Friday, March 30, 2007

Thinking outside the bag

I have noticing that the older I get the heavier my camera bag seems to get. It doesn’t help when I buy a big bag, I just dump more gear into it and the heavier it gets.

I was looking for a way to spare my shoulders and finally settled on the Think Tank Photo system of a padded belt and modular equipment bags.

I settled on a set of couple of different sized lens bags and camera equipment carriers. They sit on a padded belt on where I can adjust their position or lock them in place.

The idea is to keep the weight on the hip area and spread it around for a more comfortable carry. The bags are top notch and contain built in rain covers in case the weather turns foul on assignment.

I have tried the system on assignment a few times and I think it will be a big help. Tracy Press editor Cheri Matthews models the Think Tank setup.

Thursday, March 29, 2007


Sometimes pictures happen by accident. This shot from a West High track meet was unexpected.

I was covering the 4 x 100 meter relay race and was getting ready to shoot the baton exchange between the second and third legs. I picked up the runner and followed up to the waiting next member of the relay.

I thought I would like the baton exchange best but actually the picture of the runner with the baton and the next racer in the foreground out of focus seemed to me to have more drama and interest.

Shooting with the lens at maximum aperture draws the focus of the reader to the baton and the juxtaposition of the baton near his eyes along with the outstretched arm waiting for the baton were the key to this shot. I wish I could say I planned for this but honestly it just fell together.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007


I don’t like to go accidents, but I would have loved to cover this one. This photo by Associated Press photographer Nick Ut is of the damage done by actor-comedian Eddie Griffin when he crashed a Ferrari Enzo into a concrete barrier while practicing Monday for a charity race to promote his upcoming film, "Redline.

The car is valued at $1.5 million but since no one was hurt it is considered a property damage crash, or what the police here would call an “11-82”. We don’t cover calls on the scanner when they come out as “11-82” but I would have made an exception for this one.

Last chance

I was shooting the pet of the week photo for this week’s Our Town section when I stumbled across this lonesome looking fellow.

I was told we were going to be taking a picture of cat and I saw this one calm and contented cat and asked if it could be this one. I was told no that it was scheduled to be put down. I snapped a couple of quick frames and everyone felt so bad about it being the last picture the cat would ever have they decided on a brief reprieve.

If someone hurries they could give this cat a new lease on life and a new home.

Premium parking

This is really what the sign said, no Photoshop alterations, honest.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

It's a small world

We may be from oceans apart but is funny how people are pretty much the same. I was photographing a group of students visiting from our sister city of Memuro, Japan and I knew I would be facing some hurdles.

First there is the language barrier. I don’t speak a lick of Japanese but thankfully there was a translator. The students were friendly, some understood my crude attempts to get names and information and I was expecting other problems from the inevitable clash of cultures. But oddly enough I found some common ground with one of the visitors. I found the group photographer.

Yoshi Kubo is traveling with the group as one of the chaperones but he was also pressed into service as the group’s photographer. Sporting a Canon Powershot S3 he was working side by side with me as we shot the students trip to the Domino's Pizza store for a tour.

We took turns leaning into the group to capture them as they worked creating their own pizzas. Between pictures we struck up a conversation of sorts comparing cameras. He recognized my Canon Eos 1D Mk II as professional camera. We talked a little and then it was time to head off to the next assignment.

World and cultures apart I still found common ground for a quick conversation. It’s a small world indeed.

Monday, March 26, 2007

Note worthy idea

I am not too proud to take help on assignment. Sometimes the subject being photographed has a better idea than I could dream up.

I was shooting an Our Town Spotlight assignment of a local violin player who performs with the Stockton Symphony. I had the usual portrait ideas but she suggested I incorporate the design in the marble floor of the foyer.

I had her play while selected a high shooting position on the staircase. I prefocused the camera and leaned over to get a nice shot of the spiral pattern in the floor framing her and the violin.

She had a great idea, making for a very artistic shot that has a good rhythm to it. I think it suits the music theme well.

Shots for shots

Sunday, March 25, 2007

Top of the mountain

This is the view of the summit of Mount Diablo just below 4,000 feet viewed from one of the hiking trails.

I made my first visit to the state park with a friend and armed with a point-and-shoot digital camera I recorded some of our trek around the summit base.

I hope to make more trips this spring and summer to photograph the wildlife and scenery.

Friday, March 23, 2007

Off the beaten path

Baseball is one of those sports where you either have lost of exciting action inning to inning to photograph or you struggle to come back with one good shot from the game.

There are things that we do when covering games to protect ourselves and make sure we have something to put in the paper. We photograph the pitcher; a batter or two maybe wait for a base runner to get onboard.

The easiest way to get action at a baseball game is to wait for a runner to get on first base, prefocus on second and then hope for a play there, either a steal attempt or someone turning the double play.

Truthfully that is pretty easy to shoot. It doesn’t take a whole lot of timing or effort to hold down the motor drive and at 8-frames-a-second you are bound to get something nice. I do it all the time and I like some of the results but more often than not it is just another play at second base.

If you want something different, something extra from the game you are going to have to work for it. I like to think of it as working of the regular base path. I will pick a player, in this case the third baseman and then follow him. I keep a good focus on him, pitch to pitch and wait for the action to come him.

Shooting like this requires a couple of things. First you have to commit to getting that shot. You are going to miss a lot of other things happening around you as you focus on just one player but that is part of the price for going for this shot.

Second you have to concentrate on getting just that one player. It’s easy to get distracted, talking to other photographers, dreaming about that next cup of coffee, but you have to stay focused on the task at hand and be ready for when the ball comes in to play toward your player.

And third it takes a lot of patience. It may be a half an inning, it may be almost the whole game before you get the chance for that one great play. But when it happens, the wait is worth it. The reward is a nice diving action sequence that easily surpasses any play at the bag.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Strike out cancer

Walking into the Tracy Sports Complex the first thing that caught my eye were the pink socks sported by the Tracy High players. The crosstown softball game has also been host to the Strike Out Cancer event where gate receipts for the game are donated to the American Cancer Society. All three levels of teams participated and sported pink socks, ribbons and shoelaces. Even the bases for the varsity game were painted pink.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Watching over a friend

Reports in recent days have seen pets in the area falling sick due to tainted pet food. Dogs and cats eating the contaminated food fall sick with kidney failure.

Assigned to photograph the only reported case in Tracy I found Carla Satchell keeping her red miniature pinscher dog "Tessie" company as she recovers from her kidney ailment. Satchell told me home wasn’t the same without “Tessie” and she wanted her dog to know she had not abandoned her.

The pod people

So you may ask why is this school principal dressed like a 6-foot-tall pea pod? Good question. It has to do with healthy eating habits in the school, making smart nutritional choices, trying new foods and stuff like that. But in the end, it’s still a school principal dressed like a 6-foot-tall pea pod.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Roughing it

The hardest thing about shooting a golf match is just getting in the right position. I spend most of the time dashing in front of the players to capture the next swing.

I shoot golf with a 300mm telephoto lens and usually to try to shoot from an angle to capture the golfer swinging toward the lens. The rule is you don’t trip the shutter until they make contact with the ball but shooting at long distances at the Tracy Golf and Country Club I can barely hear the camera over the sounds of nearby Interstate 580.

This was my first golf match of the season and I lucked out with this shot of a Tracy High golfer blasting out of a muddy lie near the base of a tree. I consider it a good day of shooting golf if I leave the course without a golf ball hitting my lens.

"Crucifixions need witnesses”

The Rev Samuel Billy Kyles spoke to juniors at Tracy High this morning. The preacher, civil rights leader and now inspirational speaker was part of the group standing on the balcony when Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated.

Rev Kyles said he wondered why he was there at that moment in time and then realized in his words that “crucifixions need witnesses”.

His presentation was powerful story of the injustices those his 5-year-old daughter endured during the integration process in the schools to the sorrow of Dr. King’s murder. The overall theme of his speech was urging students to never lose sight of their dreams no matter the odds against them. Words to live by indeed.

Monday, March 19, 2007

8 frames a second

One of the questions I get asked the most out on assignment is how fast does my camera fire off pictures. There is nothing quite like the sound of an Eos 1 mk II ripping off a motor drive sequence. The camera is rated at imaging at up to 8 frames a second. That would be on fresh batteries and high shutter speeds.

Where does high framing rates come in handy? Sports is an obvious choice. I learned a long time ago the way to shoot sports action is you shoot through peak action. In other words you start shooting before the action hits its peak and then continue shooting the action till its over. You don’t try and wait for that moment when the ball arrives or the players makes the catch. Odds are you will miss it.

An example is this double play at West High baseball game. I started shooting well before the runner reached the bag and well after the ball had left the fielders hand. The shot that ran in the paper is second row left image. I doubt I would have captured that one moment if I had tried to get the picture with one shot.

In the age of digital there is no concern for wasted images as anything I don’t use is simply erased. Gone are the wasted days of several rolls of film, hundreds of exposures for just picture. As digital continues to grow the boundaries are being pushed. Canon’s newly announced Canon Eos 1D mk III is rated at a whopping 10 frames a second imaging rate.

Is 8 frames a second necessary for every assignment I shoot? Probably not but in the world of sports photography it is a huge asset. I can’t imagine shooting sports without it now.

Sunday, March 18, 2007

The need for speed

I try to capture action every day on assignment. Whether it is a shortstop turning the double play, a swimmer coming up for breath in the butterfly stroke or the flow of traffic on a freeway we crank up the shutter speed in an attempt to stop the action for a picture.

Of all the things that I have photographed the fastest defiantly has to be fighter jets. Afterburning engines can thrust these fighters to speeds just below the speed of sound for the delight of airshow guests.

Of all the military jets around my favorite has to be the United States Air Force’s F-15 Eagle air superiority fighter. Nearing the end of its military career I had the opportunity to watch it fly in person at an airshow a couple of years ago.

Afterburners blazing at takeoff, in a high speed pass for the crowd and flying a bit slower for a salute with a World War II fighter I tried my best to capture one of the fastest planes around. Looking at my shoot I see I had the tendency to lead the jet a little too much as tried to anticipate the speed of the ship as it passed.

A fairly high shutter speed was used to keep the motion blur to a minimum along with a gentle pan to follow the jets flight. The results were a variety of shots that showed the power of the jet’s engines and gave a sense of the speed.

While I will spend most of my days shooting the speedy runners of a track meet or player stealing a base at a baseball game I love my times photographing airshows. There is no better way to fill my need for speed that that.

Friday, March 16, 2007


I had the right idea, just really poor execution. Looking for a different angle to shoot library volunteer Sylvia Ahn for an Our Town feature I thought I would get a bird’s eye view of her working in the stacks.

I put on the 16-35mm wide-angle lens and standing atop a stool photographed her with the camera at arms length. Nice idea but I forget one thing; I was standing next to her.

For most all of the 40 or so frames I took my chubby legs are in the frame. If you look close enough you can see my camera bag on the carpet next to the stool. Two mistakes in the same frame, sometime I really reek on assignment.

I managed to find one frame where I could crop myself out of the picture and still have enough of the stacks to make for a decent picture. Live and learn. I will try harder to stay out of the picture next time.

Thursday, March 15, 2007


I had the opportunity to photograph the Persian New year celebration today. Marking the beginning of spring and a new year it is a celebration steeped in traditions some three thousand years old.

There were dancers, music, colorful costumes, readings, and a selection of foods for the celebration. It was an interesting glimpse at a portion of our community and their culture we don’t often see.

As one man said it was not about politics, it was about celebrating family, friends, the beauty of a spring day and the joy of a new year.

Looking back I am a little sad I did not explore my own cultural traditions and get involved in my Portuguese heritage. I envy the young people I saw today as they celebrated their culture with the hope of a new year.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Location, location, location!

Everyone knows real estate is a prime commodity in Tracy but I didn’t how important four feet of ground could be.

I was shooting a West High baseball game today along side a photographer from another newspaper when the umpires stopped the game. A five-minute meeting was held and I knew we were the topic of debate with the looks and gestures directed our way.

At the end of the meeting we were told we could stay on the field but were restricted to an area from the edge of the dugout gate to the first vertical pole in the fence line.

As the game progressed the umpires made some call that were questioned by the opposing team’s coach. The coach brought up the fact that the umpires were more concerned with the photographers on the field than the game at hand. Nice to be an unwanted center of attention.

I asked one of the assistant coaches who had complained about us and was told the umpires just questioned our presence. The rule is we are allowed on the field but must be in a designated spot that is considered out of play. I am used to that, just not the attention that today’s game drew.


Behold a pan of green potatoes in honor of St. Patrick’s Day. I felt like the guys in the commercial with a group of fishermen looking at square fish they just caught, “That ain’t natural” they say as the fish flop on the boat deck. Same thing for green potatoes, yuck!

Monday, March 12, 2007

Forgotten field

With all the talk of a sports park and new fields for everyone to play on it is very disappointing to go on assignment to cover a high school soccer game at the West High soccer fields.

Both Tracy High and West High play junior varsity and varsity games on the same field, one of two at the school. The teams play on what was once designated the junior varsity field. The varsity field is a depressing mix of unkempt grass and dirt ruts.

The choice was between play on a field covered mostly with grass but lots of mounds and ruts or a field that was more level but the grass was mixed with large bare patches of dirt.

As I shot the game and watched the ball bounce unpredictably on the less than ideal field I wondered if anyone would take the same interest in giving both schools a decent field as they are in the push for the sports complex fields.

Saturday, March 10, 2007

Flying high

I have to admit I took a twisted pleasure watching an online video of a newspaper photographer struggling with a demonstration flight with the Untied States Navy Blue Angels.

I have to say I was a little jealous when I saw him seated in the back of the #7 jet for his hour-long flight. I have dreamed of the chance to fly in a fighter jet and feel the power of an after burning jet engine propelling me along at near supersonic speeds.

It looked like a fun flight, if you don’t count the one time he puked and the two times he passed out while pulling g’s all captured by the camera imbedded in the seat before him. Nice how video of a photographer losing his lunch on assignment can make me smile.

I remembered my lone aerobatic assignment years ago. Flying in the front seat of Czechoslovakian Zlin 526 airplane I was treated to loops, rolls, inverted flight and a hammerhead stall turn. I am proud to say I kept my breakfast down during the flight but we were traveling much slower speeds than the Blue Angels F-18 Hornet fighter jet.

If you look closely at the picture you can see my reflection in pilot Steve Stavrakakis’ sunglasses as we cruised upside down over Stanislaus County.

Friday, March 9, 2007

Change of view, part II

Since we now know that getting down low can help an otherwise sedate picture scene it follows that rising above it all can also lead to better pictures.

I was assigned to photograph the new general manager of the Altamont Raceway and after a series of photos atop the starter’s cage perched precariously above the racetrack I saw a different scene. I had the general manager stand on the start finish line and then stood astride the small cement wall surrounding the track. I held the camera at arms length and asked him to look at the camera.

The result was a nice clean background of the racetrack with the checkered line giving a race flavor to the photo. It was an otherwise mundane portrait elevated by a change of altitude.

Thursday, March 8, 2007

Change of view

Besides being just pictures of an airplane that is way too cool what’s the point of these two shots? It’s a change of view.

One of the reasons I traveled down to Castle Air Museum recently was to get a look at their newest addition, an F-14 Tomcat. I made my way around the airplane and got the standard pictures but then for a change of pace I put the camera on the ground and fired away.

It’s a good rule to change your perspective on assignment so I went a little lower than usual for the ground level shot. I didn’t look through the viewfinder, I guessed the approximate coverage of the wide-angle and made sure I had a little room to fudge around the edges.

The pictures I got in the end show the menacing lines of the fighter and make it look fast even sitting still.

Push my button

Wednesday, March 7, 2007


This is one of those shot that didn’t quite come out the way I wanted.

I was thinking of an overhead shot to catch the rope as it came over the top of his head but the boy kept moving forward and I was worried about the rope tangling with my camera so I settled for a low-angle shot for the paper.

This shot looks decent as the lines in the blacktop and the rope twisting has some nice movement to the photo but overall I was disappointed with this shot.

Tuesday, March 6, 2007

Window to the world

Art is where you find it and returning back to the office from a couple of sports assignments I found crews hard at work replacing one of front windows.

Vandals have been making the rounds through downtown smashing windows. The damage from the costly prank was replaced Tuesday afternoon and as crews lifted the pane into place I enjoyed the view from our new squeaky-clean glass.

Monday, March 5, 2007


Tracy Fire crews responded to a structure fire off Etta Court today. I was out and about looking for standalone art so after a few furious seconds locating it on my map I was at the scene.

Thankfully fire crews brought the kitchen fire under control and had it put out in a few minutes. There wasn’t much to see from the front, a lot of smoke but not much activity to photograph.

I was ready to leave when an engineer brought a scared little dog out of the smoky residence and I knew I had my shot from the fire scene.

Sunday, March 4, 2007

Say cheese!

This is the kind of vision photographers have in their nightmares. Between just two hours of sleep and over a quart of coffee you may start to see stuff in the viewfinder that looks like this.

Saturday, March 3, 2007

Online imaging

Adobe has announced plans to introduce an online version of their image editing software. It is reported to be a stripped-down version of their Photoshop Elements program that is a bare-bones version the Photoshop program now in its CS2 version.

With Photoshop CS2 retailing for over almost $600 I am curious how much imaging editing power we are slated to get for free. Adobe is fighting for imaging software users as they have recently released their Lightroom program to compete against Apple’s Aperture for a share of the market of advanced amateur and professional photographers needing image editing and cataloging.

Friday, March 2, 2007

Pretty in pink

How do you combat theft of hard hats from a construction site? Paint them pink, hot pink no less. No self-respecting thief would be caught dead wearing pink head gear.

Technicolor breakfast

Students at a Manteca elementary school were treated to special breakfast in honor of the 50th birthday of Dr. Seuess. A lovely mixture of scrambled eggs, diced ham and food coloring was served up to any second grader brave enough to venture a bite.

Now if I was in the second grade and tried to eat that I would most likely have wound up with a Technicolor yawn.

Thursday, March 1, 2007

Who's driving anyhow?

I stumbled across this photo I took about a year ago as I looked for an aerial photo I had taken of South Tracy. I started to wonder about one thing, who is driving the airplane?

I think the altimeter reads about 1,500 feet, I am taking a picture of the pilot, the pilot is looking at a map of our route over town where I needed to fly for pictures and I don’t remember anybody else in our cramped cockpit quarters.

I started to wonder out loud who was watching the road while we were flying only to be quickly reminded that there are no roads when you are flying. I don’t know we could have flown into a cloud or something.