Thursday, May 31, 2007

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Dive in

I was covering the Tracy Tritons swim meet over the weekend and I was in a rut. The sheer number of swimmers for each event means one swimming stroke like the freestyle can take over an hour to complete. How many ways can you photograph the freestyle stroke? I decided to try and get creative and found a good shooting position next to the starting blocks. A wide-angle lens and healthy dose of the motor drive netted this take on the swimmers entering the water at the start of one of the heats.

Monday, May 28, 2007

Lest we forget

Today Americans observed Memorial Day and remembered those who have given the ultimate sacrifice for their country. Tracy joined in the observance as we honored those who have died from our town and those that still serve.

The ceremonies were somber and proud. The cemetery’s Little Arlington was transformed into a sea of red white and blue for the day to greet relatives and friends who came by to pay their respects.

All around were veterans, some having served in wars long ago and almost forgotten. Sad moments to pause and reflect upon the price some have paid to defend our country.

To end the day’s observances the names inscribed on the War Memorial of those killed in war from Tracy were read aloud and a bell tolled for each, as they could not answer the roll call. A reminder for all of us to honor their memory and never forget the price they paid for all of us.

Saturday, May 26, 2007

Ominous skies

I saw this sight walking back to my car after shooting a Tracy Tritons swim meet. I noticed the light was getting muted and a quick glance skyward revealed a lone, round cloud blocking the sun. Too cool! I switched to a wide-angle lens and fired away. The sky appears black as it is under-exposed to capture the backlit cloud texture. The result is a surreal nebula hanging above town.


Not that that this has anything to do with photography or photojournalism, but I think it is really strange and worth a look. Hogzilla captured on film.

Friday, May 25, 2007

Starry night

At last Saturday’s Relay For Life one of the more popular subjects to photograph wasn’t on the track. High above Tracy High a crescent moon hung in the sky with a planet, Venus I think right below. You could see the photographers craning their necks skyward to capture the sight.

I haven’t had much experience with astrophotography. I have always wanted a telescope but that will be sometime down the line. My one real attempt was this capture of the Hale-Bopp comet as it appeared in the sky above Tracy some 10 years or so ago. Not bad for a time exposure with a 300 mm lens on a Nikon film camera.

Digitally enhanced

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Heading south

There are those moments on assignment when your realize things are starting to slip beyond your control. There is that moment when the compass needle starts to swing during your shoot. It’s about that time your realize your assignment is heading south and you try to hold on for dear life.

I had one of those assignments today and it always happens at the most innocuous of settings. I was at Wicklund School for a talent show and I was in for a few surprises.

The teachers at the school are presenting the Wicklund Whammys, a kind of faculty show mingled among the student awards ceremony. My first clue things were slipping was the rock version of “the Three Little Pigs”. It was pretty cute but then I had to get names of the singers. When is the last time I went up to a woman who is a total stranger and asked her, “So are you one the pigs?”

So then comes the scat song. Yeah, a song about fecal matter. It was kind of catchy, a guy in a big fuzzy hat was singing along and there I was wondering why anyone would make a song about deer droppings. I am well on my to the southern hemisphere.

Ok so the next act can’t be too bad. It is a couple of women dancing with feather boas. I start taking notes to get names later. So I can identify people later I make note of what they are wearing. The list reads like this: Woman with red boa, woman in leather boots, woman dressed like a man. I was later told she was supposed to Ludacris and another was some singer named Fergie and they were doing a song called “Glamorous”. Why can’t anyone do a Fleetwood Mac song I could recognize?

So now the next act up is a game show based on some television program. “Are You Smarter Than a Wicklund Student?” brought the principal to the stage for a quiz challenge against some students. It was cute; they even through a few “redneck” style jokes just like the television show. Ok the needle is pointing due south and I had to run so I headed back to the office and all I could think about was someone actually took the time to write a song about scat. Thank goodness I couldn’t remember more of the words.

The truth hurts

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Tank town

I was on assignment today at Tracy High’s track and I had a little time to spare. As I looked around I noticed that with the absence of the West Building you get a great view across the campus to 11th Street and beyond.

What really caught my eye was the water tower that now seems to loom above the town from its spot on 10th Street near the Community Center. Adjusting my shooting position I could frame the tower between some of the palm trees that line the front of the school for a cool looking photo.

Swing and a miss

Nothing worse than getting heckled on assignment. I was shooting the pet of the week assignment and as I worked on photographing on of the cats in their cage I had a troublemaker show up.

“Bubba” occupied the cage above and was either annoyed at my presence or just wanted to see what a Canon camera feels like. I just snapped his picture as he made a couple of swipes at my face. Cats, no sense of humor.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Black and white rules

I have been trying to shoot more photos just for me lately and it has been fun. Learning to see shapes and colors just for arts sake again is quite the change of pace from the regular journalistic assignments.
Friend and fellow photographer Alice O’Neil has joined me on some photo shoots and her eye for detail and form has impressed me. What I find very interesting is the fact she likes to shoot in black and white for some of her pictures.

I started out learning how to shoot in high school with black and white film. I went through rolls and rolls of Kodak’s Tri-X Pan film. When I started in newspaper photography it was with black and white pages and I was awed when we made the switch to daily color. But juts because a picture is in color does it make it better?

I think black and white pictures can show the tonal detail and subtle detail better than color. Who has not been awed by an Ansel Adams picture of Yosemite in glorious black and white? Will I give up my colors and hues for arts sake? Probably not but I may have to explore the simpler side of photography again in black and white.

It's a dog eat dog world

Monday, May 21, 2007


One of the hardest assignments you can ever cover for a newspaper is grief. The emotional outpouring over the loss of a family member or friend is hard to witness and even more difficult to photograph.

I was assigned to photograph the funeral for Marine Cpl. Charles O. Palmer II. Palmer was the first serviceman from Manteca to die in the Iraq war.

I have covered the stories of the Tracy soldiers and Marines that have given the ultimate sacrifice for their country. Six have died and I remember the various photos that have run in the paper. Parents watching the news of their sons death, a wife grieving over the loss of her husband, a mother clutching the flag that covered her son’s coffin. I sometimes struggle to remember all their names but I always remember the pictures.

Maybe I am just getting numb to the war or God forgive me, I am getting accustomed to the losses we suffer. The funeral of Cpl. Palmer was a sad event but it didn’t bother me as much as some of the other memorials I have covered in the past.

Back at the office I looked over the program they were handing out at the funeral. On the back was a copy of the handwritten letter Palmer wrote as he asked to reenlist in the Marine Corps. Sometimes it is just too much too bear.

Sunday, May 20, 2007

Walking for a cure

A sea of purple took center stage Saturday morning as cancer survivors kicked off the annual Relay For Life at Tracy High.

For 24 hours the track was filled with walkers as they made laps for donations toward the American cancer Society.

The infield was filled with tents as the teams set up their camp for the day and nights events. I covered the opening ceremonies and the first lap on the track walked by cancer survivors.

One of the highlights of the relay is Saturday night’s luminaria ceremony that surrounds the track and part of the bleachers. It can be a bit of a challenge shooting in the dark but the lanterns against the darkness made for a strong statement.

Friday, May 18, 2007

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

The fear factor

Nothing rattles me on assignment. Well, almost nothing. Even though I enjoy photographing things that fly I have my limits. What could have rattled my cage on assignment? Bees

Working on the story about the decline in the bee population I visited a beekeeper and his collection of the insects.

There is an old saying that if your photos are not good enough you are not close enough. Swell, so I had to get close to the bees as they crawled and buzzed about their honeycombs.

How do you know when an assignment is starting to turn bad? You have conversations that sound like this:
Beekeeper: “Are you allergic to bee stings?”
Photographer: I’m not sure, I don’t think so.”
Beekeeper: “Well if you stop breathing you are.”

Nice. So I start to inch closer to the hive and the mass of bees milling about.
Photographer: “Will the bees mind if I use a flash?”
Beekeeper: If they get angry they usually go for the eyes.”

Nice. So I pick a spot and start shooting. I keep getting the kamikaze bees flying into the back of my head but I try to keep still. Finally I just come short of freaking out and decide to shoot from a discrete distance with a long lens.

I tried not to make any sudden moves but still found myself jerking away as a bee would land on my hand or buzz close to my face. I managed to make it out of the assignment with out one sting. It’s hard to look cool on assignment when you want to run to your car swatting anything flying near you. I get all the fun assignments.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Oh bee-have!

It seems bees are becoming an endangered species. News reports show a decline in the bee population that could impact farming. Bees are protected and preserved whenever possible even where they are not welcome. This swarm had been making their home in a north Tracy home until they were removed by a beekeeper. Stragglers still remain at the home, which makes for some delicate photography. I kept my distance shooting with my 300mm telephoto lens and 1.4x extender. I tried not to disturb the swarm as I closed in for the shot. I managed to survive the shoot un-stung.

Monday, May 14, 2007

Behind the scenes

I was taking pictures of the city staff members getting ready for the first council meeting in their new luxury chambers.

Right before I was thrown out of their top-secret practice I managed to get a look at their high tech monitor setup for the council members chairs.

I see they have a home entertainment setup just in case the meetings start to get boring. I would have been more impressed if “Reservoir Dogs” would have popped up on the screens.

Friday, May 11, 2007


If you want to see what a real high-resolution photo looks like take a gander at the 13-gigapixel view of Harlem created by artist Gerard Maynard and the Kolor Company. The image is an incredible panorama of a Harlem neighborhood created from 2,045 individual photos taken with a Nikon D2X camera and then stitched together with the Kolor Company’s software.


Cheerios test, Pt. II

We received a handful of calls regarding the now infamous cat and mouse photo that appeared on Thursday’s cover. Some people found it gross and disgusting, not wanting to see it over breakfast. Actually I don’t find the photo offensive. Some people may think we have no standards but quite a few photos come across my desk that I know will never see the light of day in the paper. Steve Chen’s photo of a crocodile attack in Taiwan that ran on the Associated Press wire does push the limits and did not appear in our paper. I guess it is a matter of how much blood and graphic content is visible determines if it fails the paper’s Cheerios test. And by the way the crocodile did cough up the arm and it was reattached to the victim.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Coming home

Sometimes it seems I get all the sad assignments. Today I stood in a funeral home parking lot to watch another Marine being brought home after dying in action in Iraq.

Marine Cpl. Charles Palmer II was killed in action Saturday when his Humvee struck an improvised explosive device (IED) killing him. His body was flown into Stockton airport this morning then taken to the funeral home to await burial with military honors next Wednesday.

The truly sad part of this is have shot this assignment before. I have photographed the grieving parents, the widow, the children left without their father. Tracy has lost 6 servicemen to the war. The last soldier killed in action will soon have his name etched on the marble face of the Tracy War Memorial.

The faces may change, even the city but the terrible loss remains the same from the war.

Wednesday, May 9, 2007

Cat and mouse game

The reaction to this picture was pretty mixed in the newsroom. There was the group who said nice shot and the group who revolted in disgust.

I was shooting an assignment at the Tracy Animal Shelter when one of the shelter’s house cats “Mikey” was jumping up and down in a corner area outside the kennels. He had cornered a field mouse and was heading in for the kill.

I watched for a while until he settled down to enjoy his afternoon snack. I switched the camera to autofocus and put it as close as I dare while he was eating. “Mikey” just gave me that look of “it’s my mouse go find your own” and settled down to eat.

We started guessing if we publish the photo how many complaints the paper will field. I said 25.

paint a rosy picture

On assignment today I happen to catch site of the roses growing next to the Tracy Library. I knew they could make a pretty picture but the background was a jumbled mess of parking lot and cars, what to do?

Backgrounds can kill or cure a picture. The easy solution was to use the background to my advantage. Getting in close I used the book drop box as my background. Its solid blue color provided a pretty backdrop for the red and green colors of the plant. A long lens and tight in-camera crop isolated the flowers for a pretty picture.

Temperament testing

The joys of shooting the Pet of the Week assignment. Meet Gunther, an 8-year-old Doberman. 100 pounds or so of fur and teeth. Just to see if Gunther had passed the social tests during the shoot they threw pieces of hot dog at me to see if Gunther would bolt after them and me. Gunther knew that chubby photographers are high in cholesterol and left me alone.

Tuesday, May 8, 2007

Situational awareness

Fighter pilots are a rare breed. In the heat of battle during their dogfight they have to factor a number of variables in to their battle from the maximum speed of their foes airplane to the wind direction in case they have to bail out. All these facts and figure floating about their minds while they fly makes for a busy time. Keeping track of all these items is often referred to as situational awareness. In short, you have to pay attention to what going on around you.

I was shooting the west high softball game today and I had my own equations going on. Here were my two views of the action unfolding.

I was shooting form the third base line side of he field as West high advanced a runner to second. Now with a runner in scoring position my options are shoot from third base line to get a view of any play at third with the possibility of the batter reaching second on a play but I can’t shoot a scoring play from this position as I will only get the West high player’s back.

Now I could change shooting positions to the first base line to get the runner at second if she tries to score along with a view of a play at third from the side as well as a batter shot but then I lose any type of play at second base on the slide but since I am still in early inning action I could always change back for a play at second and the action potential home plate is better.

I had until the next batter left the dugout to run those two scenarios through my mind. I hustle to the first base line just in time to capture this collision at home. Situational awareness, it really works to pay attention.

Monday, May 7, 2007


Students at Tracy High were busy on a special project the last few weeks. Sophomores in Steve Drouin’s world history class have been getting a lesson in numbers.

Using sheets of paper they mark circles to represent people killed in the genocide in Rwanda. Nearly 1,000,000,000 people were thought murdered in weeks of bloodshed in 1994. Students filled pages with circles to mark each life taken.

The circles cover a hallway near the history classrooms. A stark reminder of the brutality man inflicts upon the helpless in society.