Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Odd angle

This one comes from the wire as Associated Press photographer Gerald Herbert demonstrates the quickest way to get scratched off the list of photographers for the White House press corps as takes pictures of President Bush gesturing from behind the podium as he makes remarks on the economy during an address at Federal Hall in New York, Wednesday, Jan. 31, 2007.

I actually like the shot.

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Happier times

The last few days have seen too much sadness in our town. The events of the weekend sting like an open wound. On assignment to Tracy High today I found more students in grief as they mourned the loss of teacher David Byrns. Too much sadness in the air.

Back at the office I told the editor no more sad assignments this week, I needed something happy to photograph. I know that’s not the way it works. You get what comes and if you can’t take it then you are most likely not cut out for this job.

When things get too dark and the weight gets to heavy I always think about things that make me smile. The sight of an airplane twisting through the sky at an airshow has always been my favorite subject to shoot and I need to give myself that assignment soon.

These sad days will pass, but more will come all to soon and once again I will look to the sky for happier times.

Sunday, January 28, 2007

Witness to tragedy

In my 16 years as a professional photographer I cannot remember a harder assignment than the one I just returned from. Standing in the West High parking lot I joined hundreds of West High students, family members and community residents in mourning the death of 17-year-old Michael Ucci.

Michael was killed in a car crash Saturday night and as word of the tragedy spread students from West High organized a candlelight vigil to remember him and pray for those also injured in the crash.

I had been to the scene of the crash earlier in the day. The accident happened when the car impacted the light pole at the entrance to West High. The crash was devastating, killing Michael and critically injuring the three other occupants of the car.

As I took photos you started to hear stories about him. He was great kid, everyone seemed to know him and like him and the grief was visible. Students and adults would come to the memorial at the base of the pole to pause, remember him and cry.

Now I have been to all kinds of news assignments: fires, floods, shootings, murder scenes and they are all just part of the job. I tend to think maybe I have become to hard at heart, as some things just don’t faze me anymore. However the sight of young people amidst a sea of grief is overwhelming and even I have my limits.

I tried to make my picture taking as unobtrusive as possible and went to the office where the pictures became part of a breaking news report on our web site. But I knew that I would have to face the grief of others one more time at a candlelight vigil that had been organized for Sunday night. I knew it would be emotional but I was surprised at what I found pulling into the parking lot.

It wasn’t a couple dozen students who showed up to mourn but a couple hundred. There were parents, friends, community members the parking lot was filled. Candlelight doesn’t provide the best photo opportunities unless you are very close so I gritted my teeth knowing I would have to the unthinkable and intrude on the grief of others.

The outpouring of grief was staggering. Everywhere I walked the sounds of sobbing filled the air. It is almost unthinkable to point a camera at a crying 16-year-old but yes to my shame I did it time and again. It is an unfortunate part of my job and one I do not relish at all.

Standing among the crowd it felt that the community as a whole had lost a son and in the chilly night air they gathered to share their grief. Man and woman, child and adults sobbed together as a pastor spoke of loss and hope and asked for our prayers for family and loved ones.

You would be surprised how much force it takes to press the shutter release, especially if wish you were miles from the sea of grief in front of you. I never wanted to make anyone feel worse and every shutter click seemed to resonate through the crowd. I have no idea if any heard it, cared about it or even knew I was there. But each and every one of the 202 exposures I took tonight hurt more than a little.

My condolences go out to the family of victims and I honestly hope no one was offended by the photography. You wouldn't think that it bothers seasoned veteran journalists but honestly we feel it too.

My college photojournalism teacher put a quote on the board one day by the famous documentary photographer W. Eugene Smith. It said, “It is hard to photograph through tears.” Those are words that haunt me today.

Friday, January 26, 2007

Fogged in

Running through the fog is a whole lot safer than driving through it. I found this dedicated runner braving the cold in Friday morning’s surprise fog bank. I like the quiet, almost ethereal look to this picture; I don’t take enough like this.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Live burn

It’s going to be a hot time when the practice burn assignments come in. These “live burns” as they are called give fire fighters a chance to train feeling the heat, working through the blinding smoke that they may have to face at a real structure fire.

Abandoned houses like this one in Lathrop are ideal for the training and end in a spectacular fire where the structure is razed to the ground. Someone suggested I don a set of fire tournouts and breathing gear for a closer look at the fire. I will have to work on that.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Dwindling numbers

I just looked at the Nikon cameras web site and was surprised by their camera listing. Long a leader in the world of 35 mm photography I took a peak at their film camera listing to see what was going on. I was saddened to see that this one time giant in the film camera world was down to only two film camera bodies.

I learned to shoot on a Nikon FM2 and then went on to use an F2A an F3, an F4 and my last film camera was their F100. That camera body was used to design their first generation digital cameras. The proud line of Nikon cameras is dwindling away.

Long gone into the pages of history are the Nikon F, the Nikkormats and the Nikon underwater film cameras. Gone the way of the Kodak Brownie and the Speed graphic cameras. I read a report that the sale of digital camera was expected to peak at 72 million while film cameras sales to slip to under 100,000. It’s just another sign of the times.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Dirt nap

Nothing can ruin an assignments like hearing the subject your photographing stop and say “Is that a dead body lying over there?”

There I was getting ready to take a portrait in Lincoln Park at the gazebo when those words rang out. I turned around to see a man laying face down in the grass and not moving. I was trying to decide whether to call the police on my cell phone or poke the body with a stick to see if he was actually dead when he stirred from his nap in the park.

That’s not the way to start most assignments, especially with someone leery of the camera but at least she had a good story to tell her family.

Monday, January 22, 2007


Although it may appear that a pair of pigeons is searching for signs of life in the universe atop a satellite dish on the Tracy Press roof they were actually looking for a roost for the evening.


While I am on the topic of crime scenes, how do you get an interesting photo from a crime that has happened well after you arrive at the scene? When I pulled up to the bank robbery at Washington Mutual you always hope for police officers with their AR-15 rifles at the ready (we love the scanner call for “permission to deploy the long rifle”, it makes us smile).

Unfortunately the robbery attempt was long over and all I have is the investigation to photograph. While I was taking a picture of a crime scene technician fingerprinting the front door of the bank a police officer told me he knew which picture I was going to run, another “sign” shot, a picture with the bank’s name.

Guilty as charged!

Friday, January 19, 2007

We're closed!

I may not be a detective, but I think I could even guess that if I walk up to a bank and:

a.) it is sealed off with yellow tape bearing the words “CRIME SCENE DO NOT CROSS”,

b.) There are lots of police cars and police officers standing in front of the bank behind the yellow tape,


c.) members of the media are standing in front of the yellow tape taking pictures of the crime scene,

you might deduce that the bank is actually closed, most likely due to a robbery attempt that just occurred. You cannot enter the bank, stop asking!

Blowing smoke

Asked to illustrate a story about nicotine in cigarettes I had this image in mind right away. As far as illustrations go, this was one of the easiest I have had to shoot.

First step was finding a willing smoker who shall remain anonymous. Not showing who is smoking meant two things in the shoot right away, I would need a tight crop and a probably a silhouette.

I picked a spot outside the office and framed the smoker against the setting sun sky. That would do two things. One it would guarantee an easy silhouette exposure and two the backlit smoke would be more dramatic. The warm evening sunlight gave the cigarette smoke a nice noxious brown look for added effect. I shot with a 300mm lens to blow any thing in the background out of focus to draw reader’s attention to the cigarette and smoke.

The truth hurts

Thursday, January 18, 2007


This picture is for all those people out there that say I don’t like pets. This is Redman, the loyal housecat for George and Evelyn Stein. I met Redman during an assignment for the Our Town section of the newspaper. We had to coax him into one of the photos but after that he was oblivious to my camera including a trip to the flowers. Sometimes you just have to stop and smell the roses, or whatever was growing in the pots.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007


Some assignments that come through the photo desk can be frustrating to say the least. Take for instance an assignment to photograph freight train traffic that isn’t on the tracks yet. That can be a challenge.

My first idea was to find an intersection the tracks crossed and go for some kind of shot of a row of cars with the rail road sign prominently in the foreground. I found a good intersection but the sign was too high to frame in the picture without a ladder.

The next thing I noticed was the light glinting off the rails which led me to the photo I would end up using, a silhouette of traffic on the rail lines. I shot with a 300 mm telephoto lens to compress the distance and try to get the perspective of the lines going on forever into the distance. I was going to settle for a car crossing the tracks but a student walking home from school gave a better perspective of the rail lines.

I shot from a low angle and underexposed about 1 f-stop to make sure I would get a good silhouette and the rail lines would glow against the dark rail ties and bed. The hardest part of the shoot was just waiting for someone to cross the intersection.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007


Pet of the Week assignments provide many outtakes but I thought this shot of two female Guinea Pigs might have a chance to make it in the Our Town section. Alas I was told to pick a different one.

The shape of things to come

Sunday, January 14, 2007


I saw this posting on the Online Photographer Blog and I had to smile. Now I never heard of this phrase before but Lord knows I have laid on the motor drive a time or two.

My camera for work has a 40 image buffer, in other words the camera can take 40 consecutive images before it fills the onboard memory and has to stop and write images to the memory card. I guess when I fire off a series of pictures of a co-worker in the office I am actually “Hosing the Doris”

As it appeared on the Online Photographer Blog:

Hosing the Doris

Part of Speech: v. phr.

In photographers’ parlance it is an activity known as "hosing the Doris"—keeping the button pressed and taking as many frames as possible in the shortest conceivable time of any female celebrity.

Friday, January 12, 2007


Some people may wonder why we cover automobile accidents. Is there a need for coverage of the death and carnage on the roads? I think there is.

It may be that I have covered too many accidents, but I have sort have gotten numb to them. Most of the crashes I hear on the police scanner go unreported. It is few that catch my attention, such as the rollover by a young driver recently.

A day into his license the driver lost control and rolled five times on a city street landing in a school crosswalk. The crash was fortunately not a fatal and the crash was probably a good lesson for all drivers about speed and safety but what I find more important is the discussion the story created.

I fielded a call this morning from an angry resident who saw the story and wanted to know who she could voice her concerns to about the drivers and speed issues on the street. Would the resident be as concerned if not for the story and picture? Maybe, but the image hits home and reminds us of the dangers on the road.

I have covered worse crashes, some where the images of pain and destruction still linger but I am sure that unfortunately I will see worse in the future. Maybe pictures like this will help persuade at least one driver to slow down.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Group shot

I’m not a great big fan of group shots, and I hate being in them more than taking them so when the staff held it’s first potluck for 2007 I volunteered to take the photos. However I was told I had to be in at least one picture. Reluctantly I agreed. In case you don’t recognize me I’m on the far left with the camera.

Second time around

I can’t believe I missed this shot. Way back in June I was assigned to shoot the annual Portuguese bloodless bullfights held in the bull ring off 9th Street. It was an evening assignment and I was fighting deadline so the order of the day was a quick edit and two or three photos for the news section.

The photo that ran on the cover was the Suicide Squad members in their aptly named job of tackling the bull to bring him down to the ground following the first fight of the night. The first bull fighter was Cavaleiros Paulo Ferreira who fought the bull from horseback.

I was going over my whole shoot from the bull fight as I prepared to enter some of the pictures in a sports picture story contest when I saw this frame. Ferreira is reaching down to pat the bull between the horns to show off his skill and bravery to the crowd.

Now in the rush to get pictures out on deadline I glossed right over this image. I really like this shot, it tells a different side of the competition and is not your typical bull fight photo either. I am glad I managed to see the second time around and it is definitely going in my contest entry.

Tuesday, January 9, 2007


The joys of photographing pets. All dogs hate photographers, that’s a fact. They try and make picture taking as difficult as possible.

Young “Petey” is this week’s Pet of the Week and was less than thrilled with his time in front of the camera. These are some of the outtakes from his photo shoot.

Monday, January 8, 2007


If you think the life of a photojournalist is all glamour and excitement guess again. Not every assignment is photographing the arrival of the President on Air Force One or racing to a huge grassfire. Some assignments are crappy, literally.

We were working on a story about the crow problems plaguing the downtown area when I saw a car on A Street that was covered in crow poop. The car must have been sitting there quite some time as it had been bombarded by the crowing during their evening roost. It certainly fit the story and a high camera angle showed the extent of the crow’s coverage.

Five years of college and 16 years on the job and I am taking pictures of poop on a car. Like I said not all assignments are something to write home about.

Friday, January 5, 2007

Safety first

I have a bad reputation on assignment. Get smoke inhalation once, get slammed in the head by a soccer ball or stand on the wrong side of the gun during a police felony stop and you’re stuck with the label “unsafe” for life.

I even went to the trouble of making a series of safety tips for the newsroom and offered to lead classes for coworkers on how to stay out of danger on the job. They were unimpressed.

Thursday, January 4, 2007

13 Pictures

I came across an interesting link the other day to a discussion of what were the 13 photographs that changed the world. It seems hard to believe that through all the millions of photographs taken through history you could distill them down to a top 10 list.

Among the photographs on this list are the haunting images of war, social issue photography a landscape and a portrait or two.

I have seen some of the images, others were new to me but all have their own tale to tell. It’s an interesting list to say the least, I may have included different pictures that I remember seeing in my time but it is a list worth looking at. I am curious as to what other pictures readers would have included on this list?

Wednesday, January 3, 2007

Something's fishy

What other job can you go from shooting a rabbit in the morning to a moray eel in the afternoon? It’s my own private wild kingdom on assignment.

I had the chance to photograph a new aquarium store in Tracy that also carries a line of saltwater fish. Between trying to coax out a bashful moray eel and follow focusing on a skittish Koran angel I found the best shot was a clown trigger fish enjoying the bubbles rising in his tank. And I didn’t even need to slip into the scuba gear to get this photo.

Tuesday, January 2, 2007

Lost and found

New Years greeted Tracy residents with one of the worst night’s of fireworks that I can remember. As much as humans don’t like the explosions in the middle of the night pets hate it even more.

Shooting the pet of the week assignment I found a full shelter with many dogs that ran away from home during the fireworks. A lucky pair of dogs who had ID tags were waiting for their owners and greeted me at the cage doors.

Monday, January 1, 2007

New Years flight

It is a tradition with members of the Tracy Skyliners Radio Control model airplane club to brave the frigid weather to get the first flights of the year in.

Past New Years Day flights have seen fog, gale force winds, rain and freezing temperatures to test the mettle of the fliers. This year club members were greeted with sunshine, calm winds and mild morning temperatures for picture perfect flying weather.

Among the dozen fliers who brought airplanes out was John Elliott who launches his electric motor-powered aerobatic ship into the morning sky.