Justin is a great guy who was more than willing to get into the shoot after he finished trouncing Tim in a fast game (sorry, no pictures of that -- I promised Tim I wouldn't embarass him). So with a single SB-80 on a stand to camera left, we spent about 20 minutes having Tim throw tennis balls as I convinced Justin to break every rule of good tennis form in pursuit of the perfect picture. And if I do say so myself, I think we did a pretty good job.

For the mechanics, I metered the ambient exposure and underexposed by about two stops to bring the sky and clouds down and make Justin "pop." I'm lying on the ground (one of the top 10 techniques they don't teach you in photo-j school) and pointing a prefocused 15mm at Justin. When I yelled "go," Tim would toss a ball in the air, Justin would jump and I would pull the trigger while praying that he didn't sprain an ankle...

As always, many thanks to David Hobby at Strobist for his invaluable inspiration on off-camera lighting techniques.