Wednesday, February 28, 2007

The high and the mighty

When I was young I could stare at clouds for hours on end. A gathering storm was a theater of swirling clouds filled with light and shadow as they filled the sky.

One of my favorites subjects as a photo student was clouds. Their imposing stature and studies of light and dark tones occupied dozens of rolls of film.

My clouds watching days are limited now. But while shivering at a Tracy High baseball game today I spotted the moon rising above the cloudbank. Like a trip through the past I found myself once again admiring their shape as I snapped a few frames between innings just for me.

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

A tough interview

Imagine how hard an interview can be when the subjects aren’t very animated. I found myself amid a flock of friendly but uninterested pink flamingoes occupying a yard as part of a fundraiser. They arrive in the middle of the night and then a donation moves the flock to another yard.

No one was home when we found the plastic birds so like any good photographer needing to come up with a cover shot I put the reporter in the picture.

Monday, February 26, 2007

Watered down

It’s 5:00 pm, it’s raining, the light is fading fast and I ‘m stuck looking for a weather photo.

I had cut an assignment short in Manteca so I would have enough time and daylight to wander about town but am I just getting more frustrated. Nobody is out in the steady rain, the light is getting dimmer by the minute and I am still looking for a picture.

I turned down Central Avenue hoping for someone with an umbrella when I caught the neon glow coming from a restaurant window. The glow lit the raindrops clinging to my passenger side window.

I parked, switched lenses to a 16-35 mm wide-angle lens and prayed for someone to walk down the sidewalk before it grew pitch dark. I felt like a stalker waiting quietly inside my car until a rain jacket clad man briskly walked by. I held the camera inches form the window to focus on the droplets and fired a motor drive sequence as he passed.

I expected a Tracy Police officer to approach my car at any second to find out why I was camped outside the restaurant photographing my window. With a quick shot I was headed back to the office to try and talk them into using the photo.

Imagine my surprise when I was told it was slated for the cover.

Sunday, February 25, 2007

Pucker up pork chop

I always look forward to the annual Kiss A Pig contest at West High. Some lucky school faculty member is selected to lock lips with a pig in a fundraiser for the school.

This year’s lucky winner was assistant principal Amy Lowery who suffered through the squealing antics of three-month-old Yorkshire “Molly” before planting a kiss square on her snout.

It always makes for good art and as long as I can avoid the roving pack of marauding goats on display it makes for a good time on assignment.

Friday, February 23, 2007


Ok, so the top-secret photo I posted of the new Canon 1D Mark III was enhanced with a little Photoshop magic but it did whet my curiosity.

Canon has taken the wraps off their new flagship camera with a press release boasting it’s features including 10.1 million megapixels, a 10-frames-a-second motor drive capability and a self-cleaning system for the image sensor.

The official photos of the camera show a sleeker camera body with fewer buttons and a larger rear LCD screen. The LCD screen is touted with having a live viewing capability akin to some smaller point-and-shoot digital cameras.

I have seen listing for its suggested retail price from $5,200. To $3,900 so we will have to see what the market sets for its April release.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Home court advantage

It was a little disappointing to see the crowd turnout for Thursday’s Tracy High basketball playoff game. I showed up early to make sure I would get a parking spot and right away I new I had made a major miscalculation.

Walking in to the gym with about fifteen minutes until game time I was surprised by the sparse crowd. The loudest noise coming from the gym was the warm-up music played over public address system, which reverberated across the gym walls.

You know things are bad when a photographer from another newspaper asks me what happened to the crowd and asks why the town didn’t show up to give some support at a playoff game. I really didn’t have an answer for him. I remember covering playoff basketball games in Turlock and the gym rocked from the crowd that at times could get a little rowdy. They definitely gave the team a home court advantage.

It was a little sad as I snapped a picture of one photographer with a set of bleachers to herself as the game began. The Lady Bulldogs would go on to lose the game; they played hard but couldn’t keep pace with the team from Sacramento. Maybe things could have been a little different with a bigger cheering section.

Top secret

Rumors of the new Canon 1D Mark III have been flying about. Now a super top secret photo has been leaked to the web of the camera and it looks like it has some very interesting features. I think they could have skipped the wine feature and put in a coffee button. I would have ordered one already if they did that.

This is what happens to photographers with too much time on their hands.

Tour mania

You would think the President’s motorcade was traveling down Corral Hollow Wednesday morning. Hundreds of people lined up along the roadway to cheer, snap pictures and wave signs. A Presidential visit? A rock star traveling through town? Not even close. Wednesday saw Stage 3 of the Tour of California bike race rush through town.

Don’t blink because riders traveling 32-miles-per–hour took over one street as they cycled their way from Stockton to San Jose with a quick run through Tracy. I’ll be writing about this mad dash in a future column.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Monumental photography

If you think it wouldn’t be too hard to photograph a statue think again. Tuesday morning marked the arrival of the firefighters memorial statue to be placed next to the Tracy Fire Administration offices, the old site of Fire Station 91. The statue is a nice tribute to firefighters, a rugged crewman axe and turnouts in hand as he waits for the next call.

The grumbling with photographers began as soon as we saw where it was going to be placed. Nice statue, pretty setting, horrible backgrounds.

Nothing can kill a good photograph like a bad background. No matter which angle I took I was confronted with a sea of pine tree branches, ugly brick buildings, utility poles and their myriad of lines it was a photographic disaster from any view. I tried anything I could think of, low angle, high angle on top of the benches, holding the camera as high as I could I just couldn’t get a clean shot.

The best look I could get was using the longest focal length lens I had, stand as close as possible and shoot with the aperture wide open to blur as much of that busy background as I could. The results were acceptable but not great.

It is a fitting tribute to our fire department’s staff and crews I just wish I could have made a prettier picture. Maybe we will get some nice background landscaping in the future, remember, it’s all about the photos.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

A work in progress

Everyone needs a hobby, something to take their mind of the daily grind at work and I have my aviation interests. I could never afford a pilot’s license so I get my flying thrills in the small scale as a member of the Tracy Skyliners Radio Control Model Airplane Club.

I was getting ready to crack open my next airplane project when I got a novel idea. Why don’t I document the construction of the airplane kit underway? I can follow the construction in pictures, work on my close-up photography and make a nice little story from kit box to first flight.

So for the first installment, behold the wonders of a box of balsa, an airplane in disguise. My workbench welcomes the Sig Manufacturing “Kavalier” kit. I’ll make another update as the wing, the first construction step takes shape.

Monday, February 19, 2007


Nothing can strike despair in the heart of a news photographer than the dreaded “Photo-op”. Usually it is a carefully controlled event to publicize someone or an event and the photos are usually one step away from the even more hideous “grip-and-grin” assignment.

Today I was assigned to photograph Congressman Jerry McNerney visiting a downtown coffee shop to meet his constituents. Pretty much just schmoozing photos but then my boss Tracy Press editor Cheri Matthews stepped in to the frame. I really couldn’t crop her out off the frame so what the heck, I took her picture too.

Sunday, February 18, 2007

Star Trek-remastered

I grew up watching the original Star Trek series with my brother and I must have seen every episode at least 100 hundred times. So there I am flipping through the television channels one weekend and I see the familiar sight starship Enterprise gliding through space on in its ongoing reruns.

But something wasn’t quite right. The show looked the same but it wasn’t. Could my memories have faded like the 35 mm film the show was shot on? Not exactly. In this world of digital imaging it was just a matter of time as CBS Digital Studios have begun the remastering of the show.

Dubbed “Star Trek-Remastered” crews have been hard at work cleaning the original 35 film copies of scratches, and dust specks, bringing the colors back to a vivid level and preparing the episodes for high definition presentation.

Among the changes is the digital creation of visual effects and digital versions of the matte painting used for backgrounds. The Enterprise itself has been digitally recreated from measurements of the original model.

The new digital effects are stunning and even the simple shots of the starship firing its weapons have a new photorealism from the digital artists.

It was just a matter of time in this world of Photoshop, Adobe Illustrator and other computer graphics programs that someone would try to improve upon old television shows as we can adjust and manipulate photos.

Is the remastered version better that the original series? I like to think in terms of it enhances the original show. A little bit cleaner, a little bit brighter and a little bit clearer all around. In this day of digital creations the sky is no longer the limit as we now can take flight into the deepest of regions of space. My childhood memories are still their, just remastered.

Friday, February 16, 2007

Similar features

I don’t get déjà vu to often but I had that feeling looking at a picture recently. A friend sent me an email containing various views of the Navy’s Blue Angels Flight Demonstration team. I recognized some of the photos but what caught my eye was a view of the diamond breaking formation at the end of a dive. I swore I had shot it.

I have put some of my aviation pictures on line and I could see how some of my pictures could get around. I was reading a Tracy resident’s blog a while ago and saw the photo of a costumed dog I had shot there. Photos can get passed about easily so why couldn’t my Blue Angels shot be making the cyberspace rounds.

I opened my iPhoto catalog and found the Blue Angel’s performance at the Leemore Naval Air Station. Close but no cigar, the photo making the rounds was not mine.

I like my photo, as there is something special about six jets diving toward the ground in a clear blue sky. Maybe that is what some other photographer thought as they captured that pictured that was so close to mine. Maybe great minds think alike, or at least see similar features.


Thursday, February 15, 2007

The big one

The big talk around the newsroom today was the devastating explosion and fire at Sycamore Village Apartments Wednesday night. I was off shift when it happened and staff members quizzed me this morning from the editor on down as to why I didn’t go to the fire? The answer is simple, I didn’t know about it.

Now I live and die by the scanner and as a general rule I try to leave it off when I am home. I have been known to flip the switch whenever I hear a lot of sirens screaming in the night but I don’t remember hearing them. Maybe I was too tired or I was just oblivious as I watched the history of coffee on the Discovery Channel or something like that. I am such a slacker.

The conversation quickly turned to how this was a massive fire, biggest news story, etc. trying to rub the fact in I missed it. But then I think back and it always seems like we are covering the biggest news story ever. Like the time I covered the Pebblebrooke fire.

Never tempt the gods of spot news with statements like “It’s a boring day” as they will strike down with a vengeful fury as I found out in the summer of 2001 when a plumber's torch set a row of nearly completed houses ablaze. The row of houses off Pebblebrooke Drive was a fiery inferno when I pulled up and the roar of the flames and the intense heat was unbelievable.

Fortunately as in the Sycamore Village fire no lives were lost but the talk in the newsroom that day was surely this was the biggest fire ever. That feeling lasted until the next big fire call sent me scurrying after the smoke and flames.

Hopefully this will be the last fire that lights up the Tracy skies but I have a feeling it will be not. I may have missed biggest news of the year but 2007 is still young and who know what lies ahead.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Old school

In this day of million-megapixel-digital photography we sometimes forget how we all started. I can’t remember how this conversation started in the newsroom but the other photographer and I showed our age when we reminisced about our experiences with a pinhole camera.

What’s a pinhole camera you ask? Well first find an empty oatmeal box, cut a square hole in the side, cover it with aluminum foil, prick a tiny hole in the foil and you have one of the most ridiculous looking cameras ever conceived.

It was a rite of passage for photo students at San Joaquin Delta College in the Photo 1 course to make and use one of the contraptions as your first assignment in the course. The seconds long exposure was made onto a piece of enlarging paper which would yield at best fuzzy negative image. That was then contacted printed to get the final print.

Pinhole camera pictures were marked by soft focus, light leaks and true abstract imagery that still give me nightmares looking back. I think I destroyed my pinhole camera as soon as I done with the assignment. I don’t I think I will ever make one again. My days of old school photography are long gone. Give me a million megapixel camera any day.

The eyes have it

For all you cat fanciers out there.

Monday, February 12, 2007


Usually I have to wait for a good rain storm to see a rainbow but I got a treat today covering crews assembling the Expressions art show. A fused-glass sculpture that changed colors as your perspective to the light changed was hit in my book. I loved the myriad of colors and hues that danced though the valleys and edges of the work, too cool not to snap a quick shot.

Sunday, February 11, 2007

Pin-up girl

I was taking pictures at the Castle Air Museum near Merced this weekend with a friend and I found a curious sight. Painted on the side of Mitchell B-25 bomber was a curvy model reclining on the nose of the bomber.

Most world War II aircraft were adorned with such nose art, some were cartoon characters, some were women in much more provocative poses than this but what struck me odd was the painting of “Lazy Daisy Mae” bore a striking resemblance to the recently departed Anna Nicole Smith.

Maybe it was just my imagination or the fact that her picture appears daily on almost every news program but I knew I just had to snap a photo of her. I am sure it was coincidence but you never can tell.

Friday, February 9, 2007

Rainy day blues

This shot didn’t come out quite as good as I had hoped. I went out Thursday afternoon looking for a photo to illustrate the return of the rainy weather to Tracy. Things were quiet in downtown and most of the foot traffic left their umbrellas at home so I had to get a little creative.

In the darkening skies as the rain settled in I noticed the traffic signals reflecting in sopping wet sidewalks. I tried to get a little artistic and place the lights in the path of a pedestrian to make it look pretty. It didn’t work quite as well as I had hoped. It does show the wet conditions and has nice quiet feel to it.

Next rain assignment I will work harder on the reflections angle, I sort of like the effect and I think I can find something good going on there.

Wednesday, February 7, 2007

The old man and the river

Sometimes I forget why I took this job. Between the 12 hour days, complaints from irate readers, vague photo assignments and the general malaise at work it can be an effort to get out of bed. Then there are days like today where for about 10 minutes I remember why I like my job sometimes.

I was assigned to shoot pictures of the Delta waterways. I wasn’t given a reason or location; just get shots of the water. With no plan I decided to set out for the San Joaquin River at Mossdale County Park. As I trudged through the rain to the river's edge feeling tired and miserable I could think of a hundred different places I would rather have been. Then I bumped into John Geurin.

John is an older man from Ripon who decked in his rain slicker was ready to set out for an afternoon of fishing. He saw me taking pictures as he loaded his boat at the ramp area and we struck up a conversation.

John was a veteran of the waterways, spending quite a lot of time fishing the area. He told me he new the shallows, the deep points and where the fish bit best. Wiping water from my lens I asked him why would he go out on such a miserable day and he told me the striped bass liked the cloudy days best and he looked forward to the excursion. He had an umbrella and was ready to spend the next few hours in blissful solitude of the river and fishing rod.

I snapped a few photos as he pulled away in a boat that just barely seamed big enough to hold him and the arsenal of fishing equipment he carried. I watched him as he slowly slipped out of sight under the bridges and down the river.

Standing in the rain on the dock as it swayed with the current I remembered why I put up with everything else, it’s the people. Amid the politics, the bickering, nasty emails and general angst at work every now and then I meet someone who deserves a story to be told. The old man and the river was a good reminder to me to try and always look ahead to the next day.

Tuesday, February 6, 2007

Alley oops

There’s nothing quite like the sound of a sixteen-pound bowling ball crashing down on a hardwood lane a few inches from your camera. Your first instinct is to flinch and pull back but with all those bowlers watching to see if you really will get hit you just stand there in your socks straddling the gutter and hope for the best.

I think it is so much safer to shoot raging grass fires. I don’t have to worry about gutters balls there either.

Monday, February 5, 2007

The grass is always greener on the other side of the freeway.

I am always ready for some excitement coming over the police scanner but what happens when you hear a call for sheep on the loose?

A flock of sheep made a break for it as they made their escape through a hole in the fence along the field off I-5. CHP kept a watchful eye on them as they waited for the owner to arrive and reclaim his flock. With the help of a Caltrans worker turned sheepherder worker they brought the group safely back home without the loss of a single lamb chop.

Friday, February 2, 2007

You eyeballing me boy?

“Kendall” the calf tried to stare me down during an assignment at Bohn School. The best thing to do is just remain calm and keep shooting. I’m not sure if she was just admiring my Canon camera or just didn’t like the fact I was taking her picture. I find I am getting stared at a lot these days on assignment, maybe this is a bad sign if the cows are starting it too.

Thursday, February 1, 2007

When animals attack

When I die on assignment, it is most likely to be from a dog ripping me to shreds as I try to take his picture. I just don’t know why dogs hate me but they do. When they find my body the last frame on camera will probably look a lot like this.