Friday, December 29, 2006

Train troubles

Our friends at Union Pacific have given me some good photo opportunities this year.
Box car fires, tumbleweeds on the rampage, it has been a fun time photographing life near the tracks. I got one last surprise for the year this morning when I walked into work and was told there was a derailment on the tracks at 4th Street and Central Avenue.

Railroad crews are kind of reluctant to have the media at their mishaps so I shot mostly from a distance with a telephoto lens to capture the line of cars with the derailed freight units leaning precariously off the tracks.

Thursday, December 28, 2006


This is the time of year when we pledge not to make the same mistakes over and over again. I have made many New Year’s resolutions, like drink less coffee and take more vacations but realistically, those aren’t going to happen.

I have decided to make this year’s resolution to be safer on assignment. No more driving across open fire lines, no more driving through flood waters and no more parking in air ambulance landing zones. Let’s see how long I can go before I break this one.

Wednesday, December 27, 2006


If you have been enjoying the new slideshow feature on the Tracy Press website you might be wondering how we make them. A recent poll taken on the Sports Shooter photography site said over 78% of photographers have created or are planning a multimedia project for the web. Odds are most of them are using Soundslides.

Created for the newspaper photographer Soundslides is a quick and easy way to upload images and sound files to the web. We start with rgb files saved in the jpeg format, add an MP3 audio file and end up with a slick slideshow.

Options allow us to change a number of things including the color of the background, show captions below the pictures and even change the amount of time each individual slide stays on the screen. As far as programs go it is one of the easiest to learn I have used.

In the coming year there will be more slideshows to share as we look to bring the multimedia world to our readers.

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

One last look back

When I describe the past year I always say it was a year of tragedy and triumph. There were plenty of good times and enough sorrow to last a lifetime.

Every year the Tracy Press puts together a collection of pictures that represent the best of our work from the year. It will be published on December 30th in the Our Town section.

This year we take our collection of images one step further with a slideshow of the Year in Pictures. The addition of slideshows to our online content has been a big change for the photo department letting us show more pictures from our assignments.

This slideshow is a slice of life from the year, the pomp and ceremony of a Presidential visit, the excitement of Little League playoff games, the loss of another soldier’s life.

No two assignments are the same; no two years are the same. I look back one last time at the year that was and ready for a new year’s adventures through the lens.

Monday, December 25, 2006

Water hazard

I didn’t have to look far to find which assignment I was most miserable at during 2006. One rainy day found me lost on a golf course, sopping wet as I found someone enjoying a rain-drenched round of golf.

One lone golfer in a rain suit braved thunderstorms to try and finish his round at Old River Golf Course, but a three putt on a rain-soaked 13th green made him call it a day. I had just enough time to photograph him playing his last hole.

His round over I drove the golf cart back to the clubhouse, barely able to see through the wind whipped rain battering the cart’s windshield I could only hope the search party would find my body if I drove into one of the lakes by mistake on the course.

Finally back at my car I drove home to change clothes and dry off my camera gear. There is nothing quite like the smell of a wet canvas camera bag as it took days to dray out.

Friday, December 22, 2006

Doggone cute

I have had more comments about this picture that any other I can remember in a long time. It seems people find this picture adorable, irresistible and cute.

It is hard telling who was more scared, the pit bull or me. The man who rescued the dog and the puppies warned me the pit bull was very protective and to keep my distance. You don’t have to tell me twice. I took the picture with a telephoto lens and always had my escape route to the door in sight.

I am amazed from the editor of the paper down to readers in the street find the picture amazing and ask what special technique I used to create the puppy portrait. It’s a mystery to me why it has such appeal, I am thankful I just didn’t wind up a chew toy.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Flat cat

It may be hard to look back at year’s worth of photos and try to decide what the best image was. But it was pretty easy to look back and see which one was the most hated. A picture of the sad demise of a cat on a stretch of Corral Hollow Road became my most infamous picture of the year.

A business owner called me one day to tell me of cat outside his business that had the indignity to have a fog line painted across him after his untimely end. I took a photo that showed the path the striping truck that never swerved away to avoid the carcass in the road.

Readers did not appreciate the appearance of the flat cat, which I referred to as “Mr. Fluffy”, in the paper. It did not help that a few weeks earlier we had published a picture of a cow that died in the summer heat wave. Readers were not happy with the parade of dead animals on our pages.

Although the photo might have offended some it did persuade the road crew to remove the cat and repaint the fog line.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Artistic license

One thing that 16 years of photojournalism has done to my shooting is that I sometimes think my artistic creativity has dwindled. Going after the hard news shot, the story telling image I sometimes think there isn’t much room to show the artistic side of my photography. I guess sometimes I have to try a little bit harder to take a cool photo, even at a fire.

I was looking through the photos I had taken through the year and I came across this shot from the boxcar fire that raged on the rail lines off Sixth Street.

I had labeled this shot as “box car arson fire5” one of seven images I turned into the editors that day. This particular shot of a fire department captain fighting the fire near a section of graffiti on the burning car was never published.

I had shots of flames rolling out the car, the thick clouds of black smoke pouring over the firefighters, all told the story well. This shot however was a little different. This picture alone you really couldn’t tell where or what was on fire. But with others it told more of a story of the car that was burning, how it was covered with graffiti and an eyesore long before the fire.

I really like the shot; I am pleased I actually took the time to frame the skull looming over the fireman. It may not be a great news photo but it certainly is one of the most creative fire photos I have taken in a long time.

Nice light

There are times when I am on assignment I see an image and it is too good to resist not firing off a few frames even though I know it will never see publication.

I was on assignment at the Kagehiro Building taking a tour with its new tenants. While we were walking around I saw a co-worker silhouetted in the arch windows and the light was too nice not to snap a picture. I’m a sucker for silhouettes and the light was just right, a nice airy feeling. Sometimes I can be artistic after all.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Light speed

It may look like Christmas a tree traveling at warp speed but to tell the truth everything in the picture is standing still. This is an old trick I haven’t used in a long time.

I was shooting the holiday light show and it had not been the most exciting event I have been to. Now to spice things up a little I employed an old photo trick of zooming in and out during a long exposure.

I chose a small aperture that gave me a shutter speed of a half second. Using a wide-angle zoom I twisted from the widest focal length to the longer focal length. The change was not quick enough to not record most of the detail in the scene but rewarded me with a n exciting set of lights streaking from the Christmas trees.

Now I would never use this in a news assignment for the Tracy Press but it is just cool enough to find a home in my Christmas cards this year.

Monday, December 18, 2006

The Birds

There is an eerie sound outside the Tracy Press office at night. Among the sounds of the cars passing by you hear the squawking of hundreds of crows roosting in the trees for the evening. You can just make out their outline in the evening sky as they circle above the trees looking for a place to land.

We had been meaning to grab some pictures of them around downtown so I aimed my camera at the nearest tree with an electronic flash attached to illuminate them in the dark. I found out something I never knew about crows. They hate electronic flashes.

With every picture I would take it looked as if the top third of the tree was exploding as crows flushed from their evening rest. They would wheel around for a few minutes then land and squawk until I hit them with the flash again.

Sunday, December 17, 2006

Pigeon Point

It’s a rare day when I take a picture just for me. Between the news and sports assignments when I am on my off time I rarely pick up a camera. But I have always had an interest in lighthouse and this summer I made pilgrimage of sorts to my first lighthouse.

I made the trip to the Pigeon Point Light Station, now a state park south of San Francisco. I shot almost 400 hundred photos of the grounds and view of the pacific Ocean and of all the images this view of pelicans skimming the wave tops is my favorite of that day.

Shot with a small 70-200mm zoom the wave's spray was frozen with a shutter speed of 1/2500 of a second. It was a simple picture to take, follow focusing on the pelicans as they peeled off the formation to search for food in the waves.

I made a gallery of my trip to the lighthouse online to share with other and even though the star of the page is the rust-stained lighthouse tower I still look back and smile of my photo of the pelicans on the wing. Even if doesn’t have flames and lots of action I think it is one of the best photos I took this year.

Saturday, December 16, 2006

Zero Seven Tracy

I was roaming the Apple Computer homepage when I came across a link to a new documentary movie. The site was on the Apple page because it was made entirely on Macintosh computers. But what caught my eye was the subject, civil airport aviation.

Brian J. Terwilliger captured the adoration of flying with his movie “One Six Right” starring the people and planes of the Van Nuys Airport in southern California.

The documentary discusses both the love of aviation and the plight of the local airports which he reports closing at a rate of one per week in the United States. It is fascinating topic and deserves a viewing.

Looking at the site I could help but think of our own airport located just to the south of town. I have had many assignments there and above Tracy with local pilots flying from those two runways. I would hate to think of a time like in the photo above when we could no longer roll into final approach to Runway Zero Seven Tracy.

Friday, December 15, 2006

On assignmnet

I always keep my eyes open on assignment; you never know when you will stumble across something good. While shooting an assignment for the Sun Post newspaper at the Stockton Metro Airport I stumbled across this behemoth.

The story was on a pilot who flies all over the world including some danger spots in Iraq. While taking his photo on the airport tarmac I waited for a circling Air Force jet to get in the picture.

The pilot told me the plane was C-5 Galaxy cargo jet out of Travis Air Force base. When the pattern at Travis is too full for practice landings the jets often turn to the relatively empty skies over Stockton.

I tried to frame the pilot and the jet together but in the end the picture didn’t work well. But as it climbed out over the runway I fired off a few frames as it arched up into the clouds.

I know we will probably never use this photo but I still think it is a cool photo. Sometime the best pictures I take on assignment are just for me.

Photoshop CS3

Adobe has announced a new version of the digital imaging software Photoshop is underway. A public beta version of Photoshop CS3 is now available from their website.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Freeze frame

Two photographers at the same football game, standing 30 yards apart, two different cameras, two different lenses, what are the odds we capture the same picture, the same instant?

I was covering the Tracy High sophomore football home game against Lincoln of Stockton and one of the last frames I took was a pass play into the corner of the end zone. I followed the receiver, follow focusing on him as he stretched out for the ball and held down the shutter release for a motor drive sequence. My photo is above right.

Imagine my surprise when looking at the pictures on the camera’s screen the moment of peak action I caught was obscured by the flash from fellow photographer Wayne Thallander a journalism teacher at Tracy High who was also covering the game. His picture, at left, suffered from me being in the frame to the right of the action with my camera.

We both had the same moment captured from two vastly different angles. I dont't think I could do this again if I shot a hundred football games. I guess great minds think alike.

What the Duck

One of my favorite cartoons of all time was Bloom County. I followed their adventures which included life at the Bloom Picayune newspaper. There aren’t a whole lot of cartoons that follow the lives of journalists and even fewer that deal with photographers. But photographers can find a cartoon series dedicated just to them as they follow the struggles of surviving in the wonderful world of professional photography in “What the Duck”.

Created by Aaron Johnson to be used as a “blog filler” when a fellow blogger was on vacation, the comic strip has generated a loyal following of photographers who can relate to the flock of photographing duck’s daily struggles to earn a buck in the cut throat world of photography.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

'Tis the season, again

Different year, same assignment. I just got back from the Tracy Animal Shelter from shooting the pet of the week assignment, one of the many features that appear in the Our Town section. Space is tight for this week’s issue and we were not going to shoot the assignment this week until they told me they were dressing up the dog in a Christmas outfit.

I remember last year’s adventure with “Brad” pit bull so I was ready for anything. Animal control officers had even practiced getting him dressed so things would go smooth. I learned two things today: Dogs don’t like sweaters and dogs dislike mittens even more than sweaters,

Our model this year, “Bongo”, a Labrador mix, endured the humiliation of being dressed in his bright red outfit in front of all the cats in the shelter and then suffered through his photo shoot like a trooper, those big sad eyes begging me to take the mittens off. I hope he finds a home this Christmas after all that.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

'Tis the season

I’ve been saving this picture for a year. On assignment to the Tracy Animal Shelter last December I was told they were going to dress up the pet of the week for his picture.

A pit bull named “Brad” was going to wear a Santa hat and hold a Christmas stocking for his photo. I asked animal control officer Lisa McDonald to wait until I got my camera ready so I get a shot of young “Brad” ripping her arm off as she coaxed him into the hat.

Needless to say, “Brad” didn’t want to go along with the program. We managed to get a shot of him with the Santa hat near his head and I got a cool photo for my Christmas cards this year.

Image editing

I use Photoshop everyday at work to process my digital photo files. It is the industry standard for newspaper photographers and can crop, size, color-correct and enhance image files. I know enough to get my pictures processed but I haven’t scratched the surface of the program’s artistic abilities.

For all it strengths it does have drawbacks. It is not designed for storage of files, cataloging or archiving. The new CS2 version of Photoshop has RAW file import ability but it is chunky to use at best. So what is a photographer to do?

Two new entries are challenging Photoshop’s dominance in the image editing field. Apple Computer’s Aperture program and Adobe’s Lightroom both offer a slimmed-down photo program with an emphasis and storage, editing, and RAW file support. Aperture is available now while Lightroom is still in beta development but both offer free trial downloads.

Which one would I choose? Apple’s offer puts an emphasis on RAW file support while Lightroom sounds like it is trying to make the editing process easier with comparison previews and contact sheet views of files.

I am going to keep an eye on reviews on both programs before I decide which one to add to my computer for the bulk of my image editing work.

Monday, December 11, 2006

Air Force One

I’ve shot almost 900 assignments so far this year and it’s hard to remember all of them. I had a few sad times, a few dangerous ones, and even some funny moments come to mind. But one assignment stands head and shoulders above the rest and is my choice for best assignment of the year. It has to be the arrival of Air Force One.

President George Bush arrived in Stockton to stump for Congressman Richard Pombo and his 747 jet serial number Special Air Mission 29000, known as Air Force One when he is onboard was a sight to behold when it touched down on the Stockton runway in the early evening.

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Holiday lights

Take a drive through most neighborhoods these nights and you are greeted with a winter wonderland of colors. I have already had a few assignments so far this month to photograph these holiday light displays. Some homes are lavish brightly lit scenes with computer-controlled lights such as this home on Loma Prieta Court.

The challenge in shooting holiday lights is trying to keep enough detail in the home and grounds so you don’t have pictures of just the lights floating in a sea of black. We try to take the pictures as close to dusk as we can when there is still some light in the sky to help fill in the shadow but you can still see the glow of the lights.

Another trick I do is to set my camera’s exposure meter to over expose the scene by about 2/3 to one full f-stop. That gives me some details in the shadow areas like the tree in this photo. If the lights go a little overexposed that’s ok because I think it adds to the effect. The only real danger I have is shooting at slow shutter speeds so be wary of camera shake. A tripod or monopod could come in handy to steady your shots. With a digital camera you can always take your look and increase your exposure to get the look you like.

Saturday, December 9, 2006

The year in pictures

The end of the year is approaching fast and I have to take a moment to look back at a year’s worth of assignments. From fires to flood to funerals it has been a challenging year to photograph. Presidential visits, bloodless bullfights and police SWAT team callouts all passed before my lens, it has been a quite a year.

The Tracy Press will take one last look back at the year in pictures with a special feature in the December 30th Our Town where the photography staff will share our favorite images captured through the year.

One of my favorite photos from the year has to be the Portuguese bloodless bullfights that concluded the Festa celebration. Among the hundreds of pictures I took was this one of the Suicide Squad members and their attempt to tackle the bull. That just had to hurt.

Cheerios test

Some people may think that just because I take a photo it is destined to appear in print. Nothing could be farther from the truth. A photo usually goes through a couple of sets of eyes as editors select which photos will appear in print.

We apply a basic set of rules to our selection process, does it tell a story is it visually interesting does it add to the composition of a news page. Among the criteria a picture undergoes is the dreaded “Cheerios” test. Would you want to see this picture while reading the paper at your breakfast table? Usually such tests are only administered to graphic accident photos, until one night I was assigned to photograph the downtown wine stroll. At the corner of 9th Street and Central Avenue I stumbled upon Chris Sena and Chris Martinez. They were trying to drum up business for the Spirit Halloween store modeling a pair of their costumes. Sena was dressed as a beer keg and Martinez donned the breathalyzer outfit.

While editors found the costumes amusing the breathalyzer outfit was deemed too risqué for publication and banished to a spot on the wall above my desk. I don’t know, I think we could have run the shot and I am interested in what readers think, should we have published the picture or not?

Brave new world

Standing in a high school darkroom 28 years ago I took my first steps into a brave new world. Standing at a dimly lit sink I watched my first photographic print emerge in the darkness. It was a small step that many years later would lead me to my career in photojournalism.

Much as changed in the time from my first step into photography. Film cameras have given way to digital imaging. Long gone are the days of developing tanks, reels and enlargers, replaced by memory card digital imaging programs and computers. And in this new digital photography age the way we look at photos is evolving too. My photographs now find their way onto web sites, online slideshows and galleries.

One more way to reach readers is through blogs. I have been on a shared photography website called SportsShooter for almost a year. It has been a good experience sharing ideas, tips and photographs with fellow photography and now I join other Tracy Press staff members with a blog of my own on our web site. I’ll share some of the work experiences, tips of the trade and knowledge of photography as I explore this brave new world on the web. I see an exciting future for photography in the coming years with podcast, photocasts and slideshows as the way to bring images and stories to more readers in an exciting digital format. I look forward to entering a brave new world of photography in the digital era and hope you will follow along.