Saturday, December 29, 2007

Looking back: Cat and mouse game

As I finish my personal retrospective of the year gone by I have to take a moment to remember one of the least favorite photos of the year to many of our readers, a photo I simply called “cat lunch.”

A trip to the Tracy Animal Shelter is always an adventure and it got even better when I discovered one of the shelter cats enjoying an afternoon snack. I can’t remember who hated the picture more, other staff members or the public in general. It somehow wound up as the cover of one issue and drew rave reviews being heralded as the best picture since we ran a dead calf on the cover.

Here’s to 2007!

Friday, December 28, 2007

Looking back: The saddest night of the year

Through all the days, all the assignments and all the pictures my thoughts often go back to one cold night in January. One winter night found me at West High amid a sea of grief as mourners came out to remember a classmate killed in a car accident.

I sometimes think I dwell too much on that night. It was probably the hardest thing I have ever had to do professionally, to point a camera at so much grief, so much despair. The loss of Mike Ucci and the serious injuries to three other students was an open wound to the community as we all reflected upon the loss that night.

Months have passed and I am sure for some of those mourners that gathered that night around the pole the emotional scars have healed. But when I view these photos it brings back the sadness I felt that night. Some assignments never quite fade away.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Looking back: 2007

The slide show for the Year In Pictures is now online and can be seen here.

Looking back: The danger zone

Police calls always add a helping of excitement to the daily news cycle and this year had its fill of tense moments with a number of bank and armed robberies around town. Most dangerous was a group who conducted take-over robberies of cell phone stores. This picture was from the second one, the third armed robbery in four days in Tracy. Tensions were high as officer secured the area around the store and searched for the suspects.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Looking back: Fight night

So what could have been the most unusual assignment I had during the year? That’s easy, imagine bulls, matadors and a group of men who proudly bear the title “suicide squad’ and you must be talking about the annual Portuguese bloodless bullfight. Amid the standing room only crowds, summer heat, lack of light at the poorly lit outdoor bullring at night and the fight that broke about between the crowd and some of the bull fighters I managed to squeak out this photo of a suicide squad member going for a ride early in the night. Ole’!

Monday, December 24, 2007

Friday, December 21, 2007

Looking back: Pucker up pork chop

Since I am looking through the photo files to make the Year In Pictures for the Tracy Press I decided to take a personal look back at my year behind the camera. The highs and lows, the happy and the sad, and the downright weird. Enter the pork pictures.

Now it is not often I get to take a pig picture so imagine my joy when I get the opportunity to see someone ham it up for the camera twice in one year. The annual “Kiss A Pig” contest at West high could only be surpassed by the ear-shattering squeals of “Broccoli” the pot-bellied pig oinking his happiness at receiving a kiss one night.

Home grown

The Year In Pictures

It was a year of tragedy and tears, a year of champions and change. The clock is closing on the end of this year and it is time to step back and take one last look at the people and events that shaped our community. But how do you sum up a year of news in a handful of images?

There are some pictures that I remember well, an apartment complex erupting in flames, a police officer responding to a robbery and the grief of a community of a young man taken too soon from us.

Not all the pictures are from sad times. We witnessed a championship season, the rebirth of a local landmark and the spectacle of a major road race passing through Tracy. Scattered through the days and thousands of pictures we take a picture of our town and community emerges, in good times and bad. Sometimes the view is unpleasant and can be so hard to witness but it is the view that shapes our lives.

We take one last look back at the year 2007. The Tracy Press will present the Year In Pictures as an online slide show at on December 30th.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

My young Jedi apprentice

I never have thought myself much of a teacher but I had to smile today as I watched my friend and fellow photographer Alice DeLaurier O’Neil hard at work photographing the dedication of a new public art piece at Lincoln Park.

It was fun watching as Alice got into the fray firing away with her Canon camera along side of me. Her shoot is top notch and can be seen here. I would run her pictures in the paper any time.

I kind of think of Alice as my young Jedi apprentice and I am teaching her the ways of the Force, or at least how to use the exposure compensation dial to correctly expose a backlit scene. She is a good student and she even turned the camera on me with no mercy. Yep, she is my student all right. Maybe I will turn her to the Dark Side of the Force? Naw, she doesn’t like Nikon cameras either.

Friday, December 14, 2007

'Tis the season, again

There’s nothing like the holidays. A time for family and friends to gather and enjoy the sights of the season. The holidays are also a time for traditions to be observed, lighting the Yule log, kissing underneath the mistletoe and a toast to the New Year. I have come to have my own holiday tradition and it is turning into quite the event. It is hard to describe and I guess the thing to do is it give it a name. I call it “The Dressing of the Dog”.

Two years ago the Animal Shelter staff thought it would be a fun idea to dress the Pet of the Week candidate in holiday attire. Our first victim was a young pit bull named “Brad” (Brad pit bull, get it?) and he put up a small fight as the animal control officer wrestled a Santa hat on top his head.

Last year the Christmas attire was upgraded to include a sweater and booties. A sad looking puppy stuck his tongue at me as he suffered through the humiliation of being dressed up in full view of all the cats for his photo. Oh the humanity he must have thought

Moving forward to this year I had forgotten about the shelter’s yearly tradition until I arrived late Friday afternoon to take the picture. A busy week had pushed the weekly photo shoot to the last possible second and as I walked into the shelter office they greeted me with a bag of clothes and the news they had a willing subject for the Christmas picture. “Ty” a young mix breed would be our holiday model.

It seems like every year the Dressing of the Dog is a little different. Last year featured the introduction of the sweater. This year would showcase a new clothing item, the Christmas tie. Back were the ever-popular booties and Santa hat along with a green jingle bell collar. Let the festivities begin!

The first thing you notice is the dogs know what’s coming. At first they may think that they are heading out for a walk but one glimpse of those mittens and they know their fate is sealed. A frantic tug at the leash is to no avail, they must face the camera.

So they decide to dress “Ty” outside and the first article of clothing to go on are the mittens. Now dogs would rather chew their own paws off than wear a pair of mittens so the fight was on. “Ty” was slicker than a greased pig and even managed to slip out of leash. But with those mittens on he had no chance to make a break for freedom. Bells came on next slipped over his neck followed by a bright red tie with a picture of Santa riding his sleigh on it. I could see the look in his eyes, he just wanted to go back into his kennel and cry but we pressed on.

We walked him to the middle of the parking lot and made sure his Santa hat was on just right with the fluffy white ball hanging down over his ears. Usually I have problems with dogs during the Pet of the Week assignment, some won’t sit still, turn the wrong way or just want to play. “Ty” was more sedate, the costume zapping his will.

Every now and then he would turn to look and make sure none of the other dogs were watching him as he parade on the parking lot like a demented elf. I tried to shoot quickly so he could get out of his holiday getup as quick as he could. It’s the holidays I like to show goodwill to all, even dogs.

Everyone at the office thought the photo was cute, the editor even thought about adopting the dog. Heck if the photo helps him get adopted I suppose it doesn’t hurt anyone to dress for the season. But no bunny ears for Easter, I’m drawing the line there!

Happy Holidays and Merry Christmas to all!

Dueling reporters

You can almost hear the banjo music.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Fire in the hole

Nothing brings a smile to my face like an email from a Tracy Fire department division chief inviting me to photograph flames during a training session.

Tracy Fire took possession of a new flashover simulator they will use to train new and old fire crews with live fire drills. Consisting of a 40-foot-long steel trailer it contains a fire and allows crews to feel the heat, smoke and near zero visibility conditions they will face in a real structure fire.

Not being able to burn abandoned house or structures for training has been a problem for crews but the new trailer will allow them to train any number of crews in the trailer whose fire is fueled by wood pallets and particle board located at one end of the trailer.

Not having a breathing apparatus and fireproof camera my shooting is pretty much limited to the outside actions of the trailer. I did manage to squeeze in to the back of the trailer with fire crews as they get a quick lecture on the fire dynamics and how the trailer works. I manage to get a couple cool photos of the fire rolling up the ceiling of the trailer before the smoke gets to think for me to shoot and I have to retreat.

Overall it was a fun assignment and I keep thinking one day I will have talk myself into a set of turnouts and breathing gear for a closer look at the fire. Now if I could just find an asbestos camera I would be set!

Tuesday, December 11, 2007


I don’t know why people say I drink too much coffee, I am as calm and as steady as can be. Well, maybe I might be a little jittery from all the caffine. Just a little.

Sunday, December 9, 2007

Sign of the times

What's scary is I remember having a conversation almost exactly like this one.

Friday, December 7, 2007

Dazzling display

Like a yearly trip to see Santa a photo assignment to Loma Prieta Court in Tracy is turning into my holiday tradition. Michael Murphy and his family turn their house into a light spectacular.

The home features 20,000 lights on the house, fence, trees, shrubs and yard. Two 20-amp lines are dedicated to feed the lights that are controlled to cycle and flash to music.

I visited the home again and the best time to shoot the display is just at dusk as there is still enough light in the sky to show the house but still capture the warm glow of the lights.

I don’t really try to color balance the lights; I like the different tints from the strings of incandescent bulbs. A high ISO sensitivity setting gives me a fast enough shutter speed for the available light exposure.

Thursday, December 6, 2007

Show a little love

I was shooting a column photo of a local veterinarian who will write a column for the Our Town Section and I needed a prop for the photo and boy did I get a big one. “Waldo”, a Great Dane would join the photo shoot and spice things up a bit. He was a big fellow for sure but calm and gentle as could. Right in the middle of the shoot he planted a big wet smooch on the vets nose. That will never make it to the paper but I still like it.

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Dressed for success

Students at West High model the latest in fashions from the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratories security force during a Career Day presentation. I was hoping for machine guns and maybe a laser or two. I had to settle for gas masks and night vision gear. I felt cheated.

A wild and wacky week so far

A mysterious death, puddles of blood with no victim and a drunk driver have made for an interesting start to my work week.

MONDAY: Just when I though the extent of crime drama I would see was a tree knocked over by a semi truck I found myself behind the crime scene tape in rural Tracy at the scene of a dead body found in a house. It was later determined the man died of natural causes but he had 600 marijuana plants growing in the bedrooms.

TUESDAY: Just when I am supposed to go photograph piano students practicing for a recital I was rerouted to Mac Arthur Drive where a drunk driver had careened through south side streets before crashing into a sound wall. The roadway was shut down for over an hour while they investigated the driver’s path.

WEDNESDAY: Driving to work this morning I spot what looks like the entire Tracy police force parked in front of an abandoned house on Grant Line Road bordered by crime scene tape. It seems a city building inspector checking an open door on the property discovered pools of blood and the imprint of a body in the grass nearby. It was later found to be a drunk that had fallen in a stupor and bled on the property.

It has been a crazy start to the week and the month. I can’t wait for Friday to see how many more crime scenes I can cover.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Shots for shots

It was flu shot day at the Tracy Press today. Brave employees one by one took their turn with the needle. In case you wondering this is what it looked like when the needle was heading toward my arm.

15 minutes of fame

Young "Brocoli" makes it on to the Associated Press wire.