Saturday, October 31, 2009

Full moon fever

A full moon hangs over Steve Lopez Stadium Saturday on Halloween. I didn't see one werewolf in the whole stadium, just this one ghoul watching the game. I wonder if that counts?

Friday, October 30, 2009

Halloween in the newsroom

Tracy Press copy editor Melanie dressed up for Halloween today as she brought her Robin Hood-esque outfit to the newsroom complete with a quiver full of arrows. Nobody messes with Melanie.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Leaf me alone

Head shot

The Penguin

Of all the things I could ever shoot I never thought I would be standing on a windswept football field at night watching a guy dressed as a giant penguin with an air horn running around in circles. All I wanted was something interesting to shoot. Ask and ye shall receive.

Some people think newspaper photography must be some kind of glamorous job. Shooting professional sports, on assignment to distant countries and the dazzling lights of Hollywood. Sure that’s what it looks like on paper but things are a little different in Tracy and Wednesday night I found myself at Steve Lopez stadium for West High’s night homecoming rally.

The wind and chilly night temperatures kept the crowd down and I was just hoping for a quick rally. I have covered the West rally in past years and I knew what to expect. A few dance performances, some skits, maybe a contest or two and the crowning of the homecoming royalty. But about half way through something odd happened. The penguin appeared.

At first I honestly thought it was part of the rally. It is close to Halloween so I didn’t really pay too much attention. But as the West High dance team took to the field for a performance what I guessed was a student dressed in a penguin costume carrying an air horn ran onto the field. He started circling the cardboard cityscape the rally organizers put out as part of the rally. He kept hitting the air horn as the dance team performed and he ran around the field. After about his second lap I started to notice that tell tale sign that something was up, school administrators started creeping onto the field.

I guess it was a rouge penguin. He started to change his course and circle away from the school officials like a penguin on the ice flow as he tries to avoid the pack of polar bears closing in. Now homecoming rallies aren’t the most exciting thing to shoot so I started hoping for some real action out of this. Maybe one of the administrators would try to tackle him like security hits streakers at a soccer game in England. Or even better maybe they would call the police. Then an officer could deploy the taser to take the uncooperative penguin into custody. That would have been cool; a giant penguin in sweat pants twitching uncontrollably on the field as a puddle of drool flowed from his beak. Yeah that would have been nice.

But no such luck. He surrendered to school officials who walked him out of the stadium as a chant of “let him go” echoed from the bleachers. The rest of the rally moved quickly with the king and queen crowned to the cheers of the crowd as the finale to the evening. Walking back to my car I kept an eye out for the penguin but he was long gone to that place where penguins go when they waddle to close to the sun. That or maybe he had to return his costume.

Sometimes I would rather have a camera than a banana

So I am on my first assignment of the day taking pictures of roof damage from the wind and I reach into my camera bag and instead of pulling out my Canon 1D MK II camera I pull out a banana. Now my first thought wasn't why do I have a banana in my camera bag but how do I look cool putting it back in and taking the camera out? I could have used the banana on the assignment I guess but all the pictures would have had come out a little yellow.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

The Pumpkin Man lives

Like a scene straight out of B horror movie I am at a lonely farmhouse in the middle of nowhere standing in front of a 17-foot-tall steel pumpkin man belching flame into the night sky. It must be getting close to Halloween.

One of today's assignments found me at the feet of a giant steel sculpture that will be the centerpiece for a Halloween party. Welded together from scrap steel the giant features a propane fire system on his head, arms and heart.

When the gas comes on there is that rush of gas and a pop like when a balloonist puts the spurs to his gas burner while inflating his balloon. Standing underneath I could feel the rush of heat as the computer program cycled the flame burst. The ground and surrounding area would light up in the glow from the ball of flame dancing from the pumpkin man's fingertips.

It was quite the display, I'm sure it would be enough to strike a chord of terror in young trick-or-treaters but on that dusty stretch of road I bet they will see few visitors aside from the party. It was a trick assignment trying to balance the night time exposure with the cascading flame but I think I got the ghostly look I wanted.


I have been covering a lot of football games lately and the action in the photos is starting to all look the same. It's hard to remember what last week's game shots looked like as I try to get something different from this week's games. Add on to that the fact that I can shoot as many as four games in a weekend and getting a variety of unique sports action shots gets harder. Wandering the sidelines between the Tracy High sophomore and varsity games I did find a different shot and what I think is the best shot I have taken this year. It's not a photo of runner hurtling into the end zone or the battle for a deep pass. The game hadn't even started yet. I found these quiet moments as players prayed before the start of the game.

The rule for a photographer is you always keep your eyes open for a good opportunity but I have to admit I zone out a lot just like everyone else. it's hard being focused on one assignment for four hours or so and waiting for the varsity football game to start I stretched my legs with a trip to the north end of the field where it was a little quieter. teams were getting ready to line up in the end zone for the National Anthem as team captains readied for the mid-field coin toss. Tracy High's Depray Celestine took a moment to kneel on the field and gather his thoughts as he bowed his head. It was one of those quite moments I rarely see among the hoopla and noise of a high school football game so I squeezed off a few frames with the empty field in the background. A moment later he was joined by a teammate and and while the that image is nice I don't think it has the composition and feeling of the lone player. I really think by far it is the most telling football photo I have shot this year. I knew a shot like this would never make the paper so I just kept it for myself.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Tour of California

The Amgen 2010 Tour of California will hit the roadways under sunny skies when it moves to May 16th through the 23rd for its fifth run.

Organizers announced the host cities and the stages today and Stage 4 on Wednesday May 19th will have the cyclists heading from San Jose to Modesto. The final route for that stage has not been announced but it could push through parts of Tracy. Last year's similar stage had the race skirt the roadways south of Tracy and drew huge crowds in the rain.

the May date hopes for better weather and the opportunity to head into the mountains for challenging climbs. Some of the riders have announced their plans to compete in the race including Lance Armstrong with his new Team Radio Shack.

For more info on the race you can visit the Amgen Tour of California race site here.

Mark IV

Canon U.S.A. Inc. is personally trying to force me into bankruptcy. They just announced their newest camera the Eos 1D Mark IV.

The camera is their new flagship for photojournalists and professional photographers. It has a 1.3x crop cmos sensor recording at 16 megapixels. The new autofocus system uses 45 AF points is said to have much improved performance over the Mark III which had been plagued by a buggy autofocus system from the start.

The ISO sensitivity range on the new Mark IV is a staggering 100 to 12,800 in normal and in High ISO settings reaches 102,400! In film that would be equal to about a a 12-stop push processing. And like all new Canon Digital SLR cameras it shoot HD video.

The Mark IV is scheduled to reach dealers sometime in December and be sold body only for $5,000. I will have to start saving for this bad boy!

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

The bear facts

The first question you should ask yourself is why is there a bear walking down the track? The second question you should ask is why does no one seem to notice?

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Conspiracy theory

Someone called today complaining about how Tracy High sports is never given the same amount of coverage that West High School athletics receives. I tend to think they were exaggerating as we try to balance the coverage as best we can with the limited staff we have. In case you think we have a bias toward one school I thought I would show you the ultra-sophisticated system we use to decide which school gets the photo coverage. If the ball lands next to your school's name we send a photographer to that game. I can't think of a more fair way to do it can you?

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Game face

I shoot a lot of football every year at the Press. I think I am at the 15 or 16 game mark going into mid October and I can't remember how many quarters of action I have watched so far.

We don't cover professional sports at the paper we stick to mostly prep and the youth teams but they keep me buys enough. I could spend the whole day shooting the various youth teams on Saturday if I wanted to. Some people think that covering high school and youth sports is harder than professional teams as the action isn't quite as spectacular and good photo opportunities maybe few and far in between.

I covered the Tracy Raiders Novice team this past Saturday and I managed to squeeze off a few decent shots. I try to treat any game the same, keep the same shooting routine and camera lenses regardless of the skill level or size of the players. This coming weekend I will have my hands full as two high schools have their homecoming football games this weekend.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Wake up call

When the phone rings at 2:40 am it is never going to be good news. I got word that seven people were shot at a nightclub near the Tracy Press. I threw on some warm clothes and headed out to yet another crime scene in Tracy.

Amore’s Italian Restaurant on 11th Street was ringed with crime scene tape as I arrived at 3:00 am. The parking lot was bathed in the floodlights of the mobile command center as Tracy Police officers sifted through the evidence. Shell casings in the parking lot were numbered as were the blood stains on the hardwood floor. Shivering in the early-morning cold I began to realize how different Tracy has become.

We have always had crime here in Tracy and we always will, it’s just a fact of life. But it is the sheer brutality that has emerged this year that has me stunned. Just a day or so ago working at my desk I listened to the police scanner for a call of shots fired at a local park. It seems so ordinary now I just waited to see if anyone had been hit.

Covering the crimes in Tracy I am tired now of standing behind the yellow crime scene tape. I have enough of the candlelight vigils and the despair in the eyes of mourning family members. I am tired of the parade of criminals and their orange jumpsuits in the courthouses as they make their way through the legal system. And most of all I am sickened by the outpouring of hate and racism on the web comments. As if there was not enough problems in our community were are subjected to the diatribes of those anonymous readers who seem to have almost as much hate and anger as those who commit the crimes.

I am not “grizzled veteran” as someone once accused me of being. I am just a reporter who has seen too much of the ugliness in our town. It sickens me. I think if I had somewhere to go I would, but with family here I try to stick it out and hope things will improve. Just when I think things can’t get much worse I get another early morning call.

It could be a wake up call for a lot of us. For those who think our town is still too small for big city crimes they know different now. For those who would put public safety behind other comfort issues ranging from sports fields to swim parks maybe they will reconsider. And for those who can only lash out at someone’s ethnicity with hatred maybe they will rethink their words. It was a wake up call for more than just me that night; I just wonder how many people got the message.

Old School

This is when a camera looked like a camera. Big hunks of metal clad in a thin layer of leatherette trim. You could strike a match on one of the babies, pound nails or use it as a bowling ball on your days off. It came in two colors, chrome trim or for a few bucks extra you could get overall basic black. Everyone wanted the black model because that meant you were a pro. Yeah those were the good old days.