Friday, October 31, 2008

Full moon fever

This is what happens when photographers don't have enough coffee in the morning.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008


I am pushing close to having covered 1,000 assignments this year and I have been wondering who would wear out first, my camera or me. Today halfway through a ride-along with San Joaquin Sheriff’s Department my camera let me know it had enough. At just 140 frames into the assignment I had what is best described as blowout with my camera.

It was back in may of 2007 when I had my first shutter malfunction with a Canon 1D Mk II. The shutters are rated for 250,000 cycles (exposures) and with the dreaded ER 99 message I was relegated to a backup camera. Today without any warning or error message I noticed a strange highlight creeping across my picture frame.

I shot some test frames of anything and saw an unusual shadow. That feeling of dread spread over as I pooped the lens off set the camera on the “bulb” setting to take a look at the shutter. Hanging in the middle across the sensor as a lone shutter blade, not a good sign. In technical terms the camera is hosed and will head off to a Canon repair facility some time in the future. Back at the office I exchanged my new paperweight for the spare canon body and went off to my next three sporting events.

I did the math and it seems I made it to nearly 1,500 assignments before the shutter snapped again. I am heavy on the motor drive so figuring a couple hundred or so exposures per assignment and I might have been pushing the 250,000 limit on the shutter. There is nothing worse than a blowout on assignment. Hopefully I will get it repaired soon and be back in action. Then it will be back to who last longer, the camera or me. My money is one the camera.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Monday, October 27, 2008

Backyard discoveries

Hiking through trails around the valley I have been struck with the beautiful sights found around me. But I guess I forgot about those places closer to home. I took a quick camera trip though a familiar place today as I walked around my parent’s backyard with a point and shoot camera.

I must have taken hundreds of photos in the backyard when I was young photo student at Tracy High. No sight from tree and plants to the clouds up above escaped my lens. I can’t remember when I started taking those sights for granted but somewhere along the line I guess I stopped looking very hard what was around me. Now with a newfound approach to seeing on the trail I walked the backyard with my dad as we saw the ordinary sights that peer at us day to day anew.

Just as on the trail I looked for the nice light, the bright and bold colors and the form and textures that seem pleasing to the eye. I can’t remember how many times I ignored the ferns but they seemed to glow today as I visited the backyard in the early afternoon light.

It was a good lesson, hiking trails with their sweeping vistas can grant my camera an inspiring vision, but those sights close to home and heart are just as beautiful.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

The beautiful mountain

Looking for relief from the unseasonable warm weather and wanting to stretch or legs on a hike we headed to the Bay Area for the South Skyline Open Space Preserves in Santa Clara County. Our choice from the numerous parks was the Monte Bello Open Space Preserve.

Monte Bello encompasses 3,142 acres with 15 miles of trail for hiking. The trails vary from sunlit rolling grasslands to the shade of tree lined paths that meander along ridges.

Our hike was a good 6-mile workout as we made our way to a backpacking camp along one of the main trails. The weather was unexpectedly hot as we followed the sometimes narrow trail cut into the hills and valleys.

The trail often reminded me of the Mount Diablo trails, rugged, sometimes barren and hot. As we slipped from grassland to trees the colors would change from the golden grasslands to the purple tinged hues of the deep shade where the sunlight fought a one sided battle to light the trail.

Early in the hike I decided to try and channel the spirit of Ansel Adams for inspiration. I found myself switching to black and white mode often as the shapes and textures along the trail called for the simplicity and starkness of grayscale.

I have carried my 24 to 70 mm f.2.8 lens on the last few hikes and I confess it is becoming a favorite of mine. It give me a medium wide angle to short telephoto lens and is a great compliment to my 10-24mm wide angle. Despite the weight of the f.2.8 optics it has a nice macro capability which came in handy as I tried to capture the sunlight dancing off a spider’s web strung in the tree branched.

It was a great hike as we get in shape for a next hike, big one as we tackle rite of passage for bay area hikers, the Mount Tamalpais Dipsea Trail in early November.


We found this prehistoric looking tree on the trail today. It really did look like a dinosaur prowling the hiking trail.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Never cry wolf

Nothing is quite like the joy that is Friday night football. I found my self at West High covering their Homecoming football games along with Stockton Record photographer Michael McCollum who stopped to interview their mascot. Speaking of wolves we both tried to figure out what the growling noise coming form the public address system was. I think it was supposed to be an angry wolf snarl deigned to fire up the crowd but it sounded more like a moose with dysentery locked in the men’s room.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Eat your heart out Ernest Haas

The editors rejected this shot but I still like it. This is a slow shutter speed pan shot of a student carrying the West high banner. It has that Ernest Haas colors-in-motion feeling to it. So what if the editors at the paper said it sucked, it can still be a good photo.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Watch the birdie

It starts with a dozen or so birds fluttering by as they circle above a cornfield. Then you see more of the birds off in the distance as they wheel about the sky in the gathering light of dusk. With the sky turning orange in the glow of the setting sun you see the masses approach. Hundreds of thousands of swallows migrating to Central America are making a rest stop in fields to the north east of Tracy. How many of these winged travelers are coming through town? Would you believe a million?

Tracked by a Canadian researcher using weather satellites the flock that is traveling south has made a cornfield off Kasson Road their rest stop. As dusk approaches the air is speckled with the tiny sparrows as they gather for the night. It is not as dramatic as blotting out the sun but it is an incredible sight to see the birds fill the sky.

As the light wanes they mass and spin like some giant cyclone. The air is filled with their chirping as they circle looking for their roost. Then with a silent signal they dive at breakneck speeds to vanish into the fields. It is fascinating to watch them mass overhead looking like an army of ants scurrying through the growing darkness. It almost seems unreal to see that many fly at one time.

The show has been going on for a week and has grown a following of bird watchers and enthusiasts. Armed with binoculars and cameras they stand in the twilight to see the army of birds arrive. This evening a powered parachute flier circled the birds as they gathered for the night and it seemed odd to watch the one lone plane against the masses flying about.

I don’t know if this was a once in a lifetime event, maybe Tracy will be on their future flight routes as they make their way back and forth across the country. It was beautiful sight to behold and an assignment definitely for the birds.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Prayer for Photographers

This is a prayer written by my friend Alice. She always has a way of making me feel better when I am feeling down.

Rev Alice DeLaurier-O’Neil
My Prayer for Photographers (that includes all of us who take pictures with our eyes and store them in our minds and hearts)

May the wind blow just right
May the clouds radiate light
May your shutter never fail
And may God shine upon you even when you think you might fail.
For you will capture light, happiness, love, sorrow and pain.
May you capture it with integrity, insight and love.
Just as God captures us all in God’s heart.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Flying high

Ask me what is my favorite thing to pictures of and I would have to say airplanes. If I took pictures of nothing but airplanes puttering around the sky for the rest of my life I would die a happy photographer. So if I like taking pictures of airplanes you know I must love going up in them as well. I grab any chance I can to take a flight and this weekend’s Young Eagles Flight Rally was a great opportunity for a little airtime.

Sponsored by the Experimental Aircraft Association the program gives free airplanes rides to children ages 8 to 17 to expose them to field of aviation. Who knows what future pilot is waiting in their school desk? So with an invitation to ride along with one of the Young Eagle flights I headed to Tracy Airport Saturday morning for my ride.

I would be going with pilot Larry Shinn in his Cessna 170 along with 10-year-old Daniela Ceballos who would be going for her first airplane ride ever. Settled in the airplane back seat the game plan was to get shots of young Daniela behind the controls and whatever aerial shots of the city I could get along our route.

We lined up on the runway and with a final thumbs up we lifted off into the light rain. The flight plan was a 20-minute trip around the edge of the city to the corn maze in Lathrop. After a quick circle of the maze we would head for home passing over the southern edge of town.

The first thing I notice when we break ground is the quiet. The ground just slips away as we climb from the airport. The drone of the engine is muffled by the radio headset with the occasional call of other aircraft in the pattern breaking the silence. We follow another Young Eagle flight airplane toward the maze as I gaze at the cityscape beneath me. It is easy to pick out the major landmarks. The new Kimball high site slides by, the Redbridge development and then an endless sea of homes. We reach the outskirts of town and cross Highway 205 and Interstate 5 as we reach the corn maze. Our young pilot Daniela has been taking the controls as she gets the feel for the plane trying the wheel under Shinn’s watch.

And then it is over all to soon. The Cessna is throttling down as we settle in for approach to Runway 30 at Tracy. We cross over the gravel pit and the runway looms in front of us. A thump and squeal as the wheels touch pavement and our flight is over. Daniela signs the pilot’s logbook commemorating her flight time and I think how lucky she is to have flown an airplane at only age 10. I hope I have more airplane assignments in the future; the view from above is just spectacular. Nothing beats an airplane assignment, especially if you’re flying onboard, the sky is the limit!