Monday, April 30, 2007

Paint it purple

Volunteers were hard at work Monday setting up purple displays around downtown as they prepare to show their support for the battle against cancer with the May Day for Relay event.

After being snubbed by the city council in their bid to join the national day of cancer awareness citizens and merchants were urged to display the color purple to show their support for those in the battle against the disease.

I caught up with this group at Barista’s as they were finishing their decorating of the windows and door.

A box with some glass

I have been biding my time as I wait for my Canon camera to return from repairs. I have been suffering through after shooting session using a Nikon D70 digital camera.

Besides being chunky, slow motor drive, painful to hold, difficult menus to navigate, a lower resolution than I like and a color management system that stinks, it is not a half bad camera.

Like they say, give me a box with some glass and I’ll make a picture. These baseball pictures of Millennium High’s first home game at their new field show what the camera is capable of.

Friday, April 27, 2007


I was assigned to cover the league tennis finals in Stockton today and I had some serious thinking to do. The assignment was scheduled to be the main art for the sports page but I was only going to be shooting one player vying for first place. How many pictures can I shoot of one player and make them look different?

I took my 300 mm lens with the 1.4x extender and set up for some action shots. The court I was photographing the players at had a nice set of bleachers if I wanted to try some high angle shots. The two court ends were lit very differently, one very dark the other a nice neutral tone. Metering would be an adventure but at least the backgrounds would not be distracting.

For most of the shots I worked from the mid-court position about halfway up the bleachers. It gave me a very tight shot of the player from the baseline to a real close-up if he charged the net. Shooting at no more that f. 5.6 blurred the background as much as possible.

I had some nice stuff, a variety of back and forehand action along with a nice serving shot. Just for a different look I switched to a wide zoom and tried to get a shot of him running around the court. Light poles along the court were a big nuisance but I did manage one descent picture of a volley at the net that showed more of the court and his body motion.


Nothing says “Hey I’m a professional” than injuring yourself on assignment.

There I am at Wicklund School shooting a feature on crowded classrooms when I get a bright idea. Why not stand on a chair and get as high a view to encompass the whole class in one shot? Brilliant I say to myself.

I position a chair just right, adjust the f-stop to get maximum depth of field, check the white balance, and then step up on the chair and smash my head into a railing that runs around the classroom.

There is nothing quite like the dull thud of bone smashing into wood that makes students look up and see if I am still alive. I smile that stupid “I meant to do that” smile and keep shooting.

Off the chair I act nonchalant as I check the back of my head for blood. None was oozing out but my drive to Stockton for a tennis match the road seemed a little fuzzy. Back at the office I begged the editor for two Advil. Yeah, I’m a professional.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

A lesson on life and death

I can’t remember all the accidents I have been to. Some of them have been minor; some of them have been fatalities. Very early in this job you learn to see what you have to at such events and move on. You cannot survive in this job if you don’t.

I am no expert on life and death, but I have seen both on the side of a dusty road. I photographed as the twisted remains are cut away from a car to free the occupants. I have seen parents arrive at their children’s accident scene just in time to see them carried off in helicopters. I have watched as they weep in the roadway after identifying their bodies. It is something you pray to God you never have to see in your lifetime, and thankfully most people don’t.

The major accidents I go to are all starting to look the same, a collection of crumpled sheet metal and noise. I’m used to it by now and as I walk around the bits of broken glass and taillights, avoiding the puddles of anti freeze and blood in the road I take my pictures. The pictures I take that appear in the paper are so antiseptic; they could never convey all the sights and sounds that make an accident scene.

In an attempt to help teens realize the dangers of driving under the influence of alcohol a program called Every 15 Minutes brings all the sights and horrors of a fatal accident for them to witness. Today’ simulation was at Tracy High with students playing the part of the drunk driver and accident victims.

As part of the program a student is removed from class every 15 minutes to show the loss of life by drunk drivers across the United States. As the Grim Reaper led the last deceased classmate out other students wept at the thought of her loss. The dead students gathered together at the scene of the wreck and silently watched the crash rescue attempt unfold. It was all a little eerie to see.

Was it a realistic crash? As much as it could be. At a real crash as soon as a news photographer arrives the body is covered and set aside. It sounds cold but the living need more attention. The accidents I have been to seem noisier, more debris everywhere and generally more tense of a scene. You learn to work not talking to anyone, hope no one yells at you for photographing someone crying over the dead friend and hope you can find a photograph from the shoot that doesn’t have a body part in the frame.

The accident simulation for the students was graphic, hopefully it will teach them a lesson about how precious life is and the tragedy of life lost. It may not be the worst thing I have ever seen but hopefully it will be the worst these students will ever have to witness.

Doctors and photographers

There is a saying that doctors make the worse patients. That might be true but I know for a fact that photographers make the worst subjects to be photographed.

I was assigned to photograph an artist who specializes in still and video photography. Nothing worse then having one of your peers watches your moves. Even worse when it is an artist. I took the usual photos and then just to be different I photographed her picture as seen on her computer’s web camera.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Old soldiers never die

With my Canon Eos 1D MK II winging it’s way to Irvine for a hopefully quick repair I had to figure what I was going to do until its return.

I thought about taking a couple of days off but that idea got shot down quickly. I could use my Canon Digital Rebel camera but the motor is too slow. That and I didn’t really want to bring my personal camera to work and beat it to death for a week or so.

The solution was a compromise; I would use the only remaining Eos 1D body in the morning and then in the afternoon when we have two photographers I would use the only backup camera we have, a Nikon D70 digital camera. Oh the humanity!

It’s an ok camera, nothing spectacular but it does work. I dug my old Nikon lenses out of the closet; they hadn’t seen the light of day in about 3 years. They are 17-35mm a 70-200 mm and 300 mm lens. I pulled those lenses out of retirement and back into the fray. The three lenses are not in too bad of shape, one lens hood needs duct tape to stay in place but they are still sharp.

I’ll post some pictures as I try to muddle through work with this entry-level camera and let you know how it goes.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007


I missed last Friday's lock-down of the West High campus, as I was assignment to shoot Site 300 in the hills southwest of town. Murphy's Law struck as spot news broke out while I was too far away to even know about it.

Someone left two notes with bomb threats at the school, rattling nerves in the aftemath of the Virginia Tech tragedy. Better safe than sorry, as the campus was checked and the area secured for any dangers.

Then Monday came, and a new threat against the campus emerged. This time it wasn't veiled threats posted on campus walls but a specific target posted as a comment in the Tracy Press web site. The comment said there were still two bombsat the West High campus, including one in the watch tower.

I was sent out to see what was going on as the editors alerted the district to the posting, which was taken off the Web site. At West High, I found a campus going about business as usual. I took shots of the tower as students and faculty gave me quizzical stares. I returned to the office and was told that bomb-sniffing dogs were being dispatched.

So I returned to the campus, this time with Tracy Press editor Cheri Matthews. Same thing this time. No access restrictions, no tape to keep students or onlookers away, not even one campus security officer to steer people clear of the threatened tower.

Cheri and I walked around the tower, photographed it and finally sat down and waited for anyone to show up. District personnel, including the superintendent arrived, and gave the tower a cursory exam.

I realize now that the comment was a hoax, but in these times, it seems better to be safe than sorry and at least keep students from the area until the danger is proven false. I was surprised by the almost-nonchalant attitude regarding the online threat.

In the end, a cruel and mean-spirited prank drew the Tracy Press into the story and left me wondering why some threats are taken seriously and others aren't.

ERR 99

What’s worse than being asleep at home during a spot news apartment fire? Having your Canon camera flash the message ERR 99.

What does that mean? Your camera is hosed and heading to the Irvine repair center. I was shooting a softball game when something broke. I am pretty sure it was the camera’s shutter as the last few fleeting frames show a dark object across the frame.

I took it well, a few expletives aside. I boxed it up and sent off on its way for a hopefully 3-day rush repair. The part time photographer asked me what I would do if there was spot news happening and I didn’t have a camera. That was easy; I would roll her for her camera and head out to the fire. I am surprised she had to ask.

Monday, April 23, 2007

Saturday, April 21, 2007

On wings of Angels

It was with sadness today I heard the reports of the death of a U.S. Navy Blue Angels pilot today at an airshow in South Carolina.

I have been to been many airshows and I have had the opportunity to watch and photograph the Blue Angels several time as they fly in their Boeing F/A 18 jets. It is a thrilling performance and leaves the crowd in awe of their precision flying as they push their jets to the edge.

It is a dangerous job as they fly their jets at distances of sometimes only 36 inches between wingtips and canopies. It is a demanding mission, one they volunteer for and are proud to bear.

The “Ambassador in Blue” as they are called the elite of fliers in the Navy as are their counterparts in the Air Force, the Thunderbirds.

I have held my breath watching their performances as the defy gravity in their aerial ballet trailing smoke to mark their path across the sky. It was terrible to hear about the crash as I consider them the best aviation performers I have ever seen. It is a sad moment for the pilot's family, colleagues and aviation fans everywhere. A sad day indeed.

Sights form the site

I went on a tour of Site 300, the Lawrence Livermore experimental test site just south west of town Friday morning to get a good look at the area.

It has been in the news recently and most of our photos are from dozens of years ago so I joined a community tour and got some new shots of the facility for future stories.

Most of the shots are pretty unspectacular, a building here, an abandoned firing table there we were treated to a pretty good view of the area from 1,700 feet up at an observation post. A heavy haze marred the view but I did like a shot of windmills on a neighbor’s property as they were illuminated by breaks in the clouds.

I also spotted this ceramic steer skull left by a budding artist at the site. Scientist humor, it must be an inside joke or something.

Friday, April 20, 2007

Nature trails

These are just a few of the views from the trail on Mount Diablo’s Fire Interpretive Trail. The April 20th Snapshots column will feature the story behind my foray into nature photography.

The pictures were taken with a point-and-shoot Canon G3 that is a whole different style of shooting. Upcoming hikes will feature more of my attempts at rock and tree photography.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Lone wolf

While shooting a softball game today someone said something to me that made me stop and think. An umpire looking across to two other newspaper photographers shooting the same game from the opposite side of the field looked at me and said, “I guess you picked the wrong side to shoot from.”

Hold on there Chester, I am shooting from the wrong side? I can’t be on the wrong side if I am shooting from the right field side? I can’t be wrong, right? Exactly! Confused, let me explain.

Photographers are a predatory group. Just watch us at a news event and see how we gather like a pack of hungry wolves around our subject. But every now and then a wolf strays from the fold and tries to forage for himself. Now imagine how one stray photographer shooting apart from the crowd must look. What’s up with this lone wolf?

So to answer the question, was I shooting from the wrong side? Not at all. Half the battle of sports photography is putting yourself in position to record the photograph. So why did I choose the right side of the field?

First of all I budgeted myself a full hour to shoot the game. That means I can spend some time and not have to worry about cranking out three good action photos in 15 minutes. Shooting from the right field base line I take a position near the first base bag. This gives me lots of options.

On defense I can shoot the left-handed pitcher and get her face in the shot. I can get a clean photo of any play at second base a descent look at action at third base, a play at home plate and good views of the infielders with the exception of the first baseman. Fly ball action to right field and shallow centerfield is also good pickings from my spot.

On offense I can get face shots of right-handed batters, players sliding into third and any play at home plate. I can also get shots of players diving back to the first base bag on pick off attempts.

What did I sacrifice to shoot from the right field side? Any picture of the hometown player stealing or sliding into second base will be of their back. But from the right side I get a face shot of them at home plate instead of their backs if I was shooting from the third base line.

It is really a matter of what do I what to photograph. There is no right or wrong side to shoot from. The other two photographers probably got nice shots form their vantage point but I am happy with my shots.

Breaking free from the pack may look like the wrong move but I can still come up with the right pictures.

High wire act

I found this worker stringing new electric lines off Valpico Road. What caught my eye was he repetition of lines amid the poles and the wires hanging.

Using my 300mm and my new favorite toy, the 1.4 x extender I got a pretty visual as the lines recede into the distance with the lone worker high above between the two poles.

Pipe dream

I just feel snake bit lately. Every time I think I am done with my shift this week some kind of spot news breaks out.

First it was a marijuana house, then an oil leak on the freeway and yesterday a truck carrying water pipes rolled over on Grant Line Road spilling the load and shutting the roadway down. Something just keeps me at the office whenever I am getting ready to leave.

I can’t get a break. What’s next, a plague of locust?

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

An oily mess

How do you know your heading into trouble on assignment? When you see helicopters circling above the road you're driving on.

There I was trying to finish my day’s assignments when I took a call from the Associated Press asking me if we had a photographer heading toward the huge oil spill on Interstate-580? That’s another bad sign about your next assignment.

A quick consultation of the maps and a check of the web traffic reports narrowed the trouble spot to I-580 at Bird Road. I headed out and at the end Bird road where it crosses over the freeway I found a sludgy mess. Oil from a ruptured Shell pipeline had seeped through the freeway embankment to cover both lanes.

Caltrans crews were hard at work trying to soak up the oil as they worked to open the freeway which had all traffic rerouted to Highway 132.

Standing on the Bird Road overpass I got a good look at the slick as it oozed down the hillside and across the road. The California Highway patrol hoped to have the roadway cleared by sometime early Wednesday morning.

Monday, April 16, 2007

Hurry up and wait

If you think photojournalism is fast paced filled with excitement and adventure guess again.

My 11-hour Monday was filled with photos of tax preparers, old trees and police raiding a marijuana house.

If your idea of exciting journalism is standing on the sidewalk next tto he dog poop and waiting almost an hour for someone to walk out of the house with a marijuana plant maybe you are born to be a photojournalist. I was just happy when the first officer walked out with a couple of bags of the illegal plants and I could finally get my shot.

Saturday, April 14, 2007

A little competition

I was shooting today's naming ceremony of Tracy Fire Station 96 for Dan Watrous with a little competition. I didn’t have any of the other newspapers in the area vying for my shooting spots but instead I had my boss trying to outgun me.

Tracy Press editor Cheri Matthews gathered her notepad along with her digital camera as we both shot the ceremony. I don’t know, maybe she was trying to keep me on my toes or just to see if I would really show up to the assignment on my day off but we both photographed the event from different vantage points.

I told her best looking photos end up being published so the pressure is definitely on me. I did manage to snap a few shots of the boss as she tries to take over my spot.

Friday, April 13, 2007


I have wanted to find a way to speed up my digital photo workflow. At work I import photos through explorer window, edit in Nikon View and then process in Adobe Photoshop. At home on my Mac I import through Apple’s iPhoto, edit in Adobe Bridge and then edit in Photoshop Elements. I have been thinking there must be a way to slim down my production cycle. I think I may have found my answer in the new program Lightroom.

Made by Adobe Lightroom is a digital file, importing, storage, cataloging and basic editing program. My first few sessions with the software gave me a feeling that I was using something similar to Apple’s iPhoto but with a slick Adobe interface. I like iPhoto but it’s limited and confusing image-editing tools turned me off quickly as a serious editing program.

Lightroom also features non-destructive RAW file support, image editing and the ability to email an image from the program among its many features. The program disk comes with Macintosh and Windows versions so I can run them on different platforms.

I will be wringing out the program in the coming weeks to see if it really is the answer to all my needs in the digital photography world and will post my program progress.

Thursday, April 12, 2007


Most photographers know half the battle of getting a good photograph is getting in the right position to take the picture. The right spot, the right lens on the camera always gives the right picture, right? Wrong! There is no right picture. It all depends on the angle you want to take.

Take this softball pitcher at a game I was covering today. What was the right angle to photograph her from? The answer is what did I want to show.

Both of these photos were shot with the same lens, a 70 -200 mm with a 1.4x extender attached. Exposures were nearly identical but the angles were vastly different. I first shot the side view, cropping in to just capture her windup and leg kick. It is a nice shot and shows the power of her stride toward the batter.

For an entirely different look I shot the same pitcher head on at just about the same point in her delivery. Shooting through the backstop fence I put the batter in the frame. The batter lends several things to the picture. It gives a sense of depth; there is a distance you can see between the pitcher and batter. Shooting at a larger f-stop keeps the batter pleasingly out of focus to keep attention on the pitcher. The batter also gives a balance and symmetry to the photo lacking with just the pitcher alone.

Which is the better photo? They each have their own story to tell, the each have their own unique visual interest. Which one will the paper use? Hard to say, it might come down to which shape works better on the page with the other photos. Both tell the same story from a different view, it all about taking a look from a different angle.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007


The scary thing about this baseball picture is I wasn’t even trying to focus on the ball.

I was shooting a West High baseball game and he action wasn’t very exciting. I was focusing on the base paths when a sharp ground ball headed toward the West High second baseman.

I was shooting with a 300mm telephoto lens with my new 1.4x extender on. That gives me the effective focal length of 546mm shooting with an Eos 1D. I caught the second baseman just after he scooped the ball up pulled the focus hard and held down the motor drive.

Now as a rule I never shoot with the camera’s built in autofocus mode. I just don’t trust it. I prefer the old school focusing ring and good twist to get the image sharp. But on this picture I was off; bad timing, too much pull in the focus it was a miss.

Back at the office I was editing my shoot and something just didn’t look right on the thumbnail screen image. I called up the full size image and saw that the player was way, way out of focus, but the ball was clear. The stitching on the seams to the lettering on the ball was tack sharp.

I could lie and tell everyone I meant to focus on the ball but who would believe that line. It is a quirky stroke of luck, too far off on the focus on the player and the motor drive sequence managed to capture the ball as it crossed the plane of focus.

I knew it would never make the paper but it is still too cool of a picture and honestly, it is probably the best shot from the game.

Edible art

An artistic co-worker brought a platter of homemade, hand-colored cookies to work to share with staff. It was just too colorful to pass up photographing.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Guard cat

Sometimes when I go on assignment I have to sign in as a visitor to the school or business I am going to photograph. It’s no big deal, you just sign your name on the line and then go about your business.

Out and about on assignment today I was greeted at the front door of the Animal Shelter by their guard cat who thrust the guest clipboard at me the moment I walked in. He just sat there flicking his tail back and forth impatiently waiting for me to sign in. Instead I snapped his picture just to be annoying.

Cats, no sense of humor.

Monday, April 9, 2007

Too close for comfort

There is a saying that if your pictures are not good enough you are not close enough. That is a good rule of thumb but sometimes you can be a little too close.

Take for instance today when I was shooting some skateboarders enjoying the first day of their spring break. Shooting with a 300mm lens with 1.4x extender I was far away from the action but was able to get a nice shot as they started their jump at the end of the ramp.

Looking for something different I switched to a 16mm wide angle and perched dangerously close to the end of the ramp. It was a good perspective as they went airborne but a little hairy as they would lose their board on a bad jump.

Friday, April 6, 2007

Remembrance of the suffering

In the late 1950’s there was a television show called “You Are There” which brought the home audience reenactments of famous historical moments. Viewers could watch the Boston Tea Party, the explosion of the Hindenburg or even see the assassination of Julius Caesar.

I saw one such historical reenactment today as I joined Christians across the country and across the world observing Good Friday services. In the small town of Patterson the Sacred Heart Catholic church there held a Passion play.

The Passion refers to the suffering Christ endured as he was tried and executed by crucifixion on a Friday afternoon. Churches and other groups have strived to show the pain and suffering he endured as he was marched carrying the cross to his death on the hilltop of Calvary.

Patterson’s Passion play put on by the Nueva Aliansa Juvenil was to say the least disquieting. Roman soldiers clad in armor stood guard as the white robe clad man portraying Jesus was paraded before the crowd for his trial. It was all a little to eerie as I photographed the procession as it made its way through the streets of Patterson.

Juan Barrajas playing the role of Jesus carried the cross as the crowd followed close behind on the way to the church. I tried my best to stay ahead of the group as I photographed their procession. Guards following Barrajas swung their whips repeatedly on him as he fell in the roadway. It was all just a little to real looking as they beat him on the ground.

Looking about the crowd the faces were a mix of sad and quiet as they watched the progress to the church. Amid the wailing of the actors you could hear children cry as they got caught in the moment. A little to real to be comfortable. Arriving at the church the actors portraying Christ and the two criminals were placed on crosses and raised into the afternoon sky. The crowd was silent as we watch the guards hammer stakes into the ground at the base of the crosses to secure them in place.

The play continued; guards played dice for his robe, the women wept at his feet and finally his head slumped down as he died on the cross. The crowd fell to their knees and prayed and the play was over.

I couldn’t help but wonder if this is what it looked like thousands of years ago on that hilltop, crowds standing by, the muffled sobs the glaring heat. It seemed so out of place to watch and photograph between the residential streets, cars parked by the curb, a man carrying a cross to his death. It was unnerving to watch but I could not imagine what it would have been like to really have been there and witness the Passion of Christ.