Monday, May 30, 2011

Capturing a Memorial Day Flag feature

Being a Navy veteran of nine years nine months and twenty-seven days, I’m somewhat patriotic. My wife, Amy, is a retired Navy Chief Petty Officer and patriotic as well. One year, while in search of a feature photo for an advance article in the paper announcing Memorial Day events, I was somewhat disappointed to find only photos of Boy Scouts setting out miniature Flags at the local veteran’s cemetery. Throughout the years this was a photo I took time and time again. So I spent about an hour capturing pictures using different lenses and from a variety of angles. Still, I wasn’t satisfied, but decided to take a lunch break when rainfall started.

After pulling into our driveway I noticed that the holiday flag strung across the two doors of our garage was captured in the raindrops forming on my windshield. The hundreds of drops magnifying various parts and shapes of the flag immediately lifted my spirits.

Since my wife’s car was parked right in the middle of the driveway (it’s a habit that she has that just pisses me off) I grabbed the macro lens and jumped into the front seat of her car. Meanwhile it was a race against time, as the sun reappeared and the drops were evaporating and disappearing right in front of my eyes.

Remembering a trick I learned while attending Syracuse University Newhouse School of Public Communications’ photojournalism program, I had once sprayed glycerin mixed with water that enhanced the water drops on a swimmer during a studio shoot.

Grabbing a bottle of vegetable oil and pouring some into a spray bottle used to water flowers I headed back outside to spray the windshield. Now the windshield was once again filled with perfect long-lasting drops featuring the flag and I could take as long as I wanted to get the right shot.

Feeling pleased with myself, I headed back to the paper to download the images and put into the system. Because of my effort, the photo story was moved from a section front to the front page.

About a half hour later, I received a call from my very irritated
spouse, who was headed out to pick up one of your kids at school. She had gotten into the car, turned on the wiper blades and my oil-water drop mixture smeared across the whole windshield and she couldn’t see.

Whoops, even through I forgotten about cleaning her windshield, I saved the day by capturing a Memorial Day feature shot.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Making the best of it

Lately, I’ve taken upon myself the ever-lasting task of scanning my vast library of slides and negatives. Remember negatives? While editing the takes has brought memories of traveling to 38 countries, some of those memories remind me of the Clint Eastwood movie, “The Good, The Bad and the Ugly.” In the 4 decades of my photographic journey I have experienced some great assignments and a few not so great assignments. However, one has to make the best of whatever is thrown your way.
I had the chance of covering Pope John Paul II, not once, but twice. The first time, a very good friend of mine, Rick Shaw, POY Picture Editor of the Year a few times and  now University of Missouri’s director of the Pictures of the Year International competition, brought me help in his news paper’s coverage of the Popes Miami visit on September 11, 1987. My assignment was to cover a local Catholic Church’s group bus trip from Ft. Lauderdale to Miami to see the Pope. Now, that was a dream assignment.  Even though I was far from the official podium, I was able to capture the church members reactions, which told a pretty good story.

Two years later I was again assigned to cover the Pope’s first ever visit to the island of Terceria in the Azores, this time for Gamma Liaison and it started out not so good.

In the 1987 visit, the press photographers were given pretty good access and good vantage points in which to capture images during the visit. However, in his visit to the Azores, we were positioned back behind the crowd about what seemed like 1/4 mile from the grandstand. The crowd had a chance to get better pictures than the assembled world’s press.

I had to resort to setting up a 300mm with a doubler and still the pope’s image was tiny in the photograph. I guess the Pope’s press representative heard our complaining, mostly coming from me, and came over to the still photographers. Since I had his attention, I asked him look through the viewfinder and explained what we needed was to get closer, way closer. He departed and a few minutes later returned with Ecce Homo, the Pope’s official photographer, who looked through my viewfinder.  After a few minutes of haggling with the press representative and the head of security, we were granted 15 minutes of photographic coverage the Papacy’s platform. I was now closer to the leader of the Catholic Church than what I was during Miami’s coverage. Not only that but within a few moments after the relocation, the Pope stepped into a sunbeam, which made the best photograph of my assignment.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Life's not fair

Two weeks ago my wife and I were thrilled when we noticed a robin was building her nest in a Firethorn shrub outside my daughter’s bedroom window. My oldest son planted that bush with my wife about 15 years ago. Over the years we’ve watched it slowly grow up the side of the house.

One of our favorite jokes was that Firethorn would deter a child from sneaking in or out the window. Now I was thinking that those thorns would help protect the robin and her eggs.

For about a week we watched the robin carry small branches to be used in building her nest. It was slowly taking shape among the evergreen leaves and needled branches.

You can imagine my delight when on Saturday I noticed a brightly blue colored egg lying in the middle of her nest. Being a photojournalist always in search of producing a documentary, I had set up an EOS MK II Ds on a tripod with a remote release to capture pictures of the egg, and hopefully, the whole life cycle from the hatching to the robin caring for her young baby bird.

While the robin was away, I removed the window screen and clipped away a few branches to get a better view of the nest. Afterwards, I replaced the screen; switched my 70-200mm f2.8 from auto focus to manual and zoomed onto the nest.
I placed the camera in a corner near the closet very carefully as to not disturb the robin.
Knowing that if she saw any sudden movement or heard any sounds she’d most likely abandoned the nest.

After hearing the robin landing upon the window screen I slowly creep into the room to start taking pictures. Since, my camera was already pre-focused, I used a remote to trigger the shutter and captured a few pictures of the robin as she gently settled onto the nest to warm her egg.

However, not all stories have happy endings.
When I checked back a day later, the egg was missing and the robin was gone from her nest. I was hoping that I was mistaken.

While searching among the ferns below the bush and then finally up in the branches of the Firethorn, I found the egg, skewered by those same prickly thorns that I hoped would keep her safe in her nest.  Life’s not fair I thought, being cheated of some promising photos. Throughout the years’ I’ve used that same phase over and over again to my children when life didn’t go the way they wanted.