Wednesday, June 30, 2010

30 Years of War Honored in Granite

Monuments are everywhere. In Hanoi, Vietnam, there are statues, a tomb, museum and plaques to honor their heroes, and martyrs.

Near a traffic circle by the Lake of the Restored Sword, there is a bas-relief monument that commemorates the capture of John S. McCain III, son of the admiral who headed the U.S. Pacific Command. McCain was captured on October 26, 1967, when he bailed out and landed in the lake.

“Our People must never be allowed to forget, “ my guide says. “They defeated France, a major European power, forced the Americans to withdraw and battled the Chinese Communists to a standstill.”

Constant tribute is paid to the Ho Chi Ming.

He’s never out of sight and lies in a great tomb built with Soviet help. The massive red stone tomb has all the looks of a Soviet monument, with a parade ground the size of a Wal-Mart parking lot.

On any Sunday, workers, peasants, soldiers and the Young Pioneers, red-scarved school children pay their respects to “Uncle Ho”.

Elders, attending from a distant providence bring a wreath, bright flowers on a bamboo rack; follow the white-gloved guards who carry it in slow motion goose step to the marble entrance.

Also in Hanoi is a museum that displays ‘air pirates’ booty among other weapons used and captured in their war against imperialism. There is an outdoor gun park full of relics, one of which was a 105mm howitzer, captured from the French and then used to dump explosives on them at Dien Bein Phu. Also on display are two torpedo tubes used in an attack against the American destroyer USS Maddox and the tank that broke down the gates to the South Vietnam presidential palace and ending the war.

An entire room displays booty taken from American ‘sky pirates” – the helmet and oxygen mask of Everett Alvarez Jr., who was shot down and held prisoner for eight- and- one half years. Helmets are piled high besides broken tail assemblies. There are also photographs showing captured American pilots and airmen.

After viewing room after room of captured American weapons, I decide to go to the second floor to get a high angle picture of the MIG-21 belonging to the North Vietnamese fighter pilot, who had shot down over 21 American and Chinese war planes, when a Russian approached and asked, ” What did you think of this place with all your things in it?”

“Well.” I replied, “After being kicked out of Afghanistan, maybe one day when the country settles, maybe they will build a big museum full of your stuff.”

Red-faced, the Russian walks away.

Monday, June 28, 2010

In Vietnam, sacrifices are a way of life

In Vietnam I found a mountain of red tape to toil through, as my photo wishes had to be resubmitted because Vietnamese officials in Tokyo didn't pass it onto those in Hanoi.
Once we walked by Hanoi's infamous "Hanoi Hilton," a prison used to house American pilots during the Vietnamese War. But my escort, Dy, hadn't arranged a visit. I suddenly left the press tour to get a closer shot of the prison only to get chased off by a pith-helmeted guard frantically waving his arms.
They're very strict," Dy said as I rejoined the group. This is still used as a prison for our worst criminals." There would have been nothing to see inside anyway, he insisted, only the inner courtyard and a long block of crowded cells.
"This is frustrating," I yelled, "you only want me to photograph images that shows your country's successes. You want me to photograph the great war museum full of captured war trophies, the impacted remains of a B-52 in a community pond, your export textile and rug weaving factories, where luxury goods are made for wealthy customers elsewhere, not in Vietnam. You want me to photograph the school that Jane Fonda and Tom Hayden made famous during their 1972 Christmas visit. I need images to show our readers, that not only is your country a first-rate military power, but a fourth-rate economic one with a per capita income of less than $200.00," I said.
"If only you had asked us when the Visa was submitted in Tokyo," Dy replied, "in Vietnam, there is no such thing as freedom of movement, of following a lead where it may take you."
Photographing people in any country has little to do with taking pictures. It involves trying to understand people and their culture.
In Vietnam's controlled society it's even a challenge to meet average people on the streets. But after my guide dropped me off at the hotel, I soon found, I could wander around Hanoi at will and photograph people, who lived in poor gloomy ghetto - old French villas fallen to shabby decay and general life, but outside the city, all travel was regulated to the foreign visitor.
What likely will remain are the images of a country where beauty and ugliness lives hand-in hand.
Images like:
     Construction crews using a crowbar to pry, one by one, bricks out of a wall;
     One-hundred-year old French streetcars;
     Old men playing a Vietnamese version of Chinese checkers in a city car;
     And, always the children with their smiles.

Friday, June 25, 2010

When the Rules are in Vietnamese

“Impossible! Permission denied!” During my trip to the Republic of Vietnam I learned to expect stringent restrictions, suspicions and endless surveillance. To start things off, there’s prohibited list. You are forbidden to photograph the frontier, military equipment movements or installations, fuel storage facilities, seaports, railroad junctions, tunnels, railway and highway bridges and so on. Even aerial photography is strictly prohibited.

In Vietnam’s tightly controlled society, just meeting and talking with the average person is a challenge in itself. Even through I could wander about at will in Hanoi, outside the city all movement was closely regulated. This policy is of great value in allowing the government to show off its accomplishments – schools, hospitals, and factories – while quietly hiding its failures.

Even the Government Press Guides both help and hinder. It would be impossible, especially for an American, to work in Vietnam without them. They set up trips, arrange for interviews and protect the visitors from harassment. But their main job is to observe our comings and goings and make sure all journalist and photographers don’t come into contact with “unauthorized” citizens.

But even with all the frustrations, working in Vietnam was filled with fascination and excitement. I like to think of my work as a people-to-people project, and my lens as a peephole into a world seldom seen. I wasn’t always able to get the photographs I wanted, but at times I did manage to penetrate the fears of the Vietnamese people. And perhaps I may have helped calm their suspicions of me, my country and our way of life.

Photo 1 – With the Polish of an adult performer, a Young Pioneer at the Dong Da School in Hanoi sings a hymn of praise to Ho Chi Minh, the constant image in Vietnam’s Capital.

Photo 2 – A worker weaves stands of wool into balls to be used in Rug Making A the Hai Hung Rug Factory.

Photo 3 –A Vietnamese worker trims a hand-woven rug near Hanoi before it is prepared for export. The ornamental rugs will be shipped to Russia, Germany, Canada and Iraq.

Photo 4 –Workers operate a machine that weaves spools of cotton into long textile sheets that will be cut and sewed into towels. The factory makes over 100,000 towels a day.

Photo 5 – A woman sews seams on towels. She is one of 2,000 women workers at the factory.

Photo 6 – A factory stacks towels for shipment.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Getting the right angle in shooting Wrestling

Wrestling is one of the oldest sports in the world and certainly an interesting one to take pictures of. I find it gets kind of hectic when you're shooting at a tournament when there are two or more mats set up with action going on all at the same time. I normally try to use at least two camera bodies, one equipped with a 24-70mm, another with a 70-200mm, and if possible a third body equipped with a 300mm f2.8, that way I have all my focal lengths covered. When shooting, I try to get story telling shots of most of the matches, the winning, loosing, happiness, you know the thrill of victory, the agony of defeat. Guess it's all those years of shooting sports for newspaper and magazines that has taught me that capturing the reaction after the action is just as important.

I try to get vertical shots of takedowns and escapes and then zoom closer, filling the frame to get pinning combos and closer action. Sometimes the ref in the photo will also tell an important moment in the action.

 Be careful, when you're near the mat you start to develop a six sense to know when to drop the camera from your eye and either duck or move. I once had two heavy weights land on top of me. I hurt the better part of a week.

Here's some images that might give you an idea. I shot these inside a gym with decent lighting at 320 sec. at 2.8 with an ISO 1000. Normally, when they set up a single over head flood light for the championship rounds, I set up two or three Canon 550 EX speed lights and use a Speed lite transmitter ST-E2 to fire them.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Having to Deal with Publicists

Taking pictures of celebrities can be a rush job. Most of the time they really don’t care and generally try to accommodate the photographers needs, but it’s their publicists who actually control their clients time and this can be frustrating.

It actually took me longer to find a parking space near the W Hotel in downtown Seattle than it did to set up four of my 550 EX Speedlites, and take a couple of tests shots than it took for me to get some pictures of Carson Kressley, the flamboyant star of TV's "Queer Eye for the Straight Guy", in the lobby. Kressley, who was in town promoting his fashion book of tips for the straight men, "Off the Cuff”, was really great to work with, but his publicists was not.

I’m not trying to say that this individual was hard to work with, but, having him constantly look over my shoulder, wanting to view each captured image was gate keeping at it best and cutting into my allotted shooting time.  Finally, after seeing my frustration, Carson suggested to his publicists, the shooting session would pass quicker if he’d look at the images after they were all taken instead of one at a time.

 Kressley was great to work with, having model underwear for many years, he was natural in front of the camera and didn’t require any guidance in posing at all and I able to squeeze about 30 pictures off in the 30 minutes photo session before the publicists called it a wrap.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

"Thou Shall Not Set up Photo!"

During a photo assignment to take pictures of baby lemurs at the Woodland Park Zoo in Seattle, I ran across a problem in showing just how tiny these furry creatures were when there were stuck behind a glass window and were asleep in their bassinettes. Lucky, a local TV photographer and reporter arrived in the nick of time to solve that problem.

According to the National Press Photographers Associations Code of Ethics rule number 5. It states, “While photographing subjects do not intentionally contribute to, alter, or seek to alter or influence events.” Somehow those rules only seem to apply to still photographers and not TV photographers.

After setting up his camera and tripod in front of the glass window and taking a few shots. He said the one of the Zoo’s staff if they could move the babies closer to the window for a better shot. The staffer walked over to a box of rubber gloves, pick up a green pair and pink pair and asked the TV photographer, which would look better. “Pink”, he replied. I didn’t say a thing and let him set up the photo.

Donning the pink gloves, the attendants picked up the lemurs and moved them closer to the window. Not only by holding them in their hands, give size in relationship to a human hand, but also the pink gloves were a nice added touch of color.

When I returned to the paper and told the story to our Director of Photography, he asked if I said anything at all to change the situation? “Nope, nada, nothing, the TV photographer and reporter set it up", I replied, they took control over the whole situation. “Good, and you managed to get a nice feature picture of a hard subject.” He said.

So next time you see something shot by a TV photographer for the nightly news, you just gotta wonder just how much part they played in contributing to influence the event filmed.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Adding Blur to Create Motion

One method I like to use when out shooting sports, news or  any other assignment is to put a little blur motion in my photos. This is one way to convey motion to the viewer. 

I like to shoot at low shutter speeds (1/60th or slower) using a shorter lens and “pan” or move the camera while shooting. When panning, I keep the camera on the subject and swing with the action until it is directly in front of you. Then press the shutter button as you continue panning and the result you’ll achieve is a blurred background with a sharp subject focus.

You can shoot blur-of-action photos three ways:
1)   – Remain stationary and shoot the subject as it passes.
2) –  Move along with the subject and shoot in motion.
3)   – Remain stationary and pan your camera as the subject moves parallel to you.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Capturing Peak Action in covering sports

Many of you have asked to share my secrets in capturing peak sports action photos you see in newspaper and magazines. One thing, I try to stop the action using a shutter speed of no less that 1/500 second and preferable 1/100 second or higher.

Getting the shot at the peak action requires split second timing, practice and keeping your finger pressed on the shutter button. The best stop action shots have sharp focus and the ball in the frame.

Another success in shooting sports requires a photographer to use long telephoto lenses in the ranges of 200mm, 300mm, 400mm, 500mm and longer. These lenses allow a photographer to use low f-stops at either 2.8 or f 4.0. This not only allows me to blur out the backgrounds, but I’m able to use higher shutter speeds to capture the ball in mid air. Another important reason is that the viewers’ eyes automatically goes to the subject and not wonder around the photo. Always crop your photographs to add impact and eye stopping power to them.

Another helpful hint is you also need to process knowledge of the sport you are shooting so you can anticipate the action.

Here's a few that might show you want I'm writing about.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Adding graphic power to your photographs

I enjoy using visual communications in my photography. I like to think It’s not what you photograph, but how you photograph the subject.  Some photographs have that talented eye to notice and add that little bit of extra graphic ingredients to a photograph that makes your eye look longer. This type of visual smack is what makes some photography stand out from the ordinary.

Crop for impact: If you want add graphic power, you must crop in on those story-telling elements. Study everything in your viewfinder, the entire frame, not just the center.  You can get rid all the distracting elements in the sides, corners or background by changing camera angle, shooting distance, or zoom settings.  I try add a better graphic impact by moving in and singling out specific features using a zoom lens or a macro lens to photograph small details.

When taking long or medium shots, I’m always on the lookout for pictures within the picture. Seeing interesting details inside the overall frame, I sometimes make separate pictures of them.  By closing in on the light striking a maidenhair fern, I was able to bring out the graphic patterns on the fronds.

Look for reflections:  Reflections can help you create striking compositions. They can be found them anywhere:  car door  windows, even, in water puddles after a rainstorm and in the calm surface of a lake as such as the boater’s reflection in the marina as he washes off his sailboat.

Silhouettes: Look for eye-catching graphic shapes that can be silhouetted against a bright background, such as a sunrise or sunset. For a good silhouette effect, shoot against the light and expose for the bright area, so that the foreground goes dark such as I did of the Salmon fishermen at dusk and able to capture the light reflecting off the fishing lines.

Use of lines: Use lines to make your compositions more graphic to express the mood you want as they curve and lead your eye right into the subject.  But using a micro lens to capture the dewdrops as they transform the graceful curves of a spider web into a deadly looking diamond necklace.

Subject placement: Where you position your subject or center of interest within the camera’s viewfinder can also add to graphic impact. According to years of advice that you should never center the subject in the middle of the picture, that’s just plain crazy. It does sometimes create a static composition, but also can produce a powerful bull’s eye effect that pulls the viewer’s eye right into the center ring such as this portrait of an Azorean girl before she went to her first Communication.

Using shapes, patterns and colors: Colors also produce a life of their own.  I like to use contrasting bold colors to work with one another, as the contrast of the white daisy against the color of the purple lavender.

The repeated line and patterns of repeated lines, shapes, tones and colors within a scene adds that extra bit of graphic power to your photographs.  Sometimes those visual lines may be orderly as the outlines of hills at Hurricane Ridge that create a step ladder leading up to Mount Olympus.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Covering non-photographic events

While working for newspapers, photographers shoot a variety of assignments ranging from spot news, general news, sports, feature and documentary. But, there’s nothing more dreaded than being assigned a why I love where I live, my favorite chef, a fine romance, check passing, ground breaking and of course, the school assignment. To the news photographer these are commonly know as “non-photographic events”, but they have to be covered and it’s up to us to capture a story-telling photo.

Most are pretty boring event to cover, so if only teachers would plan ahead and contact the newspaper’s education beat reporter and inform them of an ongoing class project. That would actually make better pictures than kids standing next or pointing to a finished science project. The same goes for ground breakings, instead of having to capture pictures of local officials moving dirt with a shovel, how about stopping by ever so often at the construction site to make pictures of workers. I tried to train our reporters on what makes a visual assignment or not. From time to time I had to tell them, that this is one assignment where 5,000 words is a lot better than one crappy photo.

Once I received an assignment to cover Presidential Candidates at The Islander Middle School . Eight graders were taking part of a social studies class using Story path, an educational program in which they create an election campaign, with candidates, platforms and posters. Sounds pretty boring and why yes it was. I could have gotten a few shots of the candidates standing at a podium giving a speech, but for some reason I decided something there might make a good photo. Besides, if I returned to office after this assignment, there might be a worse one waiting. I have this thought, if you’re out of the office your working, you know out of sight, out of mind to the editors and another photographer would get handed a “last minute” assignment.

I’ve been following this one group from classroom to classroom when the candidate, dressed as Herbert Bobman, for the Peace Party, had her nose tweaked by a classmate. So, instead of handing in a speaking at a podium pictures, I stayed longer and the paper published a nice story telling feature.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

The excitement of covering spot news

To some news photographers there’s nothing like getting the blood pumping than having to jump up and rush off to photograph a spot news event. Spot news photographs are pictures of unscheduled events for which no advance planning was possible. These news situations are normally spontaneous photos of a fire, traffic accident or a rescue. This type of event puts pressure on the photographer to produce while working under trying conditions, even through a little humor can be found near the end once those emergency personnel on the scene deems the situation isn’t life threatening and a lighter type of photo can be taken. So, if you don’t make it on time to photograph the trauma situation, a story telling photo can always be made.

I’ve found while out covering spot news events, stay out of the way of police, fire or medical personnel. A long lens helps so that you can move in closer to make photos that might show emotion.

Most of the time it’s often difficult to gather caption information at spot news events, so I try get the names and contact phone number of an police officer, firefighter or paramedics and what fire station they belong to, so that I can later phone and get more details.

Here are some details of the posted photos:

A SWAT team member and his dog provides cover for the rest of the team as they search house to house for a suspect in the after a Seattle Police Officer was shot in his car about 9:30 this morning. Since the scene was still active, I was forced to use my 400mm lens and stand back across the street behind a police line.

South Kitsap fireman knocks back a house fire in Port Orchard. While working for the Port Orchard Independent I got to know most of the local emergency personnel well and actually able to move in closer to a fire, emergency situation using a variety of lenses, ranging from a wide angle to a telephoto.

Emergency personnel stabilize an injured woman after an accident.  While covering this accident I was told to get back by a Washington State Patrol Trooper, but the Fireman Lieutenant informed the officer that I knew what I was doing and wouldn't be In the way. I guess all those times I dropped off containers of ice cream at the fire station paid off.

A fireman carried a 50-pound English bulldog up a steer embankment after his owner lost control on an icy road.

A sanitation worker pours coffee from a thermos after turning over his garbage truck while traveling through a roundabout.